Decor Demon takes a rundown Rhode Island teacher’s lounge from detention to head of the class
Produced, designed, written, directed and styled by Brian Patrick Flynn with photography by Sarah Dorio
In the mid-1990′s, my Mom worked as an elementary school teacher’s aide and would bring home one of her behaviorially challenged students for after school care. His name was Drew, he was a twin and he annoyed the hell out of me. Like clockwork, his Monday through Friday 2:53 pm arrival started with his Nintendo-obsessed laser eyes zooming in on a seldom-used GameBoy perched atop my meticulously styled bedside table. By 2:54pm, excessive bad kid Super Mario noise would penetrate my bedroom walls, disrupting my act of pretend-studying while actually listening to Jagged Little Pill and reading the “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” section of People Magazine. Since Mrs. Flynn was, afterall, responsible for this gentle terror’s daily home invasion, I’d quickly throw the side eye her way as she’d zone out to Oprah over non-fat, sugar-free Jell-O with Cool Whip. That hour of what I used to consider maternal self-indulgence has new meaning after having worked a full week alongside teaching professionals in something inaccurately referred to as a “teachers’ lounge”. I’d probably call it an oversized mop closet. In fact, the only lounge-like thing about it was that it looked like it should have been CLOSED during the day.
This all came about when The Editor at Large requested my participation in a Staples-sponsored project aimed at re-designing teachers’ lounges throughout the Northeast. Five of them. Simultaneously. For free. So, of course, I said yes. Wait, whaaaa? Well…there were several reasons I rose to the challenge: [a] to kinda-sorta walk a day in Momma Patrick Flynn’s shoes [b] The Editor at Large has a pretty, orange website [c] give back to people like Momma Patrick Flynn who put up with other peoples’ brats all day for 2 cents an hour.
With a day job freelance producing, casting and appearing on a long-running TV makeover series, the idea of creating, then installing five lounge designs in five different cities on top of my already intense schedule wasn’t really an option. Installing ONE space? Well, that’s more my speed. My photographer and I chose the uber-needy lounge of Samuel W. Bridgham Middle School in Providence, RI since [a] its abundance of natural light made for great editorial images [b] the city itself was more vacation-like than work [c] we wanted to hear people pronounce Target “TAH git”. In addition to funding the project, Staples kindly flew us in, put us up in a downtown hotel and covered our transportation. Two non-profits, Kappa Delta Pi and Teachers Count, stepped it up to provide manual labor in the form of a half dozen volunteers and a pretty damn good contractor named Jim Cocozza—who, thank God, said both “TAH git” and “Hah vid” [Harvard] multiple times.
Overall, the most fascinating element of the experience was the fact that there were absolutely ZERO hiccups. Everything went according to plan, on schedule and on budget. To assure male and female faculty members could enjoy the space equally, I stuck with a gender-neutral, pale blue-grey and ultra-white color scheme, bringing in accents of No. 2 pencil orangey-yellow and chalkboard grey—no theme, but a few sporadic nods to teaching. Since the teachers spend so much of their lives inside doors, I also made it a point to bring the outdoors in. I troubleshot the kitchen, built-in and custom vending closet installation entirely through picture text messages back and forth with Jim. And let me tell you, orchestrating cabinetry and plumbing placement on a teeny iPhone screen is tricky as #@$%.
The tasks assigned to superstar volunteers Faye, Tonette, Mike, Susan, Brian, Stephen and Kevin weren’t exactly days at the spa. When IKEA said yes to donating an entire kitchen, Kevin and Brian drove from suburban Ma. to downtown Boston, ordered all pieces, set up delivery, picked up accessories, then drove it all to Providence…about 90 minutes away. Susan and husband Stephen got off a plane from a trip to Australia only to pick up the phone and secure a free plumber AND a massive discount on photography equipment rental. Diana, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Teachers Count, drove with her assistant, Benj [not a typo, there really is no "i"], to deliver a brand new Hewlett Packard computer in person. Faye, the Executive Director of Kappa Delta Pi, secured all volunteers, scheduled the makeovers AND cut-in 90% of the trim detail in the room. By the way, painting trim kinda sucks it…HARD. Mike, a Special Education teacher, did just about everything from paint and coordinate to caulk, sand and spackle while Tonette ran all over town for supplies, a steamer, Chinese food takeout containers for prop styling and a dubiously delicious frozen treat known as Del’s Lemonade…which reminds me, I still owe Tonette 60 bucks for that g’damn steamer.
