Why Versatility Is Today’s Must-Have Amenity

Josh Kassing of Mary Cook Associates finds beauty alone will not keep residents engaged or drive value for owners.

Josh Kassing

In today’s competitive multifamily market, many developers chase the newest, hottest amenity as a strategy to stand out. But while it’s true a novel feature or a flashy design moment can catch the attention of prospects during the leasing process, to truly be successful, multifamily amenities need to do more than check boxes on the website or photograph well for a property’s marketing materials. The most beautiful amenities won’t drive resident satisfaction or, for that matter, retention if they sit empty and unused.  

While the design of these spaces is still important, developers must be thoughtful in their approach and consider all that goes into how residents use and experience their surroundings—from physical and aesthetic aspects to activation and programming—to ultimately create functional, flexible amenities that residents will take advantage of repeatedly. Following are considerations that should be top of mind in that process:

Today’s amenities must be designed for versatility

The work-from-home lifestyle that has emerged post-pandemic means multifamily residents are spending more time at their property than ever before—at all hours of the day and days of the week. As such, common spaces need to be designed to carefully consider factors that can shift throughout the day, such as the availability of natural light and access to fresh air to perform at their best no matter when they are being used. And with maintenance services like landscaping crews operating in the middle of the work-from-home workday, sound intrusion—and soundproofing solutions—take on added importance.

Likewise, it’s important to look at the different ways residents will want to use an amenity depending on the time of day, day of the week or the season and design accordingly, and in some cases further enhance the versatility of amenities by creating them to serve a variety of functions. For example, a thoughtfully designed work-from-home space will see even more use if it is able to transition from a productivity focus during the day to a space for resident relaxation and socialization after business hours.

At the Notion, the recently completed 290-unit community in Decatur, Ga. with interiors by MCA, work spaces by day can be entertainment spaces by night. Image courtesy of Mary Cook Associates.

A great example of how to build flexibility into an otherwise single-use amenity is Notion, a recently completed 290-unit community in Decatur, Ga., where our team elevated the building’s lobby-adjacent mailroom into an adaptable coffeehouse-inspired coworking lounge. Featuring a variety of seating and espresso machines and cold brew on tap, this dynamic gathering place allows residents to work quietly, converse or collaborate on professional work—and pick up their mail.

Another trend to come out of the pandemic is the popularity of flexible, semi-private pocket areas where residents can work alone or socialize with small groups while still feeling like part of a larger space and community. Smaller-scale spaces distributed around the building tend to be more inviting, less intrusive to other residents and easier to activate compared to a single larger, one-size-fits-all common area. We have executed these pocket spaces in the way of smaller lounges with sliding doors that allow them to be closed off from larger common areas as well as booth-style seating that offers a semi-private venue for both coworking during the day or a game night with friends over a glass of wine.

Treat outdoor amenities with the same consideration

The work-from-anywhere revolution has also increased demand for outdoor spaces as more residents spend time at home throughout the day—so it’s no longer enough to simply provide a sun deck outfitted with chaise lounge seating. To entice residents to use outdoor amenities in other ways, these spaces not only need to consider climate-related factors such as temperature, sunlight and wind shielding, but need to be treated as an extension of the interior when it comes to ergonomics, lighting, sound and plug-ins that support productivity.

Outdoor spaces are also more frequently used when designed with specificity and intentionality. Fireplace lounges, hammock areas, bocce courts, and grilling stations with movable, flexible seating and surfaces will perform much better than a bland, nondescript patio. It’s also beneficial to develop a specific language around outdoor amenities that identifies the kind of programming you are trying to achieve. So, terms like “roof deck” are being replaced with “sky lounge,” which helps convey the programming to the residents.

Coffee bar in apartment building lobby

Mary Cook Associates designed the lobby-adjacent mailroom at Notion to also serve as a flexible coffeehouse-inspired coworking lounge, featuring a variety of seating options, espresso machines and cold brew coffee on tap. Image courtesy of Mary Cook Associates

We’re also incorporating themes that respond to geographic nuances of properties. For example, an outdoor space for a multifamily community in a mountainous region might be designed in a manner similar to an outdoor après ski area at a winter resort. At another property, we designed an outdoor “Par Bar” that pulled thematic inspiration from an adjacent golf course.

Programming goes hand-in-hand with design 

Designers play a vital role in creating amenities and making them beautiful, but these spaces are ultimately vessels for activity. It’s up to owners and management to maximize an amenity’s potential and activate the space with engaging programming.

Multifamily amenities work best when they are supported by programming that draws residents in and encourages interaction, such as pickleball leagues, art classes, music performances, fitness training or pop-up shopping. The opposite also holds true: Amenities like outdoor yoga lawns will only be well-used if properly programmed and maintained.

Amenities always perform better when they offer a more personalized and authentic experience. It’s our challenge to continually elevate these spaces in ways that respond to how people live and ultimately help them to live better.

Josh Kassing is senior vice president of Mary Cook Associates, a fully integrated interior architecture and design firm.

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