These Talented Architects Spend a Lot of Time Staring at the Walls

FUZE Clear over wood
SERA Architects had a small budget and a big idea when they set about renovating the third floor of their offices in Portland, Oregon. They wanted more communal space where designers and project managers could collaborate. They envisioned a new, experimental workstyle, and they created it with an open floor plan and FUZE Dry Erase Paint.

The new third floor space brings together SERA’s Urban Design & Planning Studio and their Sustainable Resources Group. During the retrofit, private work stations gave way to lounges, conference areas and informal work rooms – all coated in FUZE.

“It’s great going upstairs and seeing the teams work together. It’s a really fluid workspace,” explains Courtney Laird, Interior Designer.

Associates use the walls to sketch ideas and develop concepts, and they often photograph the walls afterward so they can email notes to each other. They’re saving paper in the process, which is important for a company that considers sustainability a top priority.

“Before our walls were covered in FUZE, we used large pads of paper, but our office is always looking for ways to reduce our paper use, and FUZE is making a big difference,” Laird says, adding that the ability to photograph the walls is also improving the office workflow. SERA associates used to spend time scanning and routing handwritten notes. They’re working together more efficiently these days.

FUZE White on the walls

“FUZE gives you the functionality of a white board without the expense of actually´┐╝installing one, and the application process was so simple,” Laird says. While FUZE performs like a white board, it can be applied to other substrates, like plywood (shown above), making it a smart choice for the budget-conscious designer.

“If we outgrow our space, we can take the panels off the walls and take our FUZE with us. We could also paint a rolling panel and move it around the office,” Laird says. “This kind of flexibility leads to sustainability.” For a company like SERA, that’s an all-around win.

Laurens Restoration has a 25-year history of making things look new again.

A two-year growth spurt prompted Laurens Restoration to update their offices after more than two decades running a successful business. They know a thing or two about breathing new life into a space, given their experience in restoring homes and businesses after a disaster. When it came time for their own office refresh, Laurens discovered a new purpose for their walls.

FUZE Dry Erase Paint.

A coat of FUZE Dry Erase Paint turned the walls of Laurens Restoration into an office management tool that’s rather fun to use. They applied the paint to the front wall in their office, a conference room wall and in the space above telephones for those who need to jot a quick note during a conversation.

“We already had large dry-erase boards in our offices, but the FUZE paint provided a great new look and a lot more room to write,” explains owner Zach Laurens. “I would recommend this for any business that needs an easy way to display daily or weekly information – especially if it is constantly changing.”

The FUZE walls erase easily, making them especially useful to track the team’s schedules.

“Everyone seems to enjoy the FUZE walls. It’s a great, clean look that’s fun to write on and easy to erase,” Laurens says.

If only every restoration project were as simple.

“Intellectual graffiti” frees the mind at creativity-driven school

Glenbrook North High School ranks among the top schools in Illinois and nationally, due largely to its focus on individual creativity. It’s an innovative school with access to all of the latest computers and classroom wizardry they need to create a dynamic learning environment. But the best technology they have, according to Chief Innovation Officer Ryan Bretag, is the dry erase paint that covers the walls.

“When ideas flow from floor to ceiling, the perceived boundaries disappear and the creative process really opens up,” Bretag explains. He recommended dry erase paint for Glenbrook after realizing that the best use of technology is a blended experience.

“It’s about combining pixels and pencils,” he says. “In watching some of our heavy users of technology, it became apparent they were always using physical tools, as well.” Sometimes, Bretag explains, students simply need to be able to scribble their ideas, hand to paper – or, in this case, hand to wall.

According to Associate Principal John Finan, Glenbrook encourages students to take charge of their own learning and enjoy going to school every day. It’s a philosophy that necessitates a different approach to design and décor.

“Students need to be active and moving around, and the old traditional classroom with desks bolted to the floor doesn’t work anymore,” Finan explains. In the summer of 2014, Glenbrook painted two walls with FUZE: one is an instructional technology hub for students and staff. The other is a former computer lab converted to a large classroom. In each space, they painted one wall top to bottom with FUZE.

