Taking Multifamily Interior Design to the Next Level
Maximizing retention rates in multifamily complexes means making residents feel like they’re at home. The design elements of shared spaces and common areas have a massive impact on first impressions and how residents feel living in the building. If you want to stand above the competition and make residents feel welcome, you should consider ways to wow residents with interior design features. Minneapolis interior designer Martha Dayton explains that the importance of creating a distinctive character in design extends across all her projects, from high-end single-family homes to multifamily buildings.
One of the most overlooked factors that Dayton considers essential is the use of artwork. Working with local artists is a high priority for Dayton, and for many of her multifamily projects, the art budget is significant. The use of art creates a more comfortable and intimate environment. When they take time to work with local artists for larger rental complexes, Dayton notes that “…it’s like doing somebody’s private residence,” which is exactly the focus that should be in mind when designing multifamily.
The goal of the interior design should be to create a feeling of home, and this extends well beyond artwork. “We’re using nice fabrics. We’re using lovely furniture. We’re using things that we put in our clients’ homes because we see the extension of the lobby and the common area spaces and lounges as part of their home,” Dayton says. For this reason, she often opts for residential fabrics and furnitures, even in common areas that see high foot traffic.
Dayton acknowledges that commercial-grade furniture and materials will see more longevity and durability, but this is at the expense of comfort. Her team chooses durable fabrics and pieces that can handle some of the wear, but they still expect to need reupholstering or replacing over time. This sacrifice, she says, is well worth it for the effect on livability. “We’re better off making it comfortable and livable and like somebody’s residence, rather than, let’s say, going into a hospital lobby, where you sit on a chair and don’t want to stay for more than five minutes.”
For Dayton and her team, the difference is more than noticeable, especially in buildings with smaller units. “Anytime we go back into the buildings we work in, every single space we’ve created in the common area is full. They’re all being used.”
Of course, part of the popularity of shared spaces is a new trend resulting from the increase in remote workers following the pandemic. Now more than ever it is essential to have livable and workable common areas in a multifamily rental. Residents need space where they can get out, be around other people, have a change of scenery, and get things done. When designing lobby areas, optimizing for remote workstations is a huge benefit.
Some of the work-from-home features that Dayton has included in recent projects are conference rooms fit with TVs that can seat eight to ten people, one-person phone rooms with glass doors, and mixtures of multipurpose tables and chairs in lounge spaces. “During the day, you always see somebody at two out of three tables working. But then, at night, they might pull all of those three tables together and have seating for six.”
Just as common rooms can serve as an extension of the home office, shared kitchen space can serve as an extension of the unit’s kitchen. “Chef’s kitchens are really on trend right now,” Dayton notes. “If you have a micro unit, you can have two people over for dinner. But if your building has a chef’s kitchen, you can have 12 people over and cook in the kitchen and entertain.”
With a national trend toward smaller sized units, features that open up the space and extend its usability are becoming more and more important. Exposed timber columns and beams can bring instant character to any unit. Wood ceilings and floors can emphasize this feeling of warmth. Dayton is working with project architects to include more natural materials into new buildings. “For so long, everything was gray walls and dark wood floors, and I think that’s lightening up, especially whenever units get smaller.” She encourages white oak or other pale finishes on wood to make a space feel larger.
Other small finishing touches can make a big difference in rounding out the character in a space. “Hardware is not always chrome anymore. We’ve been doing some black hardware and black lighting finishes to make it feel less like a traditional apartment unit.” Storage spaces can also be an opportunity for ingenuity. One of the developers Dayton works with is opting for wardrobes rather than closets to create a more homey environment.
When it comes to designing rentals, bringing creativity to the table is the best way to create a truly memorable and inviting space. Try to incorporate some of these elements into future designs or work with your designer to modernize your multifamily complexes.