How Color Affects Multifamily Leasing Success

Multifamily professionals are realizing how color affects multifamily leasing success because this sales tool can transform an apartment into a home.

By Laura Burns-Lamber, Ambius

Apartment leasing agents and property managers looking to attract and retain prospects and tenants should evaluate the power of color in bringing warmth and energy into a space. When they spend time and energy to not only make the property safe, but also warm, attractive and comfortable, they attract renters who look at the apartment as a home rather than a short term residence.

Complete with hues that provide inspiration and serenity,  contemporary housing design focused on the residents’ comfort as well as ergonomic functionality is also now seen by many real estate professionals as key to retaining quality personnel, increasing productivity, maintaining a competitive edge and having the right corporate image. As an experienced designer and landscaping professional, I see the profound effect of color in apartment complexes and how the hues of the color palette are affected by fashion and world events. It can almost be rolled into these four simple words: Events, Environment, Entertainment, and Economy.

After the cataclysmic events of 9/11, bright interior colors fell by the wayside and were replaced by muted earth tones including espresso brown and even black. In China, the color red—corresponding with fire—symbolizes good fortune and joy. Red is found everywhere during Chinese New Year and other Chinese holidays and at family gatherings. The hosting of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing inspired red hue palettes around the world as multi-housing units found new and inventive ways to feature the color red in the lobby and other public areas with their furnishings, wall hangings, plant colors and containers, etc.

Bamboo’s long life makes it a Chinese symbol of longevity and bamboo is widely used in landscaping due to its ability to grow quickly in thick, tall sections. It makes an excellent privacy barrier, while also providing a nice aesthetic. When China was hosting the Olympics, bamboo became a globally significant aesthetic that was highly coveted across homes and workplaces worldwide. In addition to the bamboo plants becoming a fixture in our housing units, the color of bamboo itself—which is green when fresh and tan/brown when dry—became a favored palette. The green movement has kept bamboo in style as bamboo’s eco-friendly positioning in the market favors that it is a quick-growing renewable plant in the grass family which is a natural fiber that doesn’t require chemicals, pesticides, or fertilizers.

In general, color trends tend to lead in five year increments. The pre-Olympics excitement surrounding China hosting this global event began in 2006 and lasted through the 2008 Olympics to extend through 2011, heightened by the continual news reports on China. My commercial and residential building, retail and hospitality clients frequently favor designs that include flashes of red woven with bamboo undertones.

The dark and earth tone colors featured in commercial and residential buildings in the five years following 9/11 closely mirrored our grief-stricken national consciousness. Americans were in a reflective mood and many of the bright and bold-colored companies that had launched jubilantly prior to 9/11 had fallen victim to a souring economy. Similarly the Roaring Twenties favored flappers wearing extravagant, sparkling outfits in bold colors such as hot pink and purple. The arrival of the depression turning the pallet dusty with subtle pastels—this is very similar to what we’re experiencing today in 2011.
Coveted residential color trends also follow what’s featured in fashion. The Pantone Fashion Color Report for Fall 2011 “takes its cues from the grand masters, sepia tones of old Hollywood, Chinese opera, cityscapes and countryside” with “designers paying close attention to texture, contrast and color.” According to Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, “Designers take a painterly approach to fall 2011 by artfully combining bright colors with staple neutrals, reminiscent of how an artist would construct a stunning work of art.” Eiseman adds, “Much like a painter’s masterpiece, there is a certain romance to this season’s palette.”

I see romance and optimism emerging in the color palettes to which multi-housing property managers are gravitating.  As I work with clients to plan their designs, clearly much of the Pantone fall/winter season palette is coming into favor. It includes a radiant emberglow, which is a traditional autumnal tone that emanates the warmth of a glowing fire, partnered with splashes of Coffee Liqueur or Honeysuckle hues for a retro vibe and Bamboo which brings a warm and exotic flavor to the residences.

Pantone also points to a deep purple trend combined with cedar, deep teal or coffee, a lighter version of the dark espresso we have seen in previous years with grey/taupe undertones that is also taking hold across apartment complexes. Plants that favor this purple hue—and that are touched by pink and deep reds—include the Philodendron Red Congo whose leaf petioles remain reddish purple to bright pink with long-lasting petiole sheaths and the Aglaonema Red Valentine which is a colorful Chinese evergreen variety. Quarry, a medium grey color, remains a dependable staple both for fashion this fall and with multi-housing units.

Looking to the future we will see gold, muted metals, bright and burnt warm colors. As defined on Wikipedia, “the Mayan calendar is a system of calendars and almanacs that is used in the Maya civilization of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and in some modern Maya communities in Guatemala and Oaxaca, Mexico. Some people believe that calendar predicts that December 21, 2012 will feature a fascinating astronomical occurrence where the sun will be seen in a conjunction with the crossing point of the galactic equator and the ecliptic which is referred by the Mayans as the Sacred Tree.” As this Mayan calendar comes into focus, the design emphasis of the Mayans will be taking hold in some apartment communities. Property managers and leasing agents are looking for crafted wood products, turquoise hues, natural stone colors and textures and succulent plants.

Holiday color requests also provide an excellent prognosticator of popular hues for the coming season. In 2009 and 2010, purple was a popular request for apartment lobby holiday installations. By 2011, purple along with other brighter colors, have moved front and center as coveted hues for residential interiors.

Laura Burns-Lambert is a design specialist at Ambius, based in San Francisco. CA. She can be reached at [email protected].

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