Imagine the first day of the new college year — students hauling boxes and TVs as they prepare to move into their new home. Now, imagine the panic if these students and their parents were to arrive at an empty, desolate room.
It's unlikely that colleges and universities would assign students to a residence hall room with no furniture, but a space outfitted with ugly, uncomfortable and worn-out furnishings might be just as objectionable to a student looking to establish a home away from home.
Administrators and housing officials can avoid such a nightmare. With a little education and effort, they can make informed, educated decisions in choosing furniture for student housing.
Doing your homework
The first step in acquiring or upgrading residence hall furniture is to research. The Internet and colleagues on campus or at other institutions are options for gathering information.
The Internet is a great resource for gaining preliminary information about products. Although it does not provide an opportunity to touch and feel the product, it does provide dimensions, finish options, product information and other standard data that can help weed out companies that don't fit a school's needs.
Contacting other institutions that have undergone housing renovations can be helpful. Visiting those sites, administrators can view the products in a real setting, touch and feel the furniture, check its durability after it has been subjected to everyday use, and see it set up in spaces similar to the rooms at their institutions. Administrators at other institutions also can provide feedback. Did the company provide friendly and prompt customer service? Did the institution take advantage of using an installation service? Did the company fix mistakes immediately? How did they perform under a tight deadline?
Another source of information is the advice of colleagues. Some may have worked at other institutions when furniture was acquired. What company did their former institution choose? How was the customer service and durability of the product? Other administrators may have insight about which styles of furniture the staff, faculty, students and parents will accept. It is essential to take into consideration those who will be using this furniture day in and day out, and how it will function for their lifestyles.
After researching product choices, administrators need to consider options such as grades of fabrics, versatility of products and the use of an installation service.
The fabric selection can determine the overall look of a space. Furnishings can serve as a marketing tool; choosing traditional pieces can represent the history and prestige of an institution; contemporary items can make it appear cutting-edge. Administrators have a multitude of options available.
For institutions within a limited budget, selecting a grade 1 fabric may be the best option. Fabrics are classified by grades, which is determined by their price range. For grade 1 fabrics, the cost is $7.50 or less per yard. Krypton, a breathable fabric that has been treated to be more stain-resistant and less susceptible to moisture, is another option. However, Krypton is considered a grade 3 fabric with a price tag of $12.01 to $15 per yard.
Leather might seem extravagant, but some pieces are not as pricey as one might think. Some advantages to using leather are the ease of cleaning and its stylish, rich look.
Other options to consider are fabric warranty and replacement parts. Some companies offer upholstery items with Velcro technology. For example, if the fabric on the arm of the chair becomes torn, the school can remove that Velcro-attached fabric and replace it with a new piece of fabric. This increases a product's lifespan and enables a school to avoid buying a new item because of a rip or stain.
Another resourceful option that needs to be considered is the use of an installation service. This generally takes up 5 to 10 percent of the budget, but can be worth it if the service is insured, efficient and professional.
For the long term
A college education is a sizable investment for students, and it is important that the furniture they have in their residence halls is worthy of that investment. Durability is the key to getting longevity out of products. Hardwood items may cost more upfront, but will be worth it in the end.
Sustainability is becoming more important for many institutions and their students. Instead of using traditional hardwoods such as Northern Red Oak to construct furniture, some companies are using Hevea Brasiliensis, also known as Rubberwood, an environmentally farmed timber (EFT). Not only is Rubberwood an affordable option, but also it is a renewable resource that matures in about 20 years rather than the 80 years it takes to effectively farm traditional northern hardwoods.
When looking into the construction of the furniture, explore the issue of modularity. How easy is it to move and configure beds into different locations and positions? One option to consider is a tool-less bed, which allows students to move the sleep surface up and down on the bed ends or change the configuration of a bunkbed without using any tools.
Throughout this whole process, administrators should be asking of furniture companies, “What can you do for my institution, and how do you make it easier?” Two important topics fall under this umbrella of questioning: customer service and company stability.
Customer service begins with the first click onto a company's website. How helpful is this information? Other questions to ask when evaluating a company: How helpful are sales representatives during the sales process? Do they provide helpful suggestions? How flexible is the lead time? Do they provide showroom tours to touch and see the product? Do they have other options, such as a mobile showroom, that can bring products to campus?
A company's stability and history is key to having a successful partnership. How long has this company been in business? Do they have positive feedback from other institutions where they have performed jobs in the past? Do they carry a large variety of items in stock to ensure a quick shipment?
Blankenbaker is the marketing coordinator at University Loft Company, Indianapolis.
Number of years it takes to effectively farm traditional northern hardwoods.
Number of years it takes for an environmentally farmed timber such as Rubberwood to mature.