Designing multifamily properties requires a delicate balancing act. Developers who play it too safe might not make the splash they need to stand out in a crowded marketplace. But those who go too far risk alienating potential renters. Multi-Housing News spoke to three interior designers to see what’s trending now and will continue to attract renters in 2021 and beyond.
In apartment units, stainless steel kitchen appliances are still desirable, but glass mosaic kitchen backsplashes and espresso wood cabinets are on their way out. So is carpet, according to Stephanie Moore, ASID, CID, owner & principal of Dallas-based Moore Design Group (MDG).
“Multifamily finishes have come a long way in the past 10 years. We are able to give the units a more custom residential feel, which has been very well received,” Moore said. “We are able to mix new metal finishes. Matte black or satin brass have been popular. We are creating kitchens and bathrooms with two-tone cabinets, colored cabinets and fun storage options that ultimately make it feel like home.”
Printing technology has progressed immensely during the past decade. Printed wood, for example, is consistent in color, grain and quality of finish. “In many applications, it looks better than inexpensive wood veneer. Interestingly, we are seeing less of it in unit cabinets, more in unit flooring and more of it in amenity spaces,” Moore noted.
The lag between initial space plan to project installation is typically 18 to 30 months. So MDG staggers the selection of finishes and furnishings, waiting until as late as is practical: Architectural finishes are selected first, followed by furniture, fabrics and art several months later. This allows MDG to adjust the look later in the project.
“We take time to understand the trends and the directions that they are progressing,” Moore explained. “This enables us to make more timeless selections—and make selections ahead of trends. Our clients are looking for beauty and durability. We consistently use tile and quartz slabs in our amenity spaces.”
Today’s renters want dramatic spaces with rich finishes and furnishings scaled to space. To do this, MDG regularly incorporates custom furnishings and art into their work. “The bespoke look has a hierarchy of the elements. One element is central and usually the first thing seen. When you look again, there is something else to see. The design has textures, accessories and details that continue to engage the viewer. In short, there is always something new to see.”
Smaller projects with smaller budgets don’t need to skimp on style. Moore suggests the use of more affordable finishes (and fewer finishes altogether) and reusing the same finish in more than one area, as well as using prefabricated items rather than custom. Also, paint can make a huge impact. But don’t forget that “renters don’t want the same old apartment look—they want something unexpected,” Moore said. “They want a space that also looks good on social media.”
Adding Antimicrobial Surfaces
One of the biggest trends post-COVID-19 will be an emphasis on antimicrobial surfaces especially in communal areas where multifamily residents gather, according to Doris Pearlman, MIRM, IIDA, president & founder of Possibilities for Design based in Denver.
As far as new finishes go, the tipping point is antimicrobial. “Bronze, copper and brass have more antimicrobial properties than stainless steel,” Pearlman said. “We are seeing that those warmer tones are being brought to market and are part of the antimicrobial conversation.”
Granite in particular has become very reasonably priced. “It’s not on the high end at all, but it’s falling out of the picture because it is porous,” Pearlman noted. “Quartz is the hardest non-precious stone on earth, making it the most sanitary countertop surface to use—as well as the most scratch- and stain-resistant,” she explained. Quartz countertops are man-made from quartz chips or quartz dust bound together with resin. Usually, the composition is about 90-95 percent quartz to 5-10 percent resin.
Now more than ever many renters want the look of luxury and this preference is being heard by suppliers who are rolling out lots of options at a variety of price points. The marble look will not be going away anytime soon. “The large veined look is what simulates the look of luxury—and there is a growing selection of large veined stones,” said Pearlman. A variety of Quartz products are standing in for marble including Silestone by Cosentino, Corian by Dupont and Caesarstone.
Porcelain tile has come a long way thanks to technology that enables it to mimic a range of organic materials from wood to natural stone with a large vein appearance. Quartzite is a real stone that is not inexpensive but is priced less than marble; it also creates that large vein appearance. According to Pearlman, we will see a return to laminates because people are looking for less porous surfaces. “Wilsonart is the name I keep running into as far as laminates that would be antimicrobial; I imagine every laminate manufacturer will want to be in that wheelhouse.”
Flat-panel cabinetry and black and white mixes in cabinetry are also gaining popularity, as are warmer and lighter wood tones instead of the cooler gray hues of years past. “These warmer tones found in the woods and leather chairs evoke feelings of compassion and comfort, which is what we yearn for in such an insecure, nervous and confused world”.
“We are so overstimulated by social media and technology,” Pearlman said—and hygge design is one antidote. Hygge, regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture, is a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being. “People want warm and fuzzy, they want comfort and contentment—and the warmth that comes out of texture,” Pearlman explained. Surfaces like white-painted brick (a hallmark of the still popular modern farmhouse/vintage loft aesthetic) fit in perfectly, too.
Mixing Materials, Patterns and Textures
Going forward, renters will have more choices than ever before when it comes to picking an apartment community that reflects their individual sense of style. New York-based Vanessa Deleon, Allied ASID, founder & principal interior designer at Vanessa Deleon Associates, creates bold spaces that resonate with developers and residents alike. The wow moment might start with a floating full-body chandelier in the lobby. “It would define a room in the most stunning of manners,” she said.
Deleon employs a floor-to-ceiling mix of materials in various finishes, from mattes to metallics. When she uses a lot of steel, she incorporates sheen to contrast the industrial look. This gives the design a warmer and more compelling aesthetic.
“I truly love working with a mix of materials—from natural stone, marble and granite to faux everything,” Deleon said. “The material choice depends on the project and the budget. I have used vinyl flooring and porcelain flooring that are both made to look exactly like natural wood. Technology in design has allowed us to at times create a smaller footprint while not letting go of beauty.” Cambria quartz, which has the natural feel and look of marble or granite but offers more durability, is also one of her top choices.
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Deleon frequently uses a variety of patterns and textures to not only add visual interest but also to create a balanced but elevated aesthetic. “I absolutely love working with focal walls in lobbies or lining corridor walls—it offers the perfect opportunity to create show-stopping moments,” Deleon noted.
From faux grass walls to commissioning stunning murals or hanging an extraordinary piece of art, focal walls leave a lasting impression and capture the imagination of visitors to the property and regulars alike, according to Deleon. Ideally, an apartment community’s strategic placement of finishes and overall interior design decisions will contribute to the owner’s leasing outcomes and resident retention.
Deleon also incorporates natural, neutral colors such as light woods, shades of brown and gray and taupes, contrasting them with a metal or various metals.
“Bronze is making a huge comeback,” she pointed out. “In my own home, I have True Residential refrigeration finished in a matte black with copper hardware and a kitchen fully outfitted in a corresponding palette—and it appears as a neutral.”