Protecting Your Residence Hall Furniture Investment

In the movie ‘Animal House,’ the furniture took more than its share of hard knocks. Fortunately, what happened in the movie is the exception rather than the norm when it comes to how residence hall, and probably the vast majority of fraternity and sorority furniture, is really treated. Whether it’s a private residence or a residence hall, furniture gets a lot of wear and tear. Students flop, slouch, dangle their feet over the arms, spill, sit on pieces that aren’t intended for sitting - and more.

Residence hall furniture certainly takes its share of knocks. Yet, when asked about abuse, two experienced residence hall professionals believe that it is more a case of abuse through use rather than outright abuse. And that’s an important distinction. A three-part approach - student involvement and education, creating the right environment and on-going maintenance - helps reduce normal wear and tear.

Knowledge and Involvement - Two Important Assets

Craig Schmitt, director of Residential Services at the University of Dayton in Ohio, says that student involvement in residence hall furniture decisions plays a key role in helping protect the university’s investment. ‘I have found through the years that students are more likely to take better care of residence hall furniture if they understand the investment that we have made. Involving them when we make purchasing decisions is thus an integral part of the equation.’

The University of Dayton has a total enrollment of 10,200 undergraduate, graduate and law school students. This private institution is currently responsible for 5,600 beds that are provided in a variety of facilities. Students participate extensively in the selection process when it comes to buying residence hall furniture.

‘I and others on my staff begin by selecting a number of chairs, for instance, from different vendors that meet the university’s criteria,’ Schmitt says. ‘We then set up model areas where students come and evaluate the options. It gives them a sense of ownership, which we’ve found translates to better care of our furniture.’

Ann Nielson, director for Facility Management, Housing and Residential Education at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., which has a student population of 10,496 in undergraduate, graduate and professional programs, agrees with Schmitt. ‘We also involve our students extensively when it’s time to buy residence hall furniture. It gives them a sense of ownership, and they can then also become advocates with students not involved in the process as to why we selected the items that we did.’

Creating the Right Environment

Another key factor according to Nielson, which Schmitt agrees with, is creating the right look for students. ‘If students feel that they have less expensive or, essentially, disposable furniture, they treat it that way. We give great consideration to the look that our furniture conveys in addition to selecting items for their durability and cost. There are many factors to consider.’

Several residence halls at Vanderbilt have been renovated in recent years, and this has resulted in opportunities to move in a new direction, according to Nielson. ‘We’ve looked at more built-in units, such as closets rather than armoires, when we’ve renovated some of our facilities. Abuse or misuse often comes when furniture is moved around a lot. We want our students to have flexibility, but we’ve also found that having built-in furniture components can be advantageous.’

Both Schmitt and Nielson agree that wood is the preferred choice when it comes to residence hall furniture. Wood presents a more permanent look, is more durable than some other options and comes in a variety of finishes and designs. Add in upholstered items, such as chairs and couches, and there are a host of design options available.

‘Students want an environment that has a home-like quality,’ Nielson believes. ‘When we create a look that is both aesthetically pleasing and conveys permanence, it gives students a sense that we care about the environment in which they live, which we do, and that this is a special place. We hope they will care for our residence hall furniture as they would items in their own homes.’

Prolonging Furniture Life

It’s probably no surprise that both universities are diligent in quickly jumping on repair situations. When damaged items are reported, they are fixed immediately in order to ward off more extensive damage. Schmitt notes that tightening a table leg, for example, is much easier than repairing a broken table leg. Both institutions also use the summer break to check all residence hall furniture for items that need repair.

When Abuse Happens

Abuse typically happens when students fail to use their better judgment, which occurs during parties or when students are horsing around. Nielson cites an instance when students were throwing a football inside and knocked off a sprinkler head, resulting in extensive water damage.

The good news is that outright abuse, as stated earlier, is minimal given the extensive furniture collection that both universities have on their books. Nielson estimates that their losses are about one percent or eight to 10 items per year because of abuse. Schmitt reports that outright abuse counts for about five percent in damages per year.

Hitting a student’s pocket book, or his parents’, is probably the biggest recourse at both universities, and a measure that is most certainly employed on other campuses across the country. When abuse of residence hall furniture can be identified, the offending student is financially responsible for either repair or replacement.

Schmitt has also employed the tactic of removing the abused furniture from an area. ‘Removing a couch from a lounge, for example, shows students how much they used it. It increases their appreciation for what is provided, and they often tell us they wish they had the furniture back. And, at some point, they do get it back.’