What’s Next for Multifamily Interior Design?

Wendi Stallings of Private Label International on the hottest trends in the sector.

The economy, health-care crises or technological breakthroughs are some of the many drivers behind shifting resident preferences, pushing architects and interior designers to find ways to accommodate emerging lifestyle trends.

Wendi Stallings, founder & principal of Private Label International, has been part of the interior design industry for more than 25 years. Recently, two of her firm’s projects won Gold in the senior housing category at the Multi-Housing News 2023 Excellence Awards.

We caught up with Stallings and asked her to share her insights on the hottest trends in multifamily design, touching on concepts such as “nostalgia,” adaptive-reuse projects and in-style color pallets. She also revealed details about some of her ongoing projects, as well as how she expects multifamily design to evolve.

How do you approach amenities in your projects? What type of interior design elements do you use?

Stallings: Further understanding of psychographics vs. demographics leads us to think about amenities differently. Ray Oldenburg, an American urban sociologist introduced the need for a ‘third place’ for our social and emotional well-being. Multifamily amenities are a natural option to take on this mantle.

Amenities should always strive to promote social interaction and community building and cannot be simply a checklist of typical spaces to include. Designing amenities that people actually use, and creating a connection, turns renters into long-term residents with brand loyalty.

Because the third place has been primary thought of as neighborhood gathering spaces, a question to ask is not just what the surrounding neighborhood has that can supplement to your property’s programming, but what does the neighborhood not have? How can your property fill that gap? Also, what are things you can offer that residents don’t have in their own unit?

Too many times we walk into a clubhouse to see a large sofa, some chairs and a TV, and guaranteed most residents have that kind of layout in their own unit, so how can you push that to the next level? Spaces aren’t meant to be stagnant; they should be a dynamic, living, growing part of the community. When the offering is more than their first and second place, you fulfill the much-needed role of third place.

What materials/finishes and color palettes are currently trending in multifamily interior design?

Stallings: We’re seeing classic materials used in unique ways, large-scale graphics, nostalgic wallcovering, molding trims and natural woods. Natural palettes with pops of fresh crisp colors and a mix of materials and genres, balancing ornate with modern also are trending.

You mentioned “nostalgia” and I know this is one of the drivers behind your projects. Could you expand on this concept?

Stallings: As we create private label spaces, we often look to the past for more cues of comfort. Nostalgia can mean something different for everyone, but the common thread is something from our past that brings a sense of peace.

Arches and fluted details redefine spaces and play with textural scales. Natural materials and traditional patterned tiles feel old world and handmade, warming up rounded forms of the architectural elements. The revival of soft curves and organic shapes of the art deco style and muted, dusty pastel colors of the 80s lend themselves to softened, relaxed spaces. Layering in vintage finds and repurposed pieces round out the nostalgic comfort.

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Although nostalgia is a current trend, it’s also important to create a sense of nostalgia to elevate trends and give them longevity. Many of the items that give us a sense of comfort are also timeless or classic. When we started our research for senior living design several years ago, with a goal of approaching it differently than other designers at the time, we read how important nostalgia is especially for that demographic. To create meaningful spaces that they can feel connected to, but also help with memory retention and general wellness.

Which of your ongoing multifamily interior design projects stands out and why?

Stallings: Three Collective is an adaptive-reuse project in Falls Church, Va. The design and construction team are working to convert three high-rise office towers into live/work units with approximately 30,000 square feet of common spaces and amenities, as well as corridors and exterior spaces.

Each building has three garage levels with amenities that include a makerspace, indoor dog park, dog spas, and Luxer One package rooms. The main amenity floor has conference rooms, game rooms, coworking spaces, a bowling alley, a virtual reality space, an art studio, recording studios and an indoor/outdoor amphitheater. A portion of the grounds will also serve as a public park.

The design team pulled out all the stops to create amenity spaces where each one is as innovative as the next, from the design to the products sourced, and the technology integrated. The acoustics and sound transmission between each space was exceptionally important, to allow for residents to work and play side by side, and the integration of sound abating materials was given extra care and is a design feature of its own. From dimensional upholstered walls, to folded origami ceilings, to wrapped walls and screens, each area feels like a special moment in a property that feels like an entire neighborhood within itself.

Custom graphics and artwork seamlessly flow through each space and add depth by showcasing the history and culture of the Falls Church area. Lighting and transparency were other important elements in the design, being mindful of task lighting vs. ambient lighting, clear glass and colored glass, while allowing some spaces to feel more intimate, while others feel more open or filtered.

Technology that maximizes work, both in person and virtual, and social interaction is infused throughout each amenity space. Another focus of the design team was to cater to extroverts and introverts, to provide spaces that are smaller and more intimate within spaces that are large with high levels of activity. The amenity spaces were meant to not just extend the living spaces of the residential units, but to extend the form and function, to create an ecosystem that evolves what their work and social lives can be.

Conversions are a hot topic right now and an increasing number of office and hotel space is being repurposed into multifamily. How do you see this trend evolving?

Stallings: Three Collective and Fair Lakes are both large office buildings being converted into multifamily developments. While new build construction has many benefits, adaptive reuse is moving on from being considered solely for historical buildings or revitalization. While it takes an experienced team and a targeted strategy to properly retrofit an asset, the benefits range from cost savings, sustainable construction, historical or cultural preservation, community building and repositioning properties left vacant from cultural or economic shifts.

Adaptive reuse, when done correctly, gives us an opportunity to stay true to a building’s innate character and that can only enhance the final product. We hope to see more developers in the future continue to look for ways to reuse and adapt where possible.

What are the main challenges that you encounter in your current interior design projects?

Stallings: The main challenges have been construction pricing and increased coordination with the field teams. Supply delays are affecting all aspects of the projects, even with samples all the way through furniture, fixtures and equipment, especially for more unique items.

What are your predictions in terms of interior design trends for the year to come?

Stallings: The main thing we’re seeing is that trends are becoming less and less about specific colors or materials, and more about the mindset behind design. Years ago, there would be one or two companies that introduced colors of the year and a couple trend think tanks we would look to for inspiration, but with social media and the digital world being so accessible, trends are everywhere and for everything, so really anything goes.

Our upcoming report will focus on psychographics and the thought process behind some of the things that will be big in the coming years, but we see trends as guidelines, not strict rules we have to follow. However, some things we are seeing are large patterned natural stones, jewel tone colors, natural materials, anything sustainable—reused, repurposed, well-made heirloom quality, recycled—plants, and smart technology.

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