Remember, first of all, that you’re creating a new space. Something different. You’re not trying to re-create what’s been done elsewhere a thousand times. Throw away the educational wholesale catalogs. Throw away every playbook and presumption. Any so-called educational piece of furniture should be treated with suspicion. You are trying to zag when they are zigging.

Every time you use an expected form, material, object, color, or even wall-covering, you’re getting away from your purpose, which is to create as different as an experience as you can for the students. The physical space should be so diametrically opposed to whatever institutional atmosphere the students are used to that upon walking inside, they immediately sense a radical shift. They are awakened.

If the schools in your area use cinder blocks, laminated desks and industrial carpeting, you should consider using materials that stand in contrast to those materials — think of woods, rich fabrics, unusual metals. Think about how you can make the atmosphere warm, welcoming and calm.

Calm is a key thing. Most students spend their days under fluorescent lighting in rooms built with cinder blocks. These are not necessarily calming materials. But you need a calm atmosphere where students can concentrate, can be heard and can feel at home. Consider woods, consider warm colors. Consider couches. Consider area rugs. Consider wallpaper and floor lamps and chandeliers. For every decision, think of making your space very different from anything clinical, industrial, cold or uninviting.

Think of living rooms. Think of old libraries and castles and rooms that have warmth and mystery. Or look at a space like the Sydney Story Factory, that looks like the inside of a whale. Whether you go for a warm, hearth-like feeling or an otherworldly space, you’re striving to create a place where students want to be, and where they can feel calm.

Of course you want to engage interior designers, architects, and artists. These are professionals who know how to think through every part of a learning environment. You can and should participate in this process, of course, but finding professional designers to help create your space will save you from a hundred potential mistakes, and will ensure a more thought-through and durable space.

The added advantage of working with a professional interior designer is that very often these folks will have connections with purveyors of furniture, lighting, flooring, and everything else you might need. Many of the 826 centers in the USA worked with an international firm named Gensler, and the designers at Gensler were, many times, able to connect us with their suppliers, and thus get the 826 centers helpful discounts on furniture and more.

Most design firms can take a tax write-off for the in-kind donation of their time. Some firms will already have a set number of hours per year they are committed to donating. If you’re dealing with a smaller firm, or even an individual designer, your center might become a showcase project for them. If you are a good client, and give them freedom and encouragement, they might design a gorgeous space that they can use in their own portfolio. This benefits both you: you receive free or discounted expertise from them and the designer gets a wonderful showpiece for their vision fully executed.

That said, the build-out of your space will be a work in progress for years, if not forever. It need not be perfect before you open. It will change. It will become denser as you add features, furniture, and as your staff and clientele grows. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.