How to Stage a Model Apartment?

New York--One of the first things prospective residents like to see in a property is the model units.

Model apartment at Venue, an urban, inner city TOD. The property shows the range of model merchandising that may take place at one property. Courtesy: Kathy Andrews Interiors

New York–One of the first things prospective residents like to see in a property is the model units. They look at models to picture themselves living in the apartment or to figure out if their furniture will fit in a unit at the property. Naturally, developers/owners/managers look to designers and merchandisers to stage model units in the most attractive way possible. While it seems like an easy enough job to do, designing a model is a bit more complicated than running to the closest Bed, Bath and Beyond and picking things that might look good in the unit.

Hope DeNicola MF division coordinator at Kathy Andrews Interiors, says the first thing they do is look at the demographic and size of the unit. Typically, they do two types of units: one with a masculine feel and one with a feminine twist, however both could appeal to either side. Kathy Andrews Interiors is a classic design firm so they never do over-the-top contemporary. It’s either transitional contemporary or transitional traditional.

A feminine unit may feature lighter colors: lime green and black for example with paisleys and florals. A masculine unit will feature black and red paint with heavier pattern. Accessories differ as well, for women it may be fashion oriented and for men it could be landscapes or yachting or golf. Appropriately staged furniture and lighting is also key in order to enhance and increase visual space.

“Typically, we will do two units (one and two-bedroom) for a property that’s 180 units or more. As they lease, we often move the model unit to another floor plan that isn’t leasing as quickly. We visit model homes with the developer and look at the unit mix to decide which is the best to merchandise. Depending on what’s going on in the area, we capitalize on location and the area amenities to reinforce the overall property marketing plan, ” says DeNicola. For a new development, Kathy Andrews Interiors does everything from leasing centers to pools, to corridors to site furnishing and often consults on the exterior so that the property has a consistent design.

“Our main goal is to help the developer, owner or manager close the deal, to get the lease and have people re-sign leases,” says DeNicola.

Laura Jacksits, designer at Mab Design, tells MHN. ““There are several things to take into consideration and most of them are focused on making a small space look larger. Color is one element. It’s good to have a neutral paint color as the main color and then do accent walls with darker or more striking colors. You can use darker colors in a big house but not in a small unit.”

Mab Design will opt for a particular color as a theme, say turquoise, then have a light turquoise accent wall and accessories that match the accent wall. For drapery, they believe in staying with sheers and light materials. A small trick, Jacksits says, is to hang the drapes from the top of the ceiling instead of having the rod a few inches below the ceiling. Placement and size of furniture are very important. “Instead of a 90-inch sofa, get a 70-75 inch sofa and you would have an accent chair to compliment the sofa along with coffee and cocktail tables. Make the accent chair the main piece of the room. With regards to placement, never block any of the windows when placing furniture or accessories,” says Jacksits.

Model apartment at Venue, an urban upscale, inner city Houston TOD. The property shows the range of model merchandising that may take place at one property. Courtesy: Kathy Andrews Interiors

Lighting is also very critical. A lot of apartments come with basic fixtures but a best practice is to add floor and table lamps. “The more many lamps and accent lamps you can put in there, the brighter the place looks,” she says. Of course, it has to be in proportion to the unit.

Mab Design usually does one- and two-bedroom units. This allows the property manager and leasing agent to show the bedroom to the person who is looking for a two-bedroom unit as well but they don’t usually do the third bedroom unit because in general new prospects don’t ask for three-bedroom units. Typically, it’s the existing tenants who upgrade to a three-bedroom unit.

L-R: Model two and one-bedroom units at Mosaic at Mueller, which appeals to a younger demographic. Courtesy: Kathy Andrews Interiors

Doris Pearlman, MIRM President for Possibilities for Design, Inc., says, “We try our best to create a lifestyle that people can relate to in order to drive sales or leasing. The most important thing for small apartments is creating a floorplan before anything else, and figuring out if the plan is livable in and whether it will function.”

Design Do’s:

-Consider buyers’ or renters’ dream style—what they think is great and give it back to them in the model. Consider the buyer—Gen Y or older buyers–keep in mind that one size does not fit all.

-Pick a style and create a floorplan that shows the exact size of furniture.

-Color scheme-color is people’s biggest memory so make sure it’s new and fresh but also something your buyer can buy.

-Come up with significant memory. Can you put a smile on their face?

-Create a theme to replicate a relationship—a Sex and the City theme for example.

-Include everybody who will sell, demonstrate etc. Get everyone’s opinion—the on-site staff can tell you what the prospective resident is looking for.

-In student housing, it’s all about durability. Student will literally stand on chairs etc. so everything has to be industrial grade.

Design Don’ts:

-Use over sized furniture: Small isn’t just for multifamily, it’s the new American home.

-Use strong colors as dominant color.

-Create memory points or themes that are overbearing. Subtle doesn’t hit you over the head.

-Be too trendy-it will date itself quickly and the client will not get the longevity out of their investment.

-Put your personal preferences as a designer, instead look at the market and do what’s best for client.

– For student housing, do not put in very expensive furniture and accessories because it might look like it’s out of budget to the parents. At the same time, entice the students to want to live there.


Most developers are tightening their budgets as are the prospective renters. Developers’ budgets range between $25,000-$70,000. For rehabilitation projects, it is usually much lesser—somewhere in the range of $10,000 to $15,000.