The Proper Support

April 1, 2005

Name the one element of an air studio that makes every thing work together. Some might say that it's the audio routing system. Others may believe that it is the audio storage and playback system. While these are critical elements to a studio's operation, it's the studio support system — the furniture itself — that makes it all work. The irony is that the most basic piece of equipment, and the foundation for everything in, on and around it, is often given the least forethought.

Aside from aesthetic treatments, a studio's overall look and feel starts with the furniture. This sets the tone of the room. If the furniture presents a lackluster presence, chances are the talent using the facility will provide the same performance. This is not to say that the furniture must be always be the top of the line, but attention to some of the finer details can make the most basic furniture look great, which will carry over to the performance of the people using it.

Custom furniture designs can incorporate unique design features. In this case, the wainscoat treatment on the walls has been repeated on the furniture legs at WPOZ-FM.

Deciding what the furniture looks like is important to its use, but form and function should be the first decisions made.

Consider the specific needs of the users. The furniture must obviously fit the room in which it will be used. Ideally, the room itself will be sufficient in size and shape to allow an efficient operation. It's easy to take the standard approach of placing a U- or L-shaped assembly in the space and load it with equipment. This can work, but you will see better results by understanding the needs of the users. In the case of a facility rebuild, observe the studio in use. Note any problems with the existing set up, which is usually easy, as well as any positive aspects, which may be harder to identify.

Consider sight lines between hosts and guests, equipment placement, ergonomic access to the equipment, and especially the adaptability of the layout to multiple users. Unless the studio is built for a single user, several people will use it at various stages during the day.

In many cases, custom furniture can provide exactly what is needed in a studio. Custom designs can also be fitted to unusual (or accidental) room dimensions. Custom designs typically some with a higher cost than pre-manufactured or modular systems. Pre-manufactured and modular systems can provide a practical and functional foundation at a reasonable cost. They will also likely have a quicker delivery time.

Making the grade

Any project will have a defined budget for the furniture. While a top-of-the-line, custom-made design may be desired, a more cost-effective approach may be necessary. Melamine, a low-pressure laminate, on particle board is commonly used in budget-minded designs. It provides reasonable wear.

A step up in cost and wear uses medium-density fiberboard (MDF) or plywood, with laminated tops. Edges are typically finished with plastic molding or wood stripping. This type of construction is durable and wears well. High pressure laminates also increase durability.

Slide-out racks that provide ample access in a tight space are one of the newer furniture innovations.

Solid-surface counter tops have gained popularity more recently. Often called Corian, which is but one specific brand from Dupont, this resin material has stone-like look. Another common brand name is Avonite. Large areas can be covered by several pieces of the material, and then the seams can be joined to make it look like a single slab. This material lasts a long time, and small scratches can be buffed to preserve the impressive look.

The countertop will see the most wear, and scratches are to be expected. In the case of laminated surfaces, removing the scratches is not possible, but your choice in color can minimize their appearance.

The laminate is a plastic layer over colored paper. The lower layers, which are also paper, are usually brown. Because of this, lighter colors tend to hide scratches better that dark colors. If you prefer a dark color, consider one with a pattern that will hide the scratches, such as a veined marble or granite. Once a color is chosen, ask for a sample of the material and then conduct your own scratch test to be sure.

Design options

One of the strengths of modular designs is that it can usually be rearranged or supplemented to accommodate changing needs. A design may work well today, but down the road an additional equipment turret or rack is needed. A custom design might require extensive modification. A modular design may be able to seamlessly add an section or accessory.

Some manufacturers offer systems that use interlocking pieces, making the furniture assembly like a giant erector set. These systems offer extensive flexibility in design changes.

With more equipment being placed in the rack room, studios do not need the copious rack spaces and equipment housings they once did. This has led to furniture designs with an open look. Curved lines and pole legs give the studio a cleaner look. They also reduce the weight of the furniture. This approach also removes the natural cover for wire and cable inherent to solid furniture. The open design is highly practical if it is designed to withstand the use, but be sure to consider cable access paths.

