Newman Garrison + Partners creates unique multifamily communities first.
By Jeffrey Steele, Contributing Editor
Kevin Newman doesn’t have to speak very extensively about himself or his award-winning, full-service architecture and interior design studio before one thing becomes apparent: This is a man who revels in his work.
It’s clear he loves the opportunity to create innovative, cost-effective responses to multifamily design challenges, examples being the Texas Wrap high-density solution and the New Block™ urban infill prototype developed by his firm, Newman Garrison + Partners (NG+P) of Costa Mesa, Calif.
He savors the chance to monitor multifamily trends, and respond with architectural design both innovative and timeless. That’s true whether designing for mid- and high-rise multifamily towers, mixed-use urban infill and transit-oriented developments, or workforce and student housing.
A native of St. Louis, Newman started with the Houston-based national firm Kaufman Meeks in 1980. Five years later, he was tapped to join the firm’s West Coast office. In 2005, along with John Garrison, he bought out Meeks + Partners founder Don Meeks, changed the firm’s name and took control of the business. “The firm had always had the reputation for doing high-density multifamily,” Newman said. “We were always in the forefront. I didn’t see the need to change philosophically, in terms of how we approached design. What we did change was the operations side of the business.”
As the Great Recession took a stranglehold on development, Newman and Garrison positioned the firm as a boutique shop. “We decided we wanted to go after high-density developments in urban communities, mostly infill, and be a boutique firm that really focused on the essentials of design, and stressed the creation of very unique concepts and communities,” he recalled.
“We looked at the demographics and the concentration was headed away from the suburbs and into the cities. The periphery around urban centers was ripe for construction. But there weren’t enough ways for developers to gain the financing they needed.”
The firm’s response was to create the concept called New Block™, allowing for construction of a four-story residential structure with 100 percent surface parking, on two-acre parcels. A wood-framed deck covers the parking field and serves as foundation for an open 20,000-square-foot, sustainable green park. Put to use at Park Landing, an affordable apartment community in Buena Park, Calif., the concept won numerous awards for sustainable design.
“It was seen as a viable solution during that time when it was difficult to get any kind of financing,” Newman said. “The fact that we had a concept that could be built in 12 months affordably, in markets where no housing was being developed, was the key. Having created that, we started growing and the business took root again.”
The New Block™ concept is particularly appropriate in market areas characterized by lower rental rates because it is cost-effective to build and develop. What’s more, Newman said, the concept is versatile enough to work for senior, affordable, market-rate and student-housing communities.
It was at that time, around 2011, that Newman Garrison incorporated within the firm an interior design business, Max Michelle Interior Design Studio, allowing clients to not only obtain an architectural plan but interior design as well.
“What that did was create a seamless connection between the interior design and the architectural studios,” Newman said. “Integrating these disciplines under one roof was very important to us.”
Multifamily trend spotting Newman finds studying multifamily trends fascinating and sees the ability to spot trends as a key differentiator of his firm. “Sustainability is such a huge component in today’s market, but it means extra cost to the developer,” he noted. “When we look at projects today, we have to look at how to make it affordable to design and build. One thing we’ve been aware of and capable of delivering is these creative designs that are cost effective to build.”
Understanding demographic shifts is equally essential. NG+P officials and staff are constantly asking, “Who are we designing for?”
In the urban realm, they’ve found they’re designing for Millennials, who might be termed a very social demographic. “Walkable communities, accessing entertainment and transit are very important to that demographic,” he said.
“Instead of having one central location for an amenity area, we’re now creating three or four zones residents can visit. One might be a clubhouse and pool, another a rooftop terrace that is more passive, where you’ll find barbecues and an outdoor movie area. It becomes a fabulous area for people with the social mindset. We have large areas for gaming, lounging and TV viewing. We have yoga and stretching on different rooftops that overlook the pool. That’s what sets our designs apart. Loud party zones aren’t meant for everyone.”
Business associates who know Newman well describe him as patient, energetic and talented. “Kevin is a wonderful partner to his clients, as he understands our vision and consistently designs projects that exceed our expectations,” says Laura Archuleta, president of Irvine, Calif.-based Jamboree Housing Corporation. “He takes the time to learn about the residents we serve and supports Jamboree’s mission.”
“I believe what sets Kevin apart is the energy and talent his firm brings to the development team,” says David Schoner, vice president, new homes with Coldwell Banker. “They are mindful of land and construction budgets as well as how to develop saleable home plans for the target market and price strata.” Schoner adds, “They know how to push the creative envelope enough to generate a unique selling proposition for the development. The result of their involvement is we sell or lease faster and better.”
While focused on Southern California for years, NG+P has been working in Hawaii the past nine years, and recently has had the opportunity to explore development areas in New Jersey, 40 miles outside Midtown Manhattan. “If an opportunity comes to us, we have to think whether it is beneficial to branch out,” Newman said. “It depends on the project scope and whether it fits into our business model moving forward.”
The firm is working on a project in Los Angeles catering to renters coming in from Pasadena and outlying areas for people used to larger units. “You’re getting more couples, you have more need for larger units,” he added. “There needs to be a flexibility and fluidity. There’s such a saturation of micro-units in LA, and at some point that’s going to cap the market. The issue is, how do we create more flexibility, to keep it fluid for all prospective market trends?”