Designing Apartments for the Millennial Demographic
- Aug 30, 2012
By David Chilinski, AIA, Prellwitz Chilinski Associates
When considering the needs of Millennials in the housing market, it helps to start with an appreciation for how informed and connected this generation is. They know what they want—and more importantly what they do not—when seeking a place to call home. Authenticity counts. As champions of digital media, Millennial renters research to find the right place for them, seek confirmation from their peers and, once satisfied, spread the news to others via social networks.
The mainstreaming of real estate dealmakers and designers via HGTV and other outlets provides greater-than-ever awareness of the power of design, especially among young adults. For them, distinction through residential design is not only understood, it is expected.
How can developers and owners provide the right design elements and achieve a competitive advantage with this fast-growing, plugged-in demographic group?
Deliver on Social and Community Aspirations: Born between 1980 and 1994 and raised by Baby Boomer parents, Millennials are living out their generational values, and choosing the lifestyle priorities that suit them and their time. A work-life balance, supported by access to comfortable places to socialize with friends, is one of those priorities.
Consequently, social and community spaces that extend living space are an important amenity. These include outdoor and indoor “second places” where residents can gather to grill dinner, host a celebration, work out in a gym or hang out in a small group to talk. Fire pits, two-sided fireplaces and water features add to social appeal. Invest in attractive landscaping and durable furniture for outdoor spaces, and consider including a separate, more passive outdoor enclave for reflection and reading.
Consider All Sustainable Design Options: Environmental responsibility is a meaningful value for people of all ages, and particularly for Millennials who were raised with an awareness of global warming and stewardship of our planet. A Boston-based multifamily owner and client, The Mount Vernon Company, is developing the Allston Green District in an industrial section of the city close to public transportation and retail shops. Every detail of the resident experience, from the initial street experience to the materials used in the guest bedrooms, is considered an opportunity to establish a holistic, sustainable community.
The Green District message starts with design. Contemporary architecture, large windows and a building form that fits within its urban context are seen at street level of a new 79-unit residence named The Edge. Solar panels, high-performance mechanical systems with monitoring and control equipment, thermal barriers and energy efficient appliances will contribute to a LEED Gold certification.
Add Height and Light: Inside The Edge and other modern residences, units are designed to import as much light as possible. This translates to higher ceiling heights, over nine feet in this case, and large windows. Daylight washes through the apartments, combining with the ceiling height to convey a loft-style roominess and transparent views.
Light-filled and spacious units compare incredibly well with the predominant look and feel of competing units, particularly the competitive choices for Millennials in urban areas. Older buildings are designed around a tight compartmentalized layout, often with rooms that are siloed off and separated by hallways.
Right-Size the Apartment: Properly designed and practically sized, residential units read larger and function better for residents. By treating the cooking, dining and living spaces as a continuum, the unit layout can achieve a “wow” response. Kitchens are smaller, without the big center island or the over-sized appliances. Dining surfaces can double as places for working on the tablet or laptop, and living rooms are close-in to the kitchen to allow conversations to take place between guests and host.
Expand Beyond Traditional Materials: Creative touches and use of new materials can help reduce construction cost and convey a distinctive brand identity. Particularly in urban properties, designers have a lot more freedom to employ a more raw aesthetic for materials, paints and finishes. Expectations have changed. We can use a metal door instead of wood, substitute a durable floor surface for hardwoods, and include a painted chalkboard surface (and chalk) as the kitchen backsplash.
Many of today’s new materials are made to wear like iron, withstand frequent turnover, and offer versatility and a coolness factor appreciated by owners and residents.
The 80 million Millennials in the U.S. will account for over 35 percent of the workforce by 2014, and reach over 46 percent by 2020. With a fluid and mobile job market, challenging economic conditions and continued uncertainty with home ownership, they will be the primary demographic for multifamily housing for a decade or longer.
When evaluating this opportunity and the options for creating a competitive advantage, owners and developers can utilize targeted, thoughtful design to provide an experience setting for young renters. In many ways, they seek what we all strive for: a great place to live, relax, entertain and take pride in.
David Chilinski AIA is a principal and co-founder of Prellwitz Chilinski Associates in Cambridge, MA