A common dilemma in furniture design is determining the best height. The debate between a stand-up or a sit-down studio is endless, but it leaves the designer in a bind. One solution to this is to not decide for them. Adjustable height furniture is a recent innovation that incorporates a motorized mechanism into the legs to provide a range from about 29" to about 40" in height.

When space is tight, providing suitable rear access to racks can be impossible. Slide-out racks are now available to allow all access from the front of the rack.

Furniture manufacturers are craftsmen, and most will gladly discuss furniture options and designs with you. Most of them can also provide photos of past projects, which may provide inspiration for your project. Take advantage of this resource, and you'll end up with the right furniture for your needs.

Larry Lamoray at Balsys Wood Arts provided information for this article.

Six tips for selecting and installing the right rack and mounting the equipment in it.

Studio furniture is only part of a station's equipment support needs. Equipment racks are just as important, although they are not usually in the same spotlight as furniture. Here are some tips to help you make a better rack decision.

  1. Pick the right size

    In a rack room, it's common to find racks that stand about 6' high, but the ceiling in most rack rooms is closer to 8'. Rack space is always at a premium, so don't waste the upper space. Likewise, 24" is a common depth, but RF amplifiers and computer cases require deeper racks.

  2. Include cable management

    Some rack designs offer a cable tray option to route cables between the rack sections. You can also use D-rings, cable ties and other methods to provide a fixed pathway for the cables to prevent the installation from becoming a rat's nest. Determine the cable routing method before any wire is run, then stick to the plan. Because changes are inevitable, if cable ties are used, it is better to use more ties at greater intervals and leave the ties loose so that additional cables can be added later.

  3. Tapped or caged?

    Rack rails are available with tapped holes for a specific screw size or stamped holes that can accept caged nuts for the mounting screws. Both work well. The tapped opening eliminates the need to install the additional caged nuts. However, if a screw hole is damaged, it is easier to replace the caged nut than to retap the hole. If a tapped hole is retapped to the point of it being too large, a caged nut can be installed in the damaged position.

  4. Provide proper ventilation

    Most often ignored, equipment ventilation is critical in rack selection. In most cases, natural convection is sufficient. Ideally, allow for one space between each piece of equipment. The top of the rack should be open or perforated to allow the warm air to escape. If doors are installed on the racks or if the equipment produces a great deal of heat, it may be necessary to install fans to circulate the air. These fans are typically placed at the top of the rack to work with the natural air flow. Be sure to allow sufficient space for air to be drawn into the bottom of the rack.

  5. Determine sufficient power

    Allow for plenty of electrical outlets from the start. While providing one outlet for every one or two rack spaces sounds reasonable, be sure to account for half- and third-rack width equipment. Also be sure that the outlet spacing is sufficient to mount several wall wart power supplies without wasting outlet space.

  6. Verify your needs

    Make a rack layout before deciding how much rack space is needed. CAD programs can do this, but it can be just as easy to use Excel or simple paper. Any planning method will likely reveal some forgotten equipment. In addition, computer equipment and telephone equipment are being more fully integrated into equipment rack spaces. Be sure to account for these needs as well.

Resource Guide

Manufacturers of studio furniture and racks

Amco Engineering


APW Enclosure Products - Stantron

Arrakis Systems

Balsys Wood Arts

Beck Associates

BGW Systems

Cabinetworks Unlimited

Case Logic

Chatsworth Products


Drieselman Manufacturing

Efron Computerized Studios

Electrorack Products


European Cabinetry Unlimited

Forecast Consoles




Mager Systems

Middle Atlantic Products

MilesTek Inc

Murphy Studio Furniture

Nigel B Furniture

Noren Products


Peerless Industries

Penn Fabrication

Porter Case

Progressive Marketing Products


RAM Systems and Comm. Inc


RCI Custom Products

Signal Transport

SKB Corporation

Solutions Custom Furnishings

Spacewise Broadcast Furniture

Studio Technology


TBC Consoles



Zero Cases

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