Functional, Durable Furniture Tops Student Housing Owner, Developer Wish Lists

by Katie Sloan

Each fall is a time to shine for furniture providers. With new projects coming online and owners and operators seeking to level up their accommodations before turn, the summer sees a flurry of activity with companies racing to accommodate multitudes of orders across the country. 

Over the past few years, this time frame has also been plagued with a number of obstacles due to an unreliable supply chain during and immediately following the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, however, has seen a return to more normal operations, making turn/move-in once again a time for providers to focus on showcasing the new designs they have to offer. 

Current Trends

The wish list for student furnishings is all about efficiency, aesthetics and long-term durability. “The top request is for functionality and multipurpose pieces,” says Dan Goldman, manager at Ecologic Furniture. “With limited space — especially in residence halls or shared apartments — students prefer furniture that can serve multiple purposes. For instance, a bed with drawers underneath for storage or a desk that can be used for both study and entertainment.”

From there, the list includes durability — a need that has to be balanced, as developers want affordable furniture but do not want to replace it every year, according to Goldman — and technological integration, like built in charging ports. 

“A growing number of students are also environmentally conscious and prefer furniture made with sustainable materials,” he continues. “Health and posture-conscious furniture is also a hit with today’s students, especially chairs and desks that are built to support long study sessions.”

  The challenge for design is to create an environment that is attractive, yet gives each student the ability to express their individuality through accents and accessories, according to Tery Young, chief creative officer with Morgan Li. “Space is getting more challenging and we are seeing demand in both student housing and hospitality for furniture that is modular and multifunctional,” she says. “The challenge here is to be thoughtful and not gimmicky. In the end, it needs to work.”

Taking a step further into the design aspect of furnishings, the past few years have seen a shift in preferred color schemes. “We have seen a shift from cool tones — primarily variations of gray — to warmer, more natural tones with wood finish cabinets and black or gold hardware to create warmth, contrast and character,” says Eden DeGeorge, business development manager and senior designer with D12 Commercial Interiors. 

“In the common areas and amenity spaces, we see owners and developers seeking more playful environments with colorful couches and accent chairs. And, of course, we’re seeing the great return of wallpaper, including the use of graphic and bold designs,” she continues. “Because many of us are spending more time at home, designers and developers are also including outdoor materials in interior spaces, such as plants, wood and stone.”

There has also been a growing focus on creating spaces that align with owner’s and developer’s corporate brands, according to James Jannetides Jr., director of business development with University Loft Co. 

“Developers are working more with designers to create spaces that align with their corporate look, while taking inspiration and influence from the location of the property to create unique designs that feel less institutionalized,” he says. “A great example outside of our industry is ‘Graduate Hotels’ — a distinct brand in which each property is greatly inspired by its location and pays homage to that locale, while creating visual ties that resonate with their target audience.”

Supply Chain Update and Future Outlook

For the past few years, one of the major topics related to furniture has been the supply chain. But for the first time in a while, all seems quiet on that front. “For us, we’ve seen a return to pre-pandemic status in relation to the supply chain for furniture,” says Jannetides. 

“We learned a lot from our experience over the past few years, and have built a more robust and diverse supply chain that leverages partners from South America, as well as Asia and domestically,” he says. “We’ve also learned that strong relationships are crucial because our partners are still experiencing challenges due to labor or other supply issues that require us to be flexible to best meet their needs throughout the construction process.” 

When asked about the current economic and supply chain environment, the response is largely that furniture providers are not seeing much impact. But their customers’ ability to make deals pencil out like they used to has been impacted significantly, according to Curt Christian, president and CEO of Function First Furniture. 

“The need and demand for student housing is still there in highly populated university markets — just with higher interest rates, higher material costs, and a decline in college enrollment over the past several years,” he says. “These trends are alarming and something we are paying attention to, as they could have an impact on new development projects moving forward.”   

Kris Benson, director of sales with Dickson Furniture Manufacturers, is seeing the same thing. “We’ve seen planned projects being pushed out one to two years,” he says. “We’re even seeing developments being tabled altogether due to varying circumstances related to the economic environment. This is a trend to watch. But we’re fortunate and rely on local sources as a domestic manufacturer, so we’re also not seeing major challenges from a supply chain standpoint either.”

But student housing as an asset class has proven time and again that it is resilient during economic upheavals. “Demand from students showcases a notable inelasticity, with well-managed properties consistently maintaining minimal vacancies,” says Goldman. “But owners and operators aren’t simply riding the wave. They are proactively reinvesting in their communities to optimize the student experience. Given the decline in transactional velocity and challenges associated with underwriting new constructions, renovations have become increasingly predominant.”

Speaking to this trend, Jannetides believes that there will be growing demand for furniture with staying power. “As we look ahead to 2025 and beyond, we’re expecting many developers to invest in existing properties or through acquisitions to grow their portfolios instead of exclusively through new construction,” he says. “We could see a trend in which furniture may need to perform longer because turnover timelines will be extended.”

Social and digital trends are also a driving force for the future of student housing furnishing design, according to DeGeorge. “Furniture will continue to offer upgrades to accommodate smart devices and more efficient amenities, allowing student housing to become even more compatible with its resident’s lifestyle than it already is,” she says. “Student housing design will continue to evolve with the current trends. Even though some would prefer the good old ‘wash, rinse, and repeat’ option, that just won’t cut it anymore.” 

—Katie Sloan

You may also like