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Broadcast Operations Furniture Determined by On-Air Look, Control-Room Function

Furniture designers, consultants work with integrators

When selecting furniture for a government broadcast operation there are two areas to consider; those areas are the set and the control studio. Both are equally important, but one must be functional, and the other complementary of those who are featured on air.

Photo courtesy of Interpretive Woodwork & Design, Inc. by J.J. Smith

In addition, the designers who provide the furniture used on a set or in the control center say the first step is determining the client’s needs.


“Part of our job is to interpret people’s needs that they sometimes have a challenge articulating,” said Kathleen McDonough, an official with the Clifton, N.J. company “Kevin Lee Allen Design,” a firm that produces “scenic design for television.” When working for government clients, the space being outfitted with furniture is often “new to broadcasting,” she said. Therefore, McDonough and company owner, Kevin Lee Allen, have to “interpret” what the clients needs are.

For some of the design company’s government clients, it is the agency’s first venture into broadcasting at the level where the organization has its own studio, McDonough said. Because it is their first venture, it is not unusual for the agency’s staff to be generally focused on how the operation is going to be immediately used, and not how it might be used “a year down the line,” she said. That is “why we talk to them about certain things like color and texture, and the ability to be flexible.”

Tom Feldkamp, sales manager for Marshall Furniture, Inc., of Antioch, Ill., also listens to broadcast clients to ascertain their needs, and using that information designs custom control consoles or desks that can be used on sets. “We find out what they want to do, what they need it for, he said. Or, the information might include if there “are monitors in front of each person,” or that each person seated at the console needs a control space of two feet. “Everything the client says is used to produce the desk or console,” he said.

Control console at the Transportation Security Administration’s broadcast facility. Photo courtesy of Professional Products, Inc. DESIGN ON PAPER

The Marshall process for determining which type of desk or console is best for a client includes “free design drawings” which allows clients to approve the exact furniture they want before placing an order, Feldkamp said. The drawings include “all equipment in place so there’s no question of fit and function,” he added.

Stan Negvesky, president of Interpretive Woodwork & Design, Inc. of Manassas, Va. which makes custom designed control consoles and monitor walls, says the requirements for those products are placed by system integrators. The requirements are usually in the form of technical drawings, or a text description of what the client is looking for. “We take that description and turn it into a monitor wall, operators console, or rack storage credenza,” he said.


When determining which furniture is appropriate for a set, there are factors to consider, the designers said. The first is that the furniture has to look good, but it does not have to be comfortable. “No one is going to spend eight-hours per day in a chair that we put on a television set,” Allen said. The person on camera needs to look as if they are in charge, or in command, and comfortable, he added. Therefore, clients are advised not to use standard office chairs that swivel or have wheels “particularly if you’re dealing with untrained talent or guests,” because there is a chance they would move back and forth, he said.

In addition, the look and design of the chair contributes to the functionality of the set, McDonough said. That might require having chairs re-upholstered, or adding solid sides to a chair so that part of a suit jacket does not stick out, or preventing a chair from moving so whomever is sitting in it will keep their feet flat, she said. Having those on air keep their feet flat prevents them from crossing, and uncrossing their legs, or generally keep moving their legs, which “can affect how a person comes across on camera,” she added.

The desks that appear on camera must also support the commanding presence of those on air, as well as be functional. The size of the desk is important; for example, if there are multiple people at a desk, or if it is a two or three person desk, McDonough said. There are specific desk sizes used on air, and they are designed so that the people sitting at them do not appear to be too far away from each other, or too close together, she said, adding the front and sides of the desk will have a vanity panel to hide their legs. Desks are also kept “on the low side” so it does not dominate.

In addition, there are often phones and monitors in the desks, Allen said. Because of liquid crystal displays it is now easy to incorporate those technologies, he added.

Feldkamp says the right desk for the right client is determined, again, based on the client’s need. “Those needs determine the size of the desk, and everything else comes from that,” he said, adding, “It can be as utilitarian as they want it to be.”

In the control room, function trumps most everything when determining the design for a console, and the integrator determines the function of everything in the control room, Negvesy said. The difference in design depends on the technical application of the room where a console is placed, he said. A master control console or a video production console would have different hardware, and the design would reflect that, he said.