Nestled in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian State University is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, and one of the largest with over 20,000 students enrolled each year. Fall of 2023 proved to be a record-breaking semester for the University, enrolling the largest first-year and online student populations in App State’s 124-year history, with the most diverse student body to date. Perhaps the most notable contributing factor to App State’s student body increase was the opening of its brand-new campus in the city of Hickory, expanding access to higher education further into the western North Carolina region. 

App State has had an educational presence in Hickory, North Carolina, for many years, offering several courses at local community colleges. However, as formerly the largest metropolitan area in the state without a public university campus, the community’s and school system’s desire to establish a permanent presence in the city had become a priority. In late 2021, Appalachian State University purchased a six story former company headquarters a few miles from Hickory’s downtown to serve as the new campus, with additional funding arriving in 2022 for renovation. Design efforts began right away to allow for a fall 2023 semester move-in. 

The focus was placed on completing renovations to the building’s first floor to meet the tight move-in deadline, with the remaining floors to be completed at a later date. Fully furnished classrooms and private offices on the floor’s perimeter allowed furnishing efforts to be focused on the entryway and common areas. For help with furniture selection, App State chose to partner with local dealer WJ Office due to their

long-standing partnership with the University and knowledge of furniture manufacturers that could meet the project’s design and timeline needs. Kimball International’s family of brands was recommended due to quick lead times, durability of product, and trustworthy partnership with the University in previous projects. 

With those focuses top of mind, App State and WJ Office chose to steer away from a traditional institutional feel and selected bold textiles to coordinate with App State colors. They created common areas with soft seating to encourage interaction between students and staff, and also offered touchdown spaces and pods for privacy. To create this new space, they selected a variety of products including Fringe, Jovalie, Kolo Pods, Lochlyn, and Om Pods from the National brand, EverySpace, Tyba, and Whittaker by Kimball, and Lehr and Vernita from Etc.

With doors opening to Hickory for the first time on August 21, 2023, the excitement from students, staff, and the surrounding community was more than expected. Right away, students and staff gravitated to the common areas, intuitively making the spaces their own by dropping into lounge pieces and plugging in or hopping into pods to study or join a virtual class.

The Kolo Pod ADA-Compliant model was even in use on the very first day by a student using a wheelchair! The appreciation for thoughtful, student-centered design was obvious, and has encouraged App State to expand design potential across the greater University.