The way we view our homes has changed, perhaps forever. The things we value, the spaces we love and the parts we wish we could change all look different after months spent mostly in the confines of our home.
What this will mean for home design is the big question. Beyond surface-level changes, we are likely in store for some fundamental shifts and an acceleration of certain trends we were seeing pre-pandemic, particularly in multifamily.
In our work helping builders and developers design, merchandise and market multifamily communities across the nation, we are already seeing some of these shifts beginning to play out.
• Lifestyle vs. demographic-driven design. First, we anticipate a movement toward designing for more diverse, connected communities driven by a combination of the pandemic and the social upheaval we are experiencing as a country, which have both revealed the disadvantages of siloed living.
For years we’ve cautioned our clients against designing just for a single demographic. What we should instead be talking about is buyer personas. What do the people who will rent or buy here want from their lifestyle? What do they value? The answers to these questions transcend age, culture, and race and socioeconomic status.
Factors like location choice say more about the potential buyer’s persona than age. Developers in dense urban environments, for example, are recognizing that millennials and empty-nesters are looking for many of the same things – low-maintenance living, walkability, etc. – in their home.
This also applies to suburban multifamily communities. Taking cues from hospitality, Westminster Row offers community spaces that feel more like a chic boutique hotel lobby than a traditional clubhouse, creating an experience that appeals equally to younger and older couples alike.
By focusing on lifestyle factors that appeal to a diverse range of people, developers can create a richer experience for residents. Ultimately, this will lead to a more vibrant, marketable community with greater long-term viability.
• Redefining community amenities. The initial reaction to the pandemic has been to de-emphasize communal spaces. This is a mistake for several reasons.
Months of little external contact have actually reinforced for many how important human contact is. Humans are wired for socialization. These amenity spaces also serve as an extension of residents’ living space, providing experiences they simply wouldn’t get if we eliminated the space in favor of slightly larger units. So, while physical distancing in shared spaces may become a temporary norm, communal spaces that were popular prepandemic will retain their value.
What we anticipate changing is the mix of amenities. We could see a shift toward designing more self-contained communities with the kinds of services residents prized during quarantine: access to healthy food, health/ wellness and space to work. So, we might see an increase in not just the traditional ground-level coffee shops or retail, but also small community grocery stores or access to a communitywide produce co-op.
We may even see an increase in health care-related amenities. The model existed prepandemic, with ultrahigh-end communities providing access to on-call physicians, but we’re also seeing more traditional multifamily developers moving into the space with resident perks like wellness concierges and nutritional consultants on staff.
• Greater focus on measurable wellness. Along that same vein, it will become even more important for developers and designers alike think about supporting resident health and wellness at a community level.
Wellness previously was a nice-to-have. Now, the builder community is increasingly recognizing that the design of the places we live is a key tool in preserving mental and physical health – and marketing that level of thoughtfulness to potential residents. At a design level, we anticipate an increased focus on spaces that support mental health as much as physical. At Broadstone Lowry, in addition to the typical fitness center, we designed wellness areas with meditation pods, a serene yoga studio and a juice bar, for example.
We’ll also likely see a greater push for certification programs like Fitwel or the WELL Building Standard, which was just piloted at Lakehouse in Denver. These programs take into consideration everything from indoor air quality to access to outdoor spaces to the food that residents have access to. Properties that already have taken steps in the direction of measurable, evidence-based wellness will be at a distinct advantage.
• Floor plan changes in a post-COVID world. When it comes to the units themselves, we anticipate a growing desire for flex space. Over the last decade, the industry trended toward smaller units and larger, highly amenitized communal spaces. Now, we anticipate the mass work-from-home experiment, combined with the economic insecurity wrought by the virus, will spur some changes in floor plan design.
This may result in larger units to accommodate co-living – adult children moving in with parents or multiple adult roommates sharing the cost of an apartment. These shifts in lifestyle will necessitate additional flex spaces – for example, to accommodate multiple roommates working from home or a parent and a child working/ distance-learning. In any scenario, we’ll continue to see technology play an increasingly important role in multifamily community design with ultra-fast internet becoming a minimum requirement.
Given that we are still in the midst of this pandemic, the impact on design largely remains to be seen. What is already clear, however, are the many ways that we, as a design and building community, can work together to ensure multifamily living down the road is better for people and better for our communities.