My inspiration for the design plan? Favor pulling—LOTS OF IT. Luckily, all of my key vendors jumped at the chance to help these teachers out. C2 Paint not only donated wall, trim and ceiling paint, but [a] they were the ONLY paint company to offer the same exact shade of blue-grey as the donated “Flock” Kelly Hoppen wallpaper from Graham & Brown [b] the paint masters hooked us up with local hardware store, Adler’s Design Center & Hardware which armed us with supplies. FLOR stepped it up to completely cover the nasty-as-hell linoleum. Sunbrella was quick to throw ample yardage of indoor/outdoor fabric our way. Texton, we’ll get to them later, but they kicked major ass; window treatments AND a remote control are involved. Hewlett Packard donated a brand-spankin’ new desktop computer to each of the five schools. My draper, Donna, who has four straight-A students of her own, spent endless hours sewing custom ripple-fold draperies, a table skirt and dining chair slipcovers to bring some tailored elegance to the lounge formerly known as mop closet. Murals Your Way let the sunshine in 365 days a year compliments of a giant print on vinyl. The biggest kahuna of all was Staples which generously funded the project with $12,500 to be distributed among the five schools. Ever try designing approximately 3,700 square feet of space spread amongst five states, two of them needing full kitchen renovations, with $12,500 before? Lemme tell ya, it sure as hell ain’t easy.
I believe I found the real Hell’s Kitchen. It was busy scaring the hell out of teachers in Providence, RI. Although the lounge-to-be began with dilapidated non-appliances, pretend-storage and potential lawsuits galore, we left it with a fully functional, modern wet space both elegant and understated. It took our RI contractor, Jim, only 8 hours to assemble the “ABSTRAKT” high-gloss white kitchen from IKEA. Due to time crunches and labor costs, installing a tile backsplash wasn’t an option. Instead, Graham & Brown donated vinyl Kelly Hoppen wallpaper which Jim called a trusted friend to install. The No. 2 pencil orangey-yellow “Beam” mugs are from CB2.
Getting a time out
Although the aesthetically-challenged Coke machine and 1970′s fridge needed to stay, they were given an accessible, permanent time out. I concealed them with a custom food and drink closet made from stain-grade plywood, hollow core doors and 2X4′s. To identify each machine, I added acrylic letters spelling out what sits behind each door. Since I f@$king detest painting trim, two bigshots tackled the job for me: local paint guru Harry Adler and Kappa Delta Pi’s deceptively handy Executive Director, Faye Snodgress. For lunch tote and messenger bag storage, Jim performed my old trick of updating basic office supply store bookshelves with 1X2 MDF, then enlisted friend, Tom, to update the four back panels with wallpaper. Keeping with my mission to bring hints of the outdoors inside, I snagged the black wire birds from CB2 and stuck ‘em on the shelves. Wisteria gave us a mega-discount on the 12-seater French Country Dining Table with Leaves which I paired with CB2′s “Echo Custard Chair”. The upholstered seating started out as the basic IKEA “HENRIKSDAL” chair before a magical makeover from my seamstress, Donna, who whipped up custom slipcovers using Sunbrella and Fabricut fabrics. We turned to IKEA once more for a little help from above in the form of “LERAN” pendants which, for the first time in history, I didn’t even cut myself painting.
