Space Trends for Modern Design

Unless you redesigned your campus common areas this summer, students likely consider your decor outdated. After all, all commercial spaces typically renovate in 10-year cycles, but the hospitality field — a much closer comparison when it comes to attracting student enrollment — has shaved that turnover to every five years.

In other words, if Holiday Inn is doing it, so must you.

Administrators welcome many of the current interior design trends for campuses. For instance, acrylic translucent panels, manufactured in a variety of finishes, textures and colors, have replaced yesterday’s glass block craze and at a smaller price tag. Likewise, says Amy Doyle, ASID, an interior designer with Dewberry Design Group in Tulsa, Okla., wood detailing is out, so good-bye expensive wainscoting, hello streamlined chair rails with vinyl wall coverings.

Don’t forget the intangible benefits, either: When you invest in an environment students like, they aren’t as likely to abuse it, points out Marilyn Z. Sygrove, president of Sygrove Associates Design Group in New York City.

The Look

Whether Adrienne Carruth, IIDA, an associate with Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Associates in Philadelphia, tackles a job like the University of North Carolina, Temple University or Eastern Michigan University, she knows students will respond to warmer, saturated colors instead of institutional neutrals and grays. That’s why she emphasizes vibrant colors as a focal relief in larger spaces and encourages administrators to hang noteworthy art — definitely not off-the-rack stuff — as the crowning touch. She also incorporates variations in lighting levels and styles to break up the basic fluorescent ceiling.

Sygrove can say it in one word: retro. This time, retro means the ‘70s again represent hip, cutting-edge design. But don’t assume you can log on to eBay or snoop estate sales to find a deal. The actual furniture from that era won’t fly with today’s generation. Frankly, they won’t sacrifice fit for style.“Each era our bodies may get a bit bigger, but the ergonomics slim down,” Sygrove says.“What’s being manufactured now offers those updated dimensions despite the retro appearance.”

Actually, when Elisabeth Skeese, a senior designer with CG Concepts in Lexington, Ky., works with facilities like Berea College, she sticks exclusively to Crypton fabrics in the common areas, a material previously manufactured with the healthcare market in mind. In 2005, nearly every manufacturer offers its version of a woven Crypton in a wide range of “cool.” She couples this fabric with straight-line furniture pieces that say chic in a way overstuffed sofas and chairs no longer do.

Students accept the substitution without a murmur. “This generation is on the go so much, they don’t sit and lounge quite as long,” Doyle notes. “In fact, they don’t talk to their friends — they text-message them. Streamlined furniture is more in tune with the social aspect of this generation.”

It’s that widespread laptop use that prompts Carruth to mix lounge- and café-height furniture in her projects, essentially creating a Starbucks environment for the common areas.

Of course, if you really want to earn students’ admiration, bring in a few of the womb chairs: a seating contraption that envelops a body. Think of it as stepping into an eggshell with one side cut out.

“That’s a lot of fun because two or more kids can pile in at the same time,” says Sygrove. On the other hand, womb chairs are so trendy that they don’t exactly blend in with existing traditional pieces of furniture.

Practically Thinking

When it comes to a retro look, interior designers say they prefer to start with color — first on the walls, followed by flooring. For Skeese, that means more than slapping up paint from the bold, energetic color palettes her clients request. She prefers to make her statements with accent walls. “I take a neutral field color, then really try to throw some colors at the ends of corridors or on one or two walls as you walk into a place,” she explains. “It creates this lively atmosphere for the students.”

Just understand that in this setting, strong colors do not translate to primary hues, Doyle warns. Basic red, yellow, green and blue say primary grades — secondary learning has graduated to sophisticated, complex colors. So a blue, for instance, is actually a mix of colors that grab your eye and draw you into the space. Pastels, of course, don’t stand a chance in this arena.

“But we don’t make this so obnoxious that you turn away from the space. It’s definitely a balance of color,” she adds. Metal finishes, with silver and black leading the trend list, provide not only the perfect accent to this decade’s technology-crazed attitude but a durability factor as well. “Universities don’t have the money to constantly update, so we try to create something that does fit students now but won’t outdate itself quickly or look so trendy in five years that you can say, ‘Oh, they did that in 2005!’” Doyle says. You can, however, freshen your appearance in some areas without budget-busting replacements.

Because most manufacturers build their frames to last years beyond the fabric — whether it wears out from use or simply wears on your nerves through time — interior designers can work magic with an updated fabric swatch and a bit of coordination knowledge. Even the old-fashioned overstuffed pieces aren’t beyond saving, Doyle assures.

“We can keep the body but use a firmer foam so it’s not quite as loungy looking,” she explains. Bulky wood frame chairs present one of the bigger challenges, but she’s refurbished many by stripping the wood stain and refinishing it with a black stain wash.

“You can create a space you’re proud of, without overdoing it to the point taxpayers accuse you of spending your money here and not on education,” Doyle says.