Exploring Smarter Spaces

Mike Turner, Executive Director of Ian Williams, one of UK’s largest privately-owned painting contractors and leader in paint innovation to the independent education sector, discusses how effective paint product specification and smart colour design can impact positively on learning environments

Exploring Smarter Spaces

The quality of the built environment has a major impact on the way we live, learn, work and play. Good design and maintenance is about providing buildings and spaces that are fit for purpose, built to last, and which are safe, healthy and sustainable. Intelligent build and design has long been recognised as a key factor in making educational buildings fit for purpose and when done well, are instrumental in having positive impacts on student achievement, teaching and management.

Schools are unique places. Their environment has to be conducive to learning and stimulating to the senses, yet durable enough to withstand a constant daily flow of heavy traffic. That presents challenges when choosing decorative products and colour schemes.

It’s also interesting that when it comes to school refurbishment, paint may not be the most important consideration compared with say investment in technology, but as the Dulux research shows, colour matters.

The Colour Learning Palette

Subconsciously or not, colour has an impact on our behaviour and emotional, intuitive responses. Think traffic lights and warning signs. Colour has the ability to inspire, excite, soothe, heal and even agitate. This is particularly true for children, who can be extra sensitive to colour’s impact. So the importance of picking out just the right colour for social spaces and classrooms is extremely important. Of course cannot work in isolation and colour must be treated as an equitable partner to other more easily measurable building characterisits such as air quality, light, noise, odour and temperature.

It has been well-documented that in general, warm colours inspire happiness and wellbeing and can serve to make large, open spaces feel more intimate for young people. Cooler colours often associated with sterile or institutionalised environments, can actually help make small spaces feel more open.

  • Green – this calming, natural colour not only has a soothing impact, but scientists have also found that green may improve a child’s reading speed and comprehension.
  • Yellow – associated with feelings of happiness and cheerfulness, studies have shown that yellow can motivate and increase memory, but too much bright yellow, can create feelings of agitation and even anger.
  • Red – can energise the body and excite the mind, increasing heart and breathing rates but some research suggests that too much exposure, can cause distraction and aggressive behaviour.
  • Blue  the counterpart to red, blue can decrease feelings of anxiety and aggression and lowers blood pressure and heart rates. Some schools now even have a break-out ‘blue room’ where children can go to calm down.
  • Orange – often overlooked, warm and friendly orange has been shown to encourage confidence, sociability and independence.
  • Purple – the colour of passion, creativity and wisdom and spirituality is great for inspiring sensitivity and compassion in children.



Dulux believes that colour and how we react to it, be it consciously or subconsiously is core to life. How a room is painted will influence how occupants respond and behave within the space.  When colour is specified with thoughtful consideration of the holistic end result, working in tandem with window coverings, floor surface and furniture, it can be a powerful but much under-utilised instrument to aid learning.

The SSAT and Dulux Smarter Spaces project aimed to explore the potential of ‘smarter spaces’ for promoting positive engagement of students and teachers and improving the quality of teaching and learning. Results showed that the teaching and learning environment was enhanced; engagement inspired;  encourage positive attitude and behaviour encouraged; personal well being and development promoted and building function improved.

Schools taking part in the project saw positive benefits of their ‘smarter spaces’ ranging from greater utilisation of the room by a wider range of subjects, to reintegration of vulnerable learners into mainstream classes. Clear evidence was also found that well designed primary schools boosted children’s academic performance in reading, writing and maths.

Differences in the physical characteristics of classrooms explain 16% of the variation in learning progress over a year for the 3,766 pupils included in the study. Or to make this more tangible, it is estimated that the impact of moving an ‘average’ child from the least effective to the most effective space would be around 1.3 sub-levels, a big impact when pupils typically make 2 sub-levels progress a year.’ *

Results like these demonstrate the power of clever colour use, something that Ian Williams is proud to have shared with some of the UK’s largest independent schools for best practice in refurbishment or proactive maintenance solutions. We have won more than 40 National Painting and Decoration Association Awards for completed projects in a variety of sectors and in 2016, were awarded The PDA’s Premier Trophy Commercial Award for the work we carried out on the Headmaster’s House at Eton College.

With partnership agreements with the UK’s leading paint manufacturers, including AkzoNobel, Crown Paints and PPG, Ian Williams has been working with ISBA and supporting them through conferences since 2008.  This involvement provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate the broad range of asset management services we offer and highlight the benefits of collaborative working with specialist maintenance providers.

For a full copy of the Smarter Spaces report, a selection of case studies, or for help with any painting and decoration projects you are planning to carry out over the Summer break, visit https://www.ianwilliams.co.uk/our-markets/education/ or call 0345 4594571


 *(Clever Classrooms: Summary report of the HEAD Project (Holistic Evidence and Design). Professor Peter Barrett, Dr Yufan Zhang, Dr Fay Davies, Dr Lucinda Barrett (Feb 2015) https://www.salford.ac.uk/ cleverclassrooms/1503-Salford-Uni-Report-DIGITAL. Pdf)


Skip to content