A case study about making conscious colour choices in a pre-school daycare facility
The first thing that struck me about Kate and Cher when I talked to them about the nursery they were planning to open, was how strongly they cared about the ethos of what they were doing. They are passionate about offering a creative environment for babies and pre-school children. One which not only keeps safe for the day but also stimulates them to thrive.
As soon as they talked to me about their plans I wanted to have a say in the colours. Luckily they were open to the idea and we started to talk about what they stood for, what atmosphere they wanted to encourage and the functions of the different spaces. We all agreed that the colours should be warm, progressive and hold the space. We decided to avoid the lighter pastels and bright primaries often associated with children’s facilities and instead take a more thoughtful approach.
With a good sense of what they wanted to achieve I set about building a palette. Although there are several different spaces in the facility requiring differences in look and feel, a key base colour was identified to run throughout and keep the continuity of the space. I chose a pale green, the colour of healing and universal acceptance – making a lot of sense in a nursery that aims to be a good space for children from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures.
For the entrance to the nursery, where there is a reception area that will also serve the Adult Learning Centre, we wanted to create more vibrancy. A warm welcome, especially for children on dark winter mornings.
I suggested adding burnt orange – to stimulate appetite (for life, for learning, for lunch) and a rich teal to encourage brain activity (learning, considering). The team were enthusiastic about this bold approach. When you are choosing colours for a space that will be passed through rather than one where a lot of time will be spent, you can afford to increase the intensity.
Next was the baby zone. For the facing wall of the main room I selected a peachy pink to create a feeling of caring while staying true to the Groip III colour palette we were following. Pink involves a sense of being held, reminding us at a primal level of being in the womb. However once we are out in the world, too much pink can feel cloying rather than cosseting so it is best to restrict its use to a feature wall rather than a whole room. For the rest of the main room we used the green base colour (calm, healing). One part of the room is a low, cave like space with LED lights. Just the kind of space my own children would have loved to crawl into when they were small. I suggested a forest green for here, and for the adjacent sleeping room, to create a sense of deep peace and cosy darkness.
The other main area is for 2-4 year olds and this will be much more active. Again the base green was used and we introduced a paler blue. Blue stimulates brain activity so is great for any learning or thinking environment. A light blue like this keeps the thinking at a more airy level – more blue sky thinking than accountancy procedures. Part of the space
is like a tree house so I introduced teal again – the same colour as in reception – at a low level to give more depth and grounding strength. There is a lot of natural wood in the space which balances the palette with more yellow/orange tones, not to mention all the toys and activity materials – and the children themselves – ensuring it doesn’t feel too cool.
Rest of the space
For example I added one orange feature wall in the kitchen to stimulate appetite and light blue in the bathrooms. For all the ‘white’ areas – ceilings, window frames, skirting boards, I selected a warm off-white. It was a subtle shift from white but Cher, who will run the nursery, immediately understood how it helped. Lastly we identified flooring that would complement the walls and support the colour scheme.
It was a bold palette and I wondered how they would react. But I needn’t have worried, they ‘felt’ why it was right as soon as they saw the sample chips and once the walls were painted they were even more enthusiastic. So many of our public spaces end u
p being white, or maybe magnolia. Yet we can do so much more to support the activities going on in the space and, in this case, the staff and children who will spend many hours there. Walls have to be painted anyway, so why not paint them a colour that helps? I was so happy to hear them explain to me how it had given them greater distinctiveness and gives a clear message to prospective parents coming to see if they want to register their children that this is a place that cares, that isn’t afraid to innovate, that is clear about what matters and that they will do everything they can to create a great environment for the children and staff who will be there.