Embracing the space

Magazine ,

Multifamily design trends maximize living area 

By Dan Wine

Efficient use of limited space, functional and minimalist design, and social areas that bring people together are a few big trends in multifamily communities.

Think beds and drawers that drop from the ceiling and storage bins that fill the extra space above your vehicle in the parking garage. Furniture that can be reconfigured to fit