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Classroom Interior Design:

Improving Educational Outcomes through Art, Lighting & Color

Classroom interior design and architectural psychology are wonderful ways that educators can improve outcomes for their students. Children have heightened sensibilities and take in details that adults may miss. 


This article covers a number of topics pertinent to classroom interior design and the comfort of students. Topics include the impact of art; appropriate images and symbolism; lighting in classroom design and the use of color

Architectural Psychology and Classroom Design
Montessori Classroom in Indiana, USA

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Creator Keynote Bankers 2012

The Impact of Art in Classroom Interior Design

Murals and artwork depicting nature work well for classroom interior design. However, many educators are unaware of the fact that these images have a greater positive effect when a distant perspective versus a close-up view is depicted. In other words, a painting or poster of a path through the woods is more inviting and relaxing than a large image of a single bird or tree.

A Walk in the Forest by Kathleen Karlsen
A Walk in the Forest by Kathleen Karlsen

Another key in classroom interior design is to place warm and cool colors next to each other to create a “shimmer” which relieves stress and eyestrain. This is one of the principles employed in Impressionistic art, the most popular style of fine art for well over a century.

Another area to consider is furniture design. For example, sharp angles are a source of tension and should be softened wherever possible for children’s environments. Curves are more relaxing in furniture, the patterns in wall hangings, rugs and other aspects of classroom interior design.

Flag of Connecticut Symbol for Classroom Interior Design
Connecticut Flag: He Who Transplants Also Sustains

Images & Symbolism in Classrooms

Cartoons characters and distorted, humorous images in art have often been used for daycare facilities and classroom interior design for young children. Researchers have found that oversized cartoons can actually be frightening to children. Artwork done by children, pleasant scenes of play or serene images of nature images are much more appropriate.

In addition, classrooms are often cluttered with a wide variety of images. This can be disorienting and distracting for children. Rather than covering the wall with all kinds of posters and other visual images, consider using different textures or colors on the walls themselves to increases a sense of spaciousness.

Likewise, instead of posting a list of rules or standards, older children may respond well if the values of the school or classroom are encapsulated and displayed in a symbolic way such as that exemplified by the heraldic banners, flags, shields and crests of the traditional trades and royal houses.

Understanding the significance of the classroom’s flag or shield introduces the concept of symbolism. Learning that specific images can stand for intangibles can be a lesson in itself for the children.

Color in Classroom Design
Classroom for Cooking instruction in Akita, Japan

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Creator: Douglas P Perkins

Color in Classroom Interior Design

Extensive research in architectural psychology has been done on the topic of color in interior environments. For classroom interior design, the often-used primary colors of red and yellow can be overly stimulating. Red actually lengthens the perception of the passage of time, something that is probably not desirable in classroom interior design!

In addition, psychological studies of children and color (Alschuler and Hattwick) indicate that yellow can be problematic and is associated with infantile traits and dependence on grown-ups. Also try to avoid avocado, yellow-green, purple and chartreuse in classroom design as these colors and their after-images make people appear sickly.

Instead, try green and natural, earth colors to reduce muscular and nervous tension, support mental concentration and overcome glare. Cooler colors such as green and blue are appropriate for classroom interior design in areas in which reflection, meditation or “passive” learning is to occur.

Warmer colors such as peach, pink and light yellow are appropriate for areas in classroom design in which active “kinesthetic” learning, recreation or artistic activities take place. Older children may prefer more sophisticated colors such as violet or sage green.

Areas with long, harsh winters can counter depression by using spring colors (medium yellow, light pink, light blue and light green) prominently in classrooms.s

Lighting in Classroom Design
Lighting in Classroom Design

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Creator: Chiewatc 

Lighting in Classroom Interior Design

Lighting considerations can be crucial in classroom interior design. Ideally, light levels should be varied cyclically (i.e. with the rhythms of the day) to relieve monotony, activate cortical responses and avoid emotional rejection of the environment.

Moderate variations versus strong variations within a single field of view will provide the greatest level of comfort. This can be accomplished by placing lamps around the room that are on for part, but not all of the day.


By following the principles outlined above related to appropriate classroom interior design including images, colors and lighting, not only can learning outcomes improve, but teachers can expect to experience greater cooperation from more comfortable and happier students.

Kathleen Karlsen Sacred Mantras & Symbolic Art

About the Author

Kathleen Karlsen is the author of two books and over 200 articles in the fields of art, psychology, spirituality and health. More about Kathleen’s Artwork, Music and Books as well as dozens of articles and resources can be found on this website. See Site Map and All Articles

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Classroom interior design and architectural psychology can be key factors in improving educational outcomes for children. This article covers the impact of art; appropriate images and symbolism; lighting in classrooms and the use of color. 

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