There are lots of different ideas behind the development of a student accommodation and factors influencing the general direction. Branding, target audience, location, sustainability objectives, and more. However, there are some basic elements that one can start from, and is important to always keep in mind.
So, this week, going from general aspects to more specific ones, we explore the most important things one should not do when developing a student accommodation interior design. A sort of guidelines list on what not to do, details that might be overlooked, and how to avoid some basic mistakes.
1. Wrong Room Sizing
In a PBSA, sometimes students end up using specific spots or rooms more than others, or simply use them in a different way from the one that was initially intended by the designers.
Picking the wrong size for rooms or communal areas can become a costly mistake if students don’t find a bedroom comfortable enough, or if areas end up being used very rarely. One simple example is the Private Dining Room design that we discussed last week. We specified how it is important to always keep in mind the minimum number of people that might use it at once, as well as how they should have enough space and seating in every area, kitchen, dining, and lounge.
It is also important to remember that the wrong size does not necessarily mean too small, but also too big. We have seen an example of a cinema room that was used very rarely by students unless they were in big groups, which didn’t happen often. Small groups, of 2 to 4 people, usually found it too large and somewhat “unwelcoming”. So, as a result, the cinema room was seldom booked and actually used.
2. Picking the generic materials for communal areas
Choosing the materials for furniture and upholstery is one of the funniest tasks an interior designer has to carry out in a project. However, while there can be a lot of freedom for residential projects, the same can’t be said for commercial ones. And even more for student accommodations.
On these occasions, materials should never be picked for aesthetic, or feeling reasons alone. Depending on the specific use of a room or a piece of furniture, durability, ease of cleaning and sanitisation should come first as well. They are all equally important factors.
After the impact of the pandemic, health and safety has become even more important for both residents and property managers. So upholstery, textiles, and other interior materials should be always easy to clean. The same goes, again, for kitchens and dining areas where food is consumed, or large communal areas that are constantly busy throughout the day.
Luckily there are several options available, and many brands provide textiles with such properties.
3. Forget the need for variety
While some rooms are thought to have flexible functions right from the start. Others such as study rooms might seem more straightforward. Students will use it to sit down and study so big tables and chairs or even benches should be enough for everyone right? Well, that’s not always the case.
Large student accommodations with several different communal areas can have rooms dedicated to a different type of study, but even in these, a designer should keep in mind different needs.
So, the same study room might need big tables for regular study, smaller ones (or even separated meeting rooms) for group study, and high tables with stools for more informal reading. Finally, if there is room for it, why not even a corner or a smaller area for a bit of quiet relaxation to take a break from the work?
Secondly, variety has also an important aesthetic function. If well delivered, it makes any room more visually interesting and appealing. This will not only invite students to use a room for different occasions but also spend more time in it.
4. Overlooking potential different uses throughout the day
Different rooms can have flexible uses, and some of these come at different times during the day. For instance, Private Dining Room can easily become also meeting room during the day. Providing them with the right seating and enough plugs for students to use laptops and other devices may allow that.
In a similar way, cinema rooms, which are used mostly in the evening by students to watch movies together, can become spaces for TedX-like talks, or group activities like yoga.
Movable furniture is important to ensure rooms can be adapted to different events or phases of the day, but it is not the only factor. Varied lighting can make a huge difference too. A servery area, that is used regularly at breakfast or lunch, can easily become suited parties in the evening with more suffused lights.
5. Focusing too much on Function Follows Form
Yes, it is fun to pick great pieces to make a room look cool, or more refined, and attractive. But it is important to never forget its usability. At times, furniture or design pieces might look great and really set the tone for a space, becoming a proper defining feature. Unfortunately, though, some pieces are designed and used for their aesthetic value but not really for their comfort or practicality.
So, while this kind of choice can help from a marketing standpoint, the risk is that later on, students will not use the facility as much.
6. Overlooking Accessories
Prints, rugs, plants, vases, books, etc…These items are not usually included in the FF&E tender process, and often are overlooked (especially when there are some budget constraints).
But they can literally change completely the look of an interior conveying an inviting feeling. The dressing phase for an interior is as important as putting both the icing and cherry on top of that metaphorical cake.
They can make a room more comfortable, indirectly inviting students to spend more time in it. Accessories can even become points of interest or conversation starters to help residents bond or make new friends.
Last but not least, as we discussed multiple times like in our Biophilic Design Introductory Guide, plants and other natural elements are proven to be beneficial for both the morale and concentration of the people living and using a space.
7. Not providing sufficient Storage
Quite often the storage space in PBSA bedrooms can be tight, especially for the less expensive ones. Designers have to always keep in mind the importance of maximising the number of storage options.
This is a very specific one, but I still thought it was worth mentioning since we encountered it in various occasions in our projects.
Bean bags can be a good solution for many different rooms. They can be great for a relaxing nook in a communal area, a study room, or, of course, for a cinema room. However, quite often they are not filled sufficiently. So instead of standing and properly sustaining the person that sits on it, it ends up becoming floppy and deformed. Sometimes, so much so that to sit on it students are forced to put them against the walls. So, this is definitely an item where you want to save money.
Here are our 8 important factors to remember when designing a student accommodation. Naturally, projects can get very complex and there is a number of details that if overlooked can end up worsening the experience offered by your PBSA space. So we might follow up with another one in the future. But I think this is a good point to start from.
Written by: Riccardo Del Bello
Riccardo is the marketing manager and partner of A Designer at Heart. He is in charge of the development and brand definition of the company for its marketing activities.
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