Refurbishing an Ex-Hospital to create a student accommodation

| Riccardo Del Bello | Serviced Accommodations

Following our latest article about our project for which we transformed an Ex-Hotel and Restaurant into a student accommodation, we thought it would be interesting to review another big project we developed a while back. This time it was in the Netherlands and one of the two buildings was an old Hospital, while the second was a brand new 24-storey tower.

The early stages

Differently from the previous project, this building was rebuilt almost entirely from just its original structure. What made it quite interesting anyway was the spaces' organisation. The majority of the bedrooms are all located in the tower, while most of the communal areas are developed in the true ex-hospital structure. These characteristics presented different challenges.

rock building

In the tower, as the bedrooms were new, we were not limited by pre-existing room shapes like in other projects. Whereas in the hospital we ended up with vastly different sizes and types of rooms. Despite these, however, our mission was to deliver the appropriate level of refinement, services, and storage even for the smaller ones.

The whole amount of bedrooms in fact was divided between 463 new ones in the tower, shaped in 19 different types, varying from 19 to 24 square metres, and 219 in the hospital with 48 different types and sizes ranging between 19 and 50 square metres.

As for the ex-hospital, here is where all the communal areas have been located, and they covered a huge space of over 800 square metres. Most of it was just open space. So, this time the challenge was to create some sort of separation between areas, make an efficient use of space, and most of all create a welcoming environment that conveyed a homely feeling for the students to feel at home as soon as they stepped in. Our client’s values are, in fact, defined around the creation of a friendly place (both literally and figuratively) where students can thrive and promote a sense of community.

Last but not least, we had to also create a homogeneous aesthetic identity that linked both the tower and the hospital.

Our solutions

To create a uniform identity I found inspiration in some of the building’s features, such as the round windows and geometric shapes that recalled a 70s aesthetic standard. We implemented these shapes throughout both the buildings with different colours of wall paint.


In the communal areas, we obtained a homely feel and the right variety of spots for work, study and reading through different solutions. One was creating a separation between the different areas through colours. So, we played with the flooring vinyl tiles to visually differentiate the lounge/game area, from both the servery and study ones. To communicate the same feeling through colours, we used accents of burnt orange, and warm blues and greys (if you’d like to know more about what I mean with warm blue or grey check this colour psychology guide).

The overall layout remained very open and flexible. We raised walls only where strictly necessary. The rest, along with colours, was achieved through loose and bespoke furniture. This versatility actually helped us in creating various use cases. It was extremely important to find the right balance between spaces for group activities and informal study and more private ones to help students’ focus when studying alone. To this end, we specified some bespoke booth seating that creates a bit more privacy and isolation from large tables where many students can stay at once.


Overall, the communal areas included also a reception with the back of house, a dedicated study room, servery, private dining room, and a cinema/event room. For the latter, being dedicated to leisure activities, talks, and group events, we went for a more wow factor ‘hiding’ behind the curtains a nice unique wallpaper (Small Talk by BN Wallcoverings, featuring leaves, monkeys and tigers!) and complementing the room with poufs of different shades and geometric shapes.

For the bedrooms, we took a different approach. Since as described above the sizes varied a lot between some regular rooms and studios, applying the same standard to each one was quite challenging. Despite that, we managed to include all the usual elements (in line with the brand standards), kitchenette, breakfast bar, desk, bed, and so on, by designing bespoke pieces that were adapted one by one to the different types of bedroom.

Also, on this occasion, we changed direction aesthetically. While in student bedrooms we tend to use quite neutral colours to leave complete freedom to the students to personalise their own room, this time we added a twist. Each room had one bold feature wall painted in a deep teal tone that has since become a distinguishing feature, and the property managers received positive feedback about it as well.

rock bedroom1

Last year, the building was sold to Greystar who now operates it as Canvas Utrecht. The smooth transition proved the success of our design process, which was meticulously tailored to the target audience’s needs.

Overall, this project was an interesting mix of different challenges that stimulated us to come up with various solutions, that ended up making the whole building quite unique. It was also one of the first projects that we delivered for Nido and I have great memories of it. Below is a quick selection of photos of the semi-final result when me and Valeria, despite the pandemic, managed to go on-site in Utrecht and see it in person before handing it over.


Riccardo Del Bello

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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