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For interior designer Katharine Pooley, respite lies in an old horse box. Pre-Covid, Pooley was keen to encourage her sons, Jack and Charlie, now ages 11 and 8, to read more. Inspired by a Rice horse trailer she saw at Soho Farmhouse, which was used to house chickens, she bought a similar trailer at auction for £600 and – once installed in the garden of her converted coach house in Bicester in Oxfordshire – turned it into a children’s reading den whose very appearance inspires Narnia-esque flights of fantasy.
“Our sons love to switch between working online in the house and reading in the calming environment of the horse box library. It helps them to keep focused on their studies,” says Pooley, whose innovative library features a glass roof panel, bespoke curtains and a chair from Andrew Martin, and a sisal and wood woven carpet with a distressed leather border. The whole project cost around £1,000 in total, including the shelves stacked with books and jars of sweets.
Pooley’s playful take on home schooling has provided food for thought for her clients, too. “Many of them are requesting a contemporary interpretation of the classic, old fashioned ‘school room’ – effectively, a space that combines a playroom and learning space together,” she says. “The most luxurious are spacious, separate zones designed for reading, music, rough play, gaming and learning, with desks and computers,” she explains.
“I recently designed a child’s homeschooling space in West London that combined elegant white painted timber joinery with white lacquer furniture, sculptural colourful pendants, large-scale patterned fabric pin-boards and desk chairs monogrammed with the children’s initials. The space was elegant, full of colour and storage and, most importantly, super durable.”
Some home-school set-ups, adds Pooley, include inspirational art and a climbing wall. Baby grand pianos have also become desirable as a source of family diversion during lockdown, with the Cambridge-based piano-makers Edelweiss reporting an increase in demand for its hand-made, multi-coloured and self-playing models such as the Elmer, which costs £66,000.
Home-schooling spaces have become a priority for designer Charu Gandhi’s clients too – including one family with four children, for whom Gandhi, founder of Elicyon design house, is using acoustic panelling to sound-proof a section of the room for live school and music lessons.
“We are finding that parents are bringing tutors into the house rather than sending the children out for extra-curricular lessons, so we are looking at designing rooms that divide into different zones,” she says. “These spaces need to be flexible so that the children can all be together at different stages during the day, for reading for example, but separate for live lessons.
We like to work with decorative yet practical screens that can be moved as needed, and we are often asked to create small reading nooks and fun study areas within children’s bedrooms. Forgotten corners or landing spaces can also make a great home-schooling set up.”
Michaelis Boyd – the designer behind Soho Farmhouse and the re-designed Groucho Club – is also increasingly turning its attention to study rooms in high-end-private homes. “With dining tables now used for mealtimes, working and home-schooling, study spaces have become a necessity rather than a luxury. They need to be agile spaces that are multi-purpose and can also work for busy families,” says the company’s co-founder, Alex Michaelis.
“It’s not always about creating a whole new space, but working with what you have already, by using partitioning walls or glazing to provide a sense of separation from other living spaces without cutting out light from the rest of the home,” adds Michaelis, who has created a colourful, cocooned home-learning pod within floor-to-ceiling Critall glazing in a converted Georgian house in Kensington.
Another project, in Highgate, involved designing study spaces to suit each child’s personality. “We aimed to create timeless designs which they could grow into as teenagers. The built-in joinery is multi-purpose, for studying, storage and easily-accessed display shelves so they can share and show off their favourite books and toys. And the wardrobes discreetly house air-conditioning with routed grilles on the doors, so there’s no excuse for not getting homework done in the heat,” Michaelis comments.
Good lighting – including lots of natural light, ideally – is essential in a children’s workspace, adds Michael Clifton, head of design at Oakbridge Bespoke, which is working on various home-school set-ups. “Think about the outlook as much as the internal space.
You need to generate that indoor/outdoor feel and be able to stretch your eyes beyond the screen,” he says. He recommends adding plants to “bring that inspirational feeling of nature” and using creative materials such as chalkboard or magnetic paint on the walls, “to encourage the child to personalise their work space.”
Personalisation also plays a key part in architect Neil Dusheiko’s appealing home-school-in-a-cupboard design at the Sun Slice House in Cambridge. In a new extension to the Victorian house, Dusheiko has designed study booths for the three children that are tucked neatly into a bank of cupboards. “We put everything, including their own plug sockets, in the joinery, so that it can all be hidden away at the end of the day. It’s all personalised, too, so that each of the three spaces represents each child – in the same way your computer desktop does,” says Dusheiko.
The trick is to make a homeschool space conducive to studying, but not too nice, Dusheiko adds. “You don’t want them to get distracted, so it shouldn’t be too comfortable.”
Soon, all those baby pianos, climbing walls, Crittall pods and horseboxes will all sit silent and neglected when real schools re-open. But until then, parents will go to any lengths to keep the kids on track at home.
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