Paint, Hope and CHAIRity

Within the twenty one NYC Department of Probation waiting rooms there is a mind-numbing assortment of chairs, most of which are simply beyond help. Probation is all about waiting, and the room and the chairs are about all you get. Until now.

Biber Architects began a program of renovations to all the waiting rooms last year, but not all can be renewed within the budget. For a few waiting rooms, including this one, there isn’t enough funding to do anything at all. When Lonni Tanner (Chief Change Officer, See Change, NYC Dept. of Design and Construction) showed us a picture of this sad juvenile probation waiting room we realized that the chairs were, under the graffiti, in spite of their broken and disheveled condition, not bad at all. They even remind us of Donald Judd (just squint) and it would be a crime to simply trash them and replace them with tens of thousands of dollars of plastic.

We suggested that maybe they could be painted, perhaps as a class project, maybe even by Carin Goldberg’s class at SVA, possibly informed by the colors we used in other waiting rooms and improbably over a weekend.

These possibilities add up to an amazing project executed over a period of weeks by scores of dedicated volunteers, and culminating in one intense day of creativity by 21 students hand selected by Carin Goldberg from her various classes at the School of Visual Arts. The Brooklyn shop of NEW (Nontraditional Employment for Women) under the care of Anjuli Munjal, the Training Manager, oversaw the complete rehabilitation of all the wooden chairs. New bases, repaired jointure, sanding, priming and painting in 6 solid colors matching the new brand colors for the Department of Probation interiors we designed.

Meanwhile, Carin Goldberg, with Pablo Delkan assisting, created a set of ideas to be applied to the painted chairs. These would be hand painted, but based on a set of images Carin created and presented to the Department of Probation. All the images would be rendered in black and each chair would be unique within the defined themes.

We admit to a certain amount of trepidation entering the final stretch. With the chairs now repaired and a brand new set of colors, the decorative work would tie the chairs into a single composition. We needed the 21 students (and a few other participants) to act as one hand, creating a variety that nonetheless felt unified.

The results surpassed our expectations.
The students, moved by the images of the waiting room’s current state, attacked the project with a sense of fearlessness and intensity. Working in teams and individually, they transferred the 6 templated ideas to the chairs; dingbats, symbols, arrows, geometric shapes, gears and one single chair filled with our signatures.

Two city commissioners stopped by; Vincent Schiraldi and David Burney, from the Department of Probation and the Department of Design and Construction. They watched, painted, chatted and talked to the students. That kind of attention is rare, as Lonni Tanner pointed out, and elevated the sense of purpose and meaning for the project. We thank them both for their involvement.

The chairs will cure for a few weeks before installation in the Bronx, where they will again occupy the Juvenile Probation Waiting Room in their new clothes. We can’t wait to see the reaction.

Special Thanks to:


Pablo Delkan
Santiago Carrasquilla
Pedro Dos Santos
Ben Grandgenett
Bennett Williams
Daniel Rodriguez
Min Choi
Rachel Willey
Aimee Hunt
Yasmin Malki
Najeebah Al Ghadban
Zipeng Zhu
Christopher Mills
Paul Chang
Andrew Teoh
Ji Soo Lee (Carrie)
Aran Yeo
Yi-Chieh Jen (Annie)
Minah Kim
Yoon Ji Lee (Tess)
Anna Laytham


Suzanne Holt
Lonni Tanner
Anjuli Munjal

And all the workers at NEW