Bring 'Em Home: Trends in Multifamily Models

Article excerpt

Call it back to basics or a simpler way of life, top designers and marketing experts agree that multifamily models and clubhouses are heading home. The shape of things to come for apartments is a home-like feel without the hassles of upkeeping a house. Models and clubhouses that offer this feel, that convey pride of place and a sense of community, can significantly boost leasing performance.

To Market, To Market . . .

The key to a successful model is designing it to your market. While some designers like to go out on a limb in the name of "art," beware of creating apartment models that demonstrate more design savvy than market sense. Outlandish designs can be just as effective as outmoded designs at turning people away.

Between the clubhouse and the model, a prospect gets a first impression of your property, which can make or break a lease opportunity. "[The impression] needs to be, 'I feel comfortable' but 'I've arrived,'" says Adrienne Akin Faulkner, ASID, president of Faulkner Design Group Inc. in Dallas. She says that after a welcome feeling in the clubhouse, the models need to be "the coup d'etat. They should be memorable, so when people go away from the project, they remember the one that looked like this or felt like that."

The latest look and feel of multifamily models and clubhouses addresses a market whose demographics and psychographics have changed dramatically since the 1980s and early 1990s. The multifamily market no longer caters mainly to young people. Today's market is more diverse and is influenced by two key factors: an aging population and the rise of young professionals who are short on time, long on money, and extremely mobile.

"People are living a lot longer, and we have a lot of empty nesters," says Faulkner. "We have to appeal to these older residents who do not want the hassle of a house anymore but want that custom-home feel."

In furnishing a model for the older set, you need to keep in mind what the prospect likes and is used to. "What you usually find with older people is they're scaling down," says Michelle Duckworth, ASID, a designer out of San Antonio who has worked on numerous multifamily projects with Security Capital Group of Santa Fe, N.M. "They have cherished pieces of furniture, often larger in scale. Older people have had some of their furniture 25 or 30 years, so you kind of have to design your spaces around their breakfront, their big sofas, and their overstuffed chairs."

In general, going with a traditional or transitional (a mix between traditional and contemporary) style in furnishings and colors tends to work well with the older market segment.

Another way to appeal to empty nesters, says Faulkner, is to provide out-of-the-way places and living spaces that have a sense of peace and quiet about them. Arranging a model to have alcoves, nooks, or reading areas can enhance its appeal to this set.

Faulkner, whose multifamily design expertise earned her the 1993 National Association of Home Builders' and Multi-Housing News' Pillars of the Industry Award, identifies a second segment of the market as younger, upper-end renters. "They are young, upcoming professionals who can't necessarily get it together to buy a house, or maybe don't even want the headache, but they want that single-family look."

For the young professionals and dual-income families, Faulkner suggests including more of the latest workout equipment and new technologies in your clubhouse or model. Computer work stations and built-in offices, for instance, are attractive features for young professionals.

When appealing to this market, you can afford to be more adventurous in your model decor. Designer/marketing consultant Jill Carroll of Indianapolis says that while she might go with sophisticated colors and traditional motifs, such as fruit or birds, for the older set, she would do something more fun for the younger set, namely brighter colors and wilder prints. …