How To Increase Room Occupancy – 4 Solutions To House More Students

In Blog, Design Resource, Occupancy by Morgan Dix


Many schools these days face an interesting dilemma when it comes to the question of how to increase room occupancy.

Increasing enrollment thanks to rising popularity intersects with a lack of capital or suitable real estate to build new housing.

This is a resonant issue in California, which has a soaring real estate market and limited space.

At the same time, West Coast schools are attracting more students based on California’s dry and sunny climate, pioneering culture, and progressive policies.

Over the last several years, we’ve worked with at least four schools in California who needed to increase occupancy on short notice. We share their stories below.

How To Increase Occupancy

So how can your school augment occupancy when you don’t have more buildings or budget to shelter your swelling student body?

There are different options available to you, but engineering integrated solutions with your furniture, floor plan, and storage is one innovative way to resolve the problem.

That’s how we’ve solved this stumper for a number of schools.

So let’s look at four examples from our higher education partners. In each case, we helped schools house more students in the face of surging enrollment and waning resources.

Four Solutions For Increasing Occupancy

1. University of California at Irvine

In response to restricted space and swelling enrollment, DCI and UC Irvine created an innovative and environmentally friendly way to increase occupancy in Mesa Court Towers—a new state of the art residence hall—while designing a feature-rich environment for laptop-driven learning.

Originally UCI asked us to design a solution for triple rooms. When we presented our initial floor plan, it gave everyone a clear sense that triples would work well.

Then UCI asked whether they could add a 4th person to the room to further maximize space and occupancy.

We went back to the drawing board and realized that it could happen. Why? There were a few factors.

Designing The Quad Solution

In essence, the rooms were designed in a way that was conducive to maximizing occupancy. That is to say, the building architecture and design contributed to our ability to make quads that were attractive living environments that didn’t feel cramped or closed off.

That’s important, because sometimes you can increase occupancy, but it diminishes the living experience for students. Here, that wasn’t the case.

First of all, they had really high ceilings. That contributed to the overall sense of space and made bunking an attractive option.

Second, there was generous floor space.

And finally, the rooms featured large glass windows that washed the rooms with light while creating a permeable connection with the rich green world outside.

Taken together, these attributes allowed us to devise a solution that would enhance the room environment.

Special Seismic Support

The new quad solution required two bunked beds. And that presented us with another challenge.

In California, for seismic regulations, you have to secure your wardrobes to the wall. To do that, you need a special backer to affix the wardrobe to the stabilizing wall.

Based on UCI’s rooms, that became problematic going from triples to quads. Why?

Because the building contractor had installed the special backing to accommodate up to three wardrobes all in a row when you walk in the door.  That was perfect for the double and triple layouts for which the rooms were originally designed.

But it didn’t work for our solution.

When we went to the four-person layout, two of the wardrobes had to be moved to another wall that wasn’t outfitted with the special backing. So there was no way to secure the wardrobes to the new wall without significant expense. And based on the seismic regulation, the fire marshaal would not sign off on layout without a  solution.

For a while we were scratching our heads. Then, we hit on a special solution.

Our in-house engineering team developed and designed a special metal z-shaped bracket to fasten the bunked bed to the wardrobe.

In the end, this was the only way to fulfill the seismic regulation.

In short, our specially designed and manufactured z-shaped bracket created an alternative so we didn’t have to secure the wardrobe to the wall.

This new quad solution allowed us to innovate even more.

Superior Storage & Top Tier Technology

After solving the seismic snag, we took advantage of the soaring ceilings and created an upper storage cabinet for the top of the wardrobe. This provided the students on the upper bunks with conveniently enhanced storage capacity.

When we presented this new integrated design solution, everyone was happy.

Subsequently, at the request of the University Design Team, we also built charging outlets, data ports, and USB ports into the top of the wardrobe.

This transformed the upper bunk into a function-rich environment for the students. Now the wardrobes functioned as a bedside table for the residents in the upper bunk, transforming a traditionally unpopular upper bunk space into a cool environment for the student.

At some point in this whole process, the school increased their enrollment. They added another hundred beds thanks in part to this novel quad solution.

In essence, the quad layout that we developed in collaboration with the design team helped UCI manage an unexpected surge in enrollment, enabling them to convert more rooms to quads.

You can read more about the solution here.

2. Pepperdine University

When Pepperdine first approached us, they had a space issue. They needed to increase occupancy for on-campus student housing. They asked if we could help them achieve this goal immediately, without adding new residence halls.

Converting their double rooms into thoughtfully designed triples presented the best solution.

First, we looked at their space and evaluate it for the triple option. Next, based on this research, we developed floor plans and furniture designs.