“Students are constantly writing on the wall. They’re brainstorming, taking notes and solving problems, Finan says. Every student has a Google Chrome laptop and they use Google Apps to collaborate. As Bretag explains it, they move from the FUZE wall to Google, and from Google back to the FUZE wall.

“It’s a circular process where, at any moment, the creative juices start flowing. The wall is an idea generator. You walk in the room and say ‘hey, who added that thought to the concept?’ Anyone can add to it,” Bretag says. And when the wall fills up, someone snaps a photo and uploads it to the Google drive so everyone can access it.

“We use the wall to ideate through a problem. Then, when we’re done, we can thoughtfully start to work in the digital world, Bretag explains.

People have suggested painting partial walls to save money, and Bretag is quick to say no.

“Environmental psychology says when you create boundaries, you restrict idea flow. I’ve seen students who were too tall or too short to comfortably write on a whiteboard. All those issues go away when you have an entire wall,” Bretag says. He and Finan agree that schools should never eliminate the traditional elements of the classroom. Students still need to be able to write down their ideas.

“People say today’s kids are ‘so 21st century; they just want technology.’ But then you see the expression on their faces when you hand them a marker and ask them to go draw what they’re thinking. It’s intellectual graffiti. And if you’re a school that believes in inquiry-based learning, this is another tool in the toolbox.”

Dry erase paint turns ancient chalkboards into a modern-day teaching tool 

“Getting white boards into our classrooms was one of our priorities for this year,” explains Nettelhorst Principal Cindy Wulbert. They hoped to replace their outdated chalkboards, some of which were in such bad shape that you couldn’t even write on them. But the school realized whiteboards weren’t feasible because they are costly, and because of the space they require. Then new Nettelhorst teacher Jason Merel suggested they experiment with a dry erase paint distributed by Chicago-based MDC.

It took about three days to revitalize all those old chalkboards. “We prepped them, we painted them and we were done,” says Melody Murphy, Assistant Principal at Nettelhorst.  A single application converts any smooth surface into a dry eraseable one, whether it’s a chalkboard, a wall, a table top, a stairwell— you get the picture.

Now that their old chalkboards function as whiteboards, Nettelhorst children have a bright clean surface for drawing word maps, curriculum maps, anything that you can imagine.  

No waste, no chalk dust and practically no effort to install

    • Paint right over existing chalkboards (or any smooth surface, for that matter)
    • Repurpose existing materials versus sending them to the landfill
    • Add value and function to a space without spending a lot of money
    • Create a dust-free, allergen-free environment. No more chalk!

“The dry erase paint we got from MDC has made our classrooms a place where students want to get up in front of the class, show their work, create their ideas, imagine the impossible.  I’m already thinking of how we can use dry erase paint in other areas of our school,” Wulbert concludes.

Wall-to-wall creativity at a digital marketing agency

The ideas never stop flowing at VML, a digital marketing agency in Kansas City, Mo.  Yet creativity is an unpredictable thing and great ideas have a way of popping up without warning, so the VML staff writes on just about every surface they can find. It could be a scrap of paper, a napkin, a candy wrapper or even a conference room wall.  Fortunately, that wall wipes clean easily, because it’s covered in dry erase paint from MDC – a coating that turns any smooth surface into a dry erasable one.

VML Facilities Manager Paco Laclé was in the process of renovating the firm’s downtown Kansas City building when he heard about the dry erase paint from MDC, a leading U.S. source of commercial wall designs and coatings. VML had used another manufacturer’s dry erase paint at their main building, but they weren’t thrilled with the results because of the elbow grease required to keep it clean.

“We had to get it really wet before wiping it,” Laclé explains. “And if we didn’t clean it well enough, it started to ghost,” he continues, using a term that describes the faint images leftover when a dry erasable surface doesn’t perform as it should. Laclé decided to give MDC a try in the agency’s newly redesigned conference room.  

