Gone are the days of bulky, wooden block furniture adorning the average student housing apartment.

Form has become just as important as function in the increasingly competitive sector.

“Over the last 15 years [we’ve gone] to stylish functional furniture that looks like a soft, contemporary home,” says Paul Dougan, president and CEO of Dallas-based University Furnishings.

With more student housing developments coming on line, the student furniture business is booming as well, offering owners a chance to differentiate.

“You find that these properties want to distinguish themselves from the pack,” Dougan says. “Instead of finding homes and apartment complexes, you find more student purpose-built units, with furniture.”

With a less-utilitarian approach, furniture makers and interior designers are also focusing on durability, which is the most challenging part of the manufacturing process, Dougan says. And with private study rooms and multipurpose community rooms on the rise, ergonomic design is important as well.

“Students will study in just about any space we give them, if we can give them something that’s geared more to their comfort level,” says Jill Lung, interior designer at Austin, Texas–based Sixthriver Architects.

Balancing durability with style can be difficult. But when purchasing furniture in bulk for a community that features a broad spectrum of floorplans and rents, every unit can benefit.

“Developers are catering to different price points,” Lung says. “So it fits like a puzzle piece.”

University Furnishings charges $1,200 to $1,800 per bed, which includes installation of all furniture in the unit. It’s more expensive for one-bedroom units versus two to four bedrooms given that the cost of dining and living room furniture is split per bed.

Those one-bedroom units are challenging for other reasons: Storage is an issue, Dougan says, particularly in coastal urban areas where bedrooms are getting smaller, but renter expectations remain high.

It doesn’t help that larger beds are now all the rage; they’ve practically become a staple in the industry. So designers are finding storage in other places, such as under beds, and favoring dual-purpose end tables that can fit under an armchair, for example.

That kind of pragmatic creativity is increasingly necessary in such a competitive sector.

“It’s important to make sure that the property and interior of units are stylish, and it’s also important that they last,” Dougan says.