Orlando, Fla.—The apartment market in 2017 is poised to be as competitive as ever with a growing supply and anticipated struggle for high occupancy levels. So how do multifamily developers and owners set their property apart in a sea of options? According to a panel of architects, interior designers and builders at the 2017 National Association of Home Builders’ International Builder’s Show in Orlando, Fla., there are a few key design trends that can help a community both attract new residents and retain those who may have a wandering eye.
According to John Thatch, senior principal at DAHLIN Architecture Planning, “The outdoor room is really key as far as expanding the contemporary architecture…You can have an outdoor kitchen or dining room, or it might be the outdoor living room where you can sit by the fireplace and have a glass of wine at the end of the day.” He added that a kitchen is an intriguing feature to expose to the outdoors, and it can be achieved with large windows or sliding doors that blur the line between indoors and out.
In urban environments, however, outdoor space is rarely, if ever, accessible. “How do we get a private outdoor room in these kind of denser compact footprints?” Steve James, founding principal and director of community design at DTJ Design, asked. “The key is to go up in length and also look at the roof.” He explained that while roof decks are ubiquitous in luxury buildings, even a small space can be transformed into an intimate outdoor lounge. However, roof decks aren’t just popular among the urban set, and adding one to a suburban property can increase the feel of an urban edge. “The one thing you can do to distinguish yourself if you’re bringing an urban touch to the burbs is to have a private outdoor space,” James said.
Multifamily architect Sanford Steinberg, partner and CEO of Steinberg Design Collaborative, said that sometimes sacrificing units for outdoor amenity space can be worth the luxury it brings to a property. “An easy simple thing to do is to take out two ground-floor units, connect them to courtyards and fill it with amenities, like an outdoor kitchen or living room or even private cabanas with TVs for your residents to enjoy,” he said.
Customizable and flexible elements
“If we’re going to do great design for our consumers, we have to make spaces multipurpose,” said Marc Thee, co-founder and design principal of Marc-Michaels Interior Design. “Movement is only just beginning in North America, but it’s been everywhere in Europe for 10 or 15 years.” He referenced a few European designs where furniture is created to adapt to the resident’s needs, like a kitchen island that re-configures into a dining table.
“We have custom cars where you can move the seat, why don’t we have custom kitchens that go up and down for the user?” asked Eric Brown, founder of Artisan Homes Realty. He explained a custom design in which the counter has presets for each user, adjusting to their height accordingly as they rest their elbows on the surface. The idea of flexibility and customization goes further than modular furniture, and extends to architecture and space planning, as James said. “How do we package amenities in small spaces? We’re doing that in a 15- to 1800-square-foot multipurpose room,” he explained. “The multipurpose room has rollout doors so that you have portals to the outside garden and also to the front street.”
“The next trend is openness,” said Todd Hallett, president and founder of TK Design & Associates, “the idea of using glass walls that open up and create larger spaces to a room.” As residents increasingly require less space for their personal living quarters, communal or gathering spaces must accommodate many uses.
Hallett said, “Now we’re starting to break those rooms up with different transition points, like patterns or flooring breaks in different areas. The rooms still have this wide open feel to them, but they’re not boring and wide open; they allow for transition spaces.” Incorporating this idea to multifamily residences allows for renters to choose which rooms serve which purpose for their specific needs, rather than the architecture defining the use of spaces for them.
“Translucent or transparent moments from one space into the next is a great way to create that peek-a-boo, or that extension of perceived square footage,” Thee explained, using the example of decorative panels that serve as room dividers instead of walls to open up rooms and increase multipurpose possibilities.
Steinberg attested to the growing trend of resort-inspired living, saying, “What we’re seeing now is design working around hospitality services and amenities. We’re taking a lot of cues from hotels.” Prospective renters may notice this trend right as they enter the property, as multifamily leasing starts to follow hospitality’s lead. “The whole sales and leasing experience has totally changed, Steinberg said. “You’re walking out into a beautiful lobby but now the whole leasing experience is at a desk in the lobby, almost like you’re registering at a hotel.” He added that the hotel-reminiscent feel of today’s multifamily communities can have a big impression when initially touring a property. “The prospective (renter) will sign on the dotted line, and your leasing manager and your management is going to love you, because resident retention is a hell of a lot easier.”
Steinberg added that the resort atmosphere can only benefit from the addition of a few amenities traditionally thought of as opulent indulgences. “Spas – they have them in hotels, so we’re bringing them into multifamily,” he said. “This is a great amenity to have and it really helps your renter sign on the dotted line.”
Mike Hetherman, president, owner and CEO of Willis, a building materials company, said that the concept of seamless “wet rooms” echo this spa-inspired trend. The one-piece waterproof bathroom with seamless installation can ward off common woes like bacteria-laden grout or silicone. For a multifamily property, this concept can be a way to get more mileage out of a bathroom that has been occupied by many residents over the years. “If I want a spa-like retreat but it has dirty black grout, I don’t know how those two connect,” he said.