Today we are back talking about PBSA, specifically about the bedroom. So we decided to discuss the topic by sharing our experience with different operators. We are going to look at the best practices, the fundamentals to develop an ideal space, and also some emerging trends that are part of the constant evolution of this sector.
We previously discussed other areas of PBSA design in similar terms. If you are interested you can check the other articles below:
How to Design the Ideal PBSA Study Room
The Recipe for the Perfect Private Dining Room in a PBSA Building
As for the bedrooms, to define the different elements, layout and design, first, we should start from the types available, which are three. PBSA bedrooms can come in cluster en-suite, studio, or a mix that consists of a studio within a cluster flat. A cluster is a group of several rooms that share living areas and especially the kitchen.
Here the main elements to consider are bed, desk and drawer pedestal, pinboard, wall shelf, roller blinds, task chair, and wardrobe with hanging rail and internal shelves. Each of these elements needs to respond to certain prerequisites.
For instance, the bed should ideally be at least a small double. At times operators can decide (in larger rooms) to provide a double bed and charge for double occupancy. It should always have a headboard or a bedside table and, most of all, under-bed storage, which is extremely important for efficiency.
This is usually the minimum for regular PBSA cluster bedrooms. Then Studios, are not only larger, but also include a kitchenette, dining table and chairs, or a fixed breakfast table. For these, the kitchen should also feature an under-counter fridge, sink and tap, oven or combi oven/microwave, a hob (with 2 or 4 rings), extractor hood, task lighting above the counter or the hob, storage units (ideally one base unit and one wall unit per person), fire blanket, and recycling bins according to the local regulations.
The Design approach
When it comes to the design part, there are two main directions a developer can take. The choice is between using fixed or loose furniture.
First though, an important point of discussion and a factor that is discussed later in more detail is the room size. And with this comes a necessity to offer sufficient storage without compromising the room’s livability. This is something that the best operators get very creative with.
So, coming back to the main choice in terms of furniture, the fixed one is more common in the UK. While this offers less flexibility, it also ensures more control over the way the students use the space. This, in turn, can translate into lower operational and maintenance costs.
A great example of this is the unit provided by Stykka, a Danish design brand that we talked about here: Solutions for long-term Interior Sustainability from Denmark. The firm came up with a very structured unit that is ideal as a modular solution for buildings with less room type variation.
On the other hand, loose furniture is used more often in co-living or in PBSA outside of the UK. We realised several projects with this approach in the Netherlands and in Germany. You can check some in our Portfolio section. This solution naturally offers more flexibility to the students. It leaves them more freedom to arrange the space as they prefer when inviting friends over to either spend some time relaxing or studying in a group. And they can even decide to bring more furniture in where it fits.
Another important tip is to consider very carefully small power. The socket layout has to be the most functional possible, and to this end, interior designers should be the ones to oversee it early on in the process having already a general idea of the furniture layout as well.
Finally, like the sockets, other elements like shelves should be well planned at the beginning. They might require pattresses on the walls, and if they are missed early in the development they can result in extra costs later.
Bathrooms instead nowadays come very often as prefabricated pods which help reduce costs with installation and maintenance.
The approach to colour palettes can also determine the overall character of the accommodation quite significantly. Much of this choice is often dictated by the branding, but there is always room to play with it.
Here too there are two main options that developers can go with.
The first is to use neutral colours. This is a popular choice because again it leaves more freedom to the students to personalise the space, which often makes the room also easier to sell.
Using a more punchy or saturated colour palette can be trickier but can also give a strong personality to a space. Some brands are daring with more colourful choices and if done well they will also reinforce the brand and its identity. With the right synergy between these two elements (colours and branding), students are more likely to receive favourably a less neutral space from a brand they like. But it should be clear that the brand wants to establish itself as a trend-setter and aspirational rather than giving students the freedom to customise the room. There is no right or wrong, it depends on the brand intention.
When considering this option, designers should also keep always in mind that a PBSA is not a hotel. So, the residence is not just a short experience but can last months. So, colours, layout and every other element in a room should suit the students’ everyday life.
After an overview of the major design elements to consider for a PBSA bedroom, I thought it would be interesting to have a look at some trends by asking experts and sharing our professional experience accumulated over the last three years.
For this, we asked a few questions to Sarah Canning, representative of The Property Marketing Strategists, a UK-based property marketing consultancy that specialises in student accommodations as well:
M: With regards to PBSA bedroom size do you see a trend toward larger ones?
S: Regarding the size of bedroom size in PBSA, they are still around the 13/14sqm size for an ensuite or 9sqm for a non-ensuite single room. We would like to see more variety in size, facilities and both ensuite and non-ensuite rooms to give the students more choice of pricing options.
M: If so, how would you reconcile the need for a bigger size with the financial return aspect of the PBSA from an operational perspective? (i.e. Renting at a higher price would incur affordability issues)
S: Higher priced rooms still have their place but we feel that there should be a balance to give students more choice. The traditional PBSA building had a focus on international students but the trend is shifting towards domestic students who are more cost-conscious.
M: Could you quote an example of this from your experience?
S: We have seen an innovative layout in a three-bedroom flat – the rooms were non-ensuite but had a great kitchen/living room much more akin to a BTR development. The bathroom was like a family bathroom, not a shower block so the whole thing had a very homely feel. PBSA should be looking towards BTR and Coliving for really innovative ways of utilising space, technology and community building.
M: Is there any other important trend that you see developing in PBSA that you think will stick in the future?
S: We would like to see more evolution within PBSA to consider the local students, demographic and community. For example, a city centre PBSA doesn't necessarily need cinema rooms, bowling alleys or gyms as they will be plentiful in the local area and therefore could fit more rooms in, and lower the price for the student. In an area where there are lots of nursing students, a building with parking would do very well whereas a PBSA that has a high propensity to attract architecture students would need bigger rooms, larger desks and perhaps large printers. The cookie-cutter approach has resulted in a lack of character and innovation within the buildings and products whereas the micro-demographics should dictate the product – by doing research.
Developers are talking about sustainability but we aren't seeing a huge amount of evidence of this yet, so utilising technology to impact sustainability should be the next trend.
M: Is there any other experience, or insight that you think would suit this topic?
S: In our recent Wellbeing Youth Forum Survey, 61.8% of respondents said that having a good night's sleep was the highest contributing factor to their wellbeing, and of those students, a comfortable mattress was the most important element to that. This tells us that the industry would be supporting students in their well-being by investing in good mattresses, plus no doubt it would increase retention of residents. Other wellbeing factors mentioned were soundproofing and having access to natural daylight and fresh air. We would love to see well-being as part of the fabric of the building being prioritised rather than through events and support.
From what we realised working in PBSA over the last 3 years and completing several projects, the preference for a certain type of room is changing as the expectations from a modern student accommodation are different from those of a similar building just 5 or 6 years ago.
A trend that is already evident, as highlighted in our piece Entering the PBSA market in 2022: Bonard Report Presentation, is the differentiation depending on the country. This has important cultural implications that affect the property managers’ activities and collaboration with local institutions as well as design (i.e. the use of porcelain tiles instead of vinyl in countries like Italy, Spain, or Portugal when the budget permits it) and layout (i.e. presence of twin rooms in certain countries).
As confirmed by Sarah's answer, we observed a general trend toward larger room sizes. Right now, 17-19 sq metres (183-205 sq ft) is often not considered a large or luxury-sized bedroom anymore. Instead, it is actually becoming more of a norm. Whereas a few years ago studios would be smaller. And I am also starting to see a mild interest for 20 sqm and slightly larger.