Interior Designer Talks Student Housing Trends

Interior design can be vital to success in student housing. Marketing can be a joy when a property’s layout, hues and textures consistently wow potential residents during walkthroughs, and when thoughtfully planned and engaging, amenities help close the deal on lease after lease.

Equally important is how well the selection of materials, fixtures, furnishings and appliances stand up to daily use and abuse by a student resident population, which can strain everything from exercise machines and outdoor equipment to study room furniture and electronics.

To learn what owners and developers can do to aid the design process, Student Housing Business chatted with Ashley Newman, a project manager at Dement Designs. The Dallas-based studio designs interiors and outdoor amenities for multifamily, senior living, student living and hospitality projects throughout the nation.

First and foremost, Newman advises setting financial parameters with the design team.

“It is important to communicate a budget early in the process,” she says. “We need to know what we have to work with, so we aren’t picking premium finishes or going too crazy with custom design that the budget won’t support.”

To keep everyone on the same page, and before her team begins working on concepts for a property, Newman asks clients to share any specific features, themes or other design elements they envision for the project.

Newman emphasizes that student housing design should reflect, or at least not conflict with, local practices and preferences. The design team will research the local market to identify trends and features that renters will value or expect to find in the new project. Developers should also do their homework to learn what competing properties are offering and why.

“The client has to be educated in the market and student housing sector,” Newman says. “If the client has an idea in their head and we present something different, it will throw off the look of the property. That’s why we talk with the client about their vision, help them identify goals and then think outside the box in terms of expected solutions.”

Many Choices

Research can answer fundamental questions about a project, such as the appropriate balance between study areas and recreational space, Newman says. Student housing that serves primarily graduate students may require more options for study and collaboration, for example. In another market, residents may be more interested in physical fitness areas or gathering places to watch televised sports.

Weather and seasonal variation inspire many design features that attract and retain residents by catering to their lifestyles. Near Boston, Dement Design helped a client complete an amenity mix of covered and open courtyards with firepits, a substantial dog park, game courts and seating where residents can study or play outdoors.

For a client in Dallas, by contrast, the team helped residents escape the intense Texas heat with a greater emphasis on swimming pools, indoor and shaded outdoor study areas and common areas with retracting walls or garage doors that “bring many of those outdoor-type activities inside,” Newman said.

For a client’s lakeside property in Clemson, South Carolina, the developer provided docks for boats and paddleboards, plus seating areas with hammocks for enjoying the lake view. “We were able to incorporate some of that aesthetic into the other spaces with oars, beautiful natural greens and blues from the lake and warm woods,” Newman said. “It’s a region where people are very much out on the lake on the weekend.”

Designs to Last

Whatever the region, residents want options for study with varied seating, charging connections and Wi-Fi access. From common areas to individual units, furniture must be sturdy and durable.

The designer will help select furniture, fabrics and finishes, and calculate pricing on any specially designed pieces. Vinyl and similarly tough and easily cleaned fabrics are popular choices, Newman says, and dark colors are slow to show discoloration or wear.

Developers should be ready to order furniture six months before delivery. Newman recommends working with an established, experienced furniture maker serving student housing. This ensures quality, durability and timely shipping even at the height of seasonal demand.

Dement Design works with several manufacturers, often collaborating on custom pieces. In a recent example, the firm was instrumental in choosing the color palate that Dickson Furniture used in furnishing the 591-bed Legends Cape Girardeau student housing community for Domus Development in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Newman’s final advice is to schedule furniture delivery for the residential units several days apart from the arrival of amenity-area equipment and furniture. “Everything arriving on the same day can be like a game of Tetris,” she says. “Even when scheduled for consecutive days, trucks can show up the same day and throw a wrench into efficiency; so, be realistic with the delivery schedule.”

— By Matt Hudgins. This article was written in conjunction with Dickson Furniture Manufacturers, a content partner of Student Housing Business. 

To learn more about Dickson Furniture Manufacturers, click here.

For more information on becoming a Student Housing Business content partner, contact Rich Kelley, publisher, or Tim Tolton, media advisor.

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