But there was a key challenge to tripling the rooms and our solution required a relatively dramatic intervention. You see, Pepperdine had built-in closets in these rooms. They took up a lot of much-needed space. With the closets in the room, we didn’t see how we could engineer a tripling solution.

In order to make the triples work, we recommended that the school get rid of the built-in closets to free up floor space and replace them with a lofted bed.

Then, in order to create as much space as possible and accommodate as many people as possible, we developed an innovative vision for the area under the bunked bed. The key was to transform it into a fully self-contained micro-environment.

Maximizing functional storage for the small space under the bed was the challenge and the opportunity.

By approaching the micro environment this way—as a whole unto itself—we created a custom sleep-study-storage niche below the bed which included a desk with mobile pedestal and a wardrobe with adjustable shelves, hanging space, and drawers.

Basically, we fit everything under the bed.

And in the end, we created an original and custom product solution and floor plan for their environment that allowed the university to convert double rooms into triple rooms and house more students on campus.

You can read more about the solution here.

3. UC Santa Cruz

We used the same basic principle in another job for UC Santa Cruz.

During a project with UCSC in 2014, we were in the process of upgrading the furniture design standard across campus when the school identified a need to increase their bedspace. They were experiencing a surge in occupancy.

At the time, it was hard for students to find affordable places to rent in Santa Cruz. It’s still hard. This is another big challenge for schools like UCSC. Although they have land where they can build new residence halls, there is vigorous pushback from students and local citizens alike to any new development.

They had limited options.

So the school wanted us to look at their doubles and see if we could convert them to triples. Luckily, we had established this self-contained micro-environment model like the one at Pepperdine.

That served as an ideal basis for increasing occupancy at Santa Cruz as well. The basic idea was to maximize storage and nest everything in the niche beneath the loft.

With this solution in mind, we walked the entire campus to identify all the potential rooms that could accommodate the triple-enabling custom sleep-study-storage niche. We found a lot of opportunities for tripling across the campus and added a significant number of beds.

Custom Ladder Solution

We had to overcome one more hurdle in order to maximize our tripling solution. At UCSC, they require all bunked beds to have guard rails and ladders. Not all the rooms could fit the standard ladder, so without some customization, the tripling solution wouldn’t work.

Therefore, we made the ladder adjustable. That simple fix made a huge difference for UCSC. It allowed them to accommodate the bunked-bed solution in a host of different contexts.

We also custom designed a bunking solution to ensure there were no removable parts. That way, the housing team could dismantle it without having to keep track of extra hardware.

We made the bed with an easily configurable turned knob post on the adjustable bed end in contrast to the usual bunking pin.

You can read more about the solution here.

4. California Lutheran University

In Fall 2016, the CLU housing team contacted us with a new project that presented some unique challenges and opportunities.

They needed to increase occupancy thanks to growing popularity and surging enrollment at the school.

In essence, CLU wanted to update the furniture in two of their residence halls and develop a viable solution for tripling rooms in their suites because housing demand on campus keeps increasing.

Each 5-Resident suite had two bedrooms and a shared living space. CLU asked us to design the first bedroom as a triple and the second bedroom as a double.

After reviewing CLU’s initial design concepts, we gathered detailed room measurements and began plotting different floor layouts.

Tripling the first bedroom presented some unique challenges based on the limited floor space. It required us to completely optimize the room.

We started collaborating with CLU’s Housing Team and presented them with a series of 3D renders showing different options based on our room measurements.

Collaborating On A Tripling Solution

We hit on two key concepts that made the tripling viable. And it’s important to note that we didn’t come up with these solutions in isolation. It was a creative process where CLU helped define the solution in some fundamental ways.

First, we bunked two of the beds and placed a horizontal 6-drawer unit under the lower sleep surface. Each of the three residents would have access to two of the drawers.

Second, we made the third bed in the triple a Jr. Loft, with a wardrobe and 3-drawer chest under the sleep surface. The CLU team chose the Jr. Loft for two reasons: to decrease overall mass in the room and to differentiate the level of each sleep surface.

Another key consideration centred around optimizing the following three factors: ceiling height, the height of the university’s existing mattresses, and the height of the 6-Drawer dresser.

To make the most of the limited room space, we wanted to build the 6-drawer unit under the bunk bed as tall as possible. This approach allowed us to maximize drawer storage while leaving adequate space above both sleep surfaces.

With 97.5” high ceilings, we calculated the max height of the 6-drawer’s height could be 20” and still leave both sleep surfaces with 30” of clearance.

With dimensions of 79W x 24D x 20”H, the 6-drawer unit integrated perfectly with our Quick Lock 3900 Bed to create a seamless look.

You can read more about the solution here.