Extra curricular activity
With Kappa Delta Pi volunteers donating labor, more of the budget could be spent on materials. The only obstacle? Since none are skilled contractors, all assembly and installation of said materials needed to be middle-school-curriculum-easy. C2Paint made paint color selection a cinch with “Ultimate Paint Chip” swatches that tape up on the wall allowing a preview without ever opening a can. Once “Silk” was chosen, Tonette, Susan and Mike swiftly spruced up the cinder block. The team then moved on to assembling the CB2 chairs and reproduction Eames rockers [scored at a fraction of the cost for the real thing on Overstock.com] before moving on to the floors. Brian, Faye and Kevin completed the FLOR installation by simply laying each square in place, then attaching underneath with special stickers. Simple, yes but the sticky bitches are remarkably strong. FLOR’s uber-durable “Working Class” in Dark Gray was my choice for the main traffic areas since it’s made of acrylic and can handle just about anything. To soften, then delineate the dining space, we created the look of a dining rug by inlaying “Feeling Groovy’ in Glitzy Silver which coordinates perfectly with the wall color. PROOF THAT I AM A CONTROL FREAK: I originally typed “match” in the previous sentence, then replaced it with “coordinates” since I hate using the word match when not referring to something that comes in a tiny box and lights candles.
Um, first up, why the hell did I agree to appear all over the Interwebs in shorts? Oh well, cool shirt though. The window dressing situation was given extra special attention for many reasons. Although originally adorned with graffiti on the outside, the 12 x 8 foot window had me at hello. Although it’s pretty, the ample natural light makes the space hot as hell. First, Jim installed a ceiling track to flank the window with Donna’s No. 2 pencil-toned, stationary, ripple-fold cotton duck draperies. But why the hell am I sitting in front of them reading Elle DECOR with my hand raised? Well, readers with good taste in websites, scroll back up and slowly look at each of the three Flynncentric photos. Notice how the window shades close behind me although I’m glued to Margaret Russell? The white woven shades from Texton are remote controlled. It wasn’t my idea but rather the idea of Ed Williams who kinda RUNS the Texas-based company. With only 30 minutes for lunch, lowering and raising drapes by hand seemed like one more addition to the teachers’ already full plates. Now, when they’re all seated at the table, no one needs to get up to open or close the blinds. Since the room has no A/C, this is also a huge help in keeping the heat out on sensationally solar days. By the way, if the remote controlled part has you thinking “Electrician needed”, think again. Not only did Jim and Mike have the shades up in an hour, the only electrical skill required was knowing how to plug a cord into an outlet.
Show and tell
For show and tell, Donna brought her sewing skills to the table—literally. A few feet from the dining area sits a serving buffet made from a resin folding banquet table from Staples which the stitch mistress dressed up with a custom skirt. Hanging above is what started out as a simple Staples corkboard brought to the next level with charcoal linen, batting and silver gimp. Donna’s slipcover sorecery made the $59.99 HENRIKSDAL chairs look more like something from a design center than a major, modernist megastore. PS – do you know how damn excited I was to finally prop style a space with Chinese take-out? Let’s just say it falls somewhere between winning my Spelling Bee trophy and closing on my house.
Sunny with a chance of straight-A’s
The sad, existing entry wall was a damn mess. We rocked it out as a conversation space for shiny, happy people using three graphic elements: a photo mural, rockers and FLOR. Murals Your Way donated the 8 X 16 vinyl print which guarantees the lounge a permanent forecast of sunny and blue even when it’s frigid and grey outside.
Go to the head of the class
With classroom agendas all about the students, the teachers needed their own pseudo-study space. Once the fridge was reprimanded, then put in its new place, we brought in a parsons desk from Overstock.com paired with a modern, upholstered “Joe” chair from CB2. Overall, this area is dedicated to checking email and clicking through favorite websites. Preferably one called Decor Demon.
Art imitating life
Three years prior to this project, I fell in love with this trio of 1950′s classroom art prints. I knew that one day, all three would relocate to the perfect spot. Notice how everything about them relates to this project from the community involvement, carpentry and painting down to the girl enjoying her afternoon treat. Coincidence? I think not. Cue the X-Files music.