It took one day to install it, and the result is a floor-to-ceiling brainstorm board that helps promote the free flow of ideas in an atmosphere of boundless creativity.

Laclé says the board cleans easily with the swipe of a dry cloth, and there are no residual images left behind. “We love it.”

The wall looks better, even when it’s blank.

According to Laclé, dry erase paint is a great alternative to costly whiteboards, because the wall looks better when it’s in use – and when it isn’t.

“If you install a whiteboard, you lose the whole wall. Dry erase paint is more functional and it looks better, because if you aren’t using the dry erase function on a particular day, you just clean it and you have a nice, shiny white wall,” Laclé says.  Or not. VML artists are known to sketch designs on the wall, creating cool artwork on an ever-changing canvas.

They’re only just getting started

Laclé is considering other walls to coat with dry erase paint in VML’s refurbished space. It’s an older building with hardwood floors, great views and a lot of character. The bright white dry erase paint provides good contrast against the exposed brick walls and wood beams, but MDC also offers a clear coat that can be painted over any color, and Laclé says his firm may choose to go that route in other areas of their building.

“We have about 200 people working here, and all of them use the dry erase wall in their own way,” Laclé says. Whether it’s a writer, a web designer or a project manager, just about everyone has thoughts and ideas worthy of the wall. And at a time when many companies are looking to conserve resources, why waste paper when there’s a perfectly good wall at hand?

On this university campus, it’s the library that draws a crowd

There was a time when the library wasn’t a quiet storehouse of books. It was a vibrant place where scholars gathered to collaborate, discuss and explore. Today, that’s what you’ll find at the DeLaMare Science & Engineering Library at the University of Nevada in Reno. Under the direction of Tod Colegrove, Ph.D., MSLIS, this library has reinvented itself as a hotspot for creative thinkers who thrive in an atmosphere where the ideas are as plentiful as the books.

It was a surprisingly easy transformation: they simply coated the walls with dry erase paint.

The innovative paint, which is commercially sold by MDC (a leading supplier of wallcoverings and coatings), turns any smooth surface into a dry erase board. Approximately 20% of the DeLaMare library’s walls are now covered in the paint. It’s a total of about 1,000 square feet of floor-to-ceiling workspace on 13 walls of the four-floor library.

“The active process of learning is important, and it was our goal to turn the library into a place where new knowledge is created every day,” Colegrove explains. When he first stepped into his role as head of the library in 2009, he immediately recognized a need for sizable whiteboard space that could accommodate the kinds of work done by science and engineering students. Hefirst thought of gluing tile boards to the walls, but the university nixed the idea. Then Colegrove heard about dry erase paint from MDC and knew he’d found the answer. Once it was installed, the change in the library’s atmosphere was virtually immediate.

“The walls have become an incredibly collaborative workspace. It’s a powerful tool because instead of spending time learning privately, these students are solving problems together. I’ve seen an incredible range of work and ideas on the walls – lots of organic chemistry and math problems, and of course the occasional fire-breathing dragon,” Colegrove says with a smile.

Clearly, the freedom to write on the walls is bringing out the creativity in everyone, and attendance at the library has skyrocketed. A place that once drew four or five people at a time is now bustling with several hundred students and faculty engaged in conversation and spontaneous collaboration. Some faculty are even holding office hours at the library. The students are, as Colegrove says, “wildly excited” about the technology. In fact, the dry erase paint has generated so much enthusiasm that the library decided to sponsor a wall art contest. The prize? A dry erase paint kit for installation in the winning student’s home.

A couple of weeks after Colegrove installed the paint, the Associate Dean of the College of Science visited the library, and then the next day she brought the Dean so he could see what was happening.

“He wants to rip out the whiteboards he just installed in a new building on campus and install floor-to-ceiling dry erase paint instead,” Colegrove says.

“If I had to name one thing that’s been transformative in this library to date, it would be this paint.”

Chrissy Klenke, who graduated from the University in 2004 and now works in the DeLaMarelibrary, marvels at the change, summing it up in one sentence that says it all:

“It’s the same place, but an entirely different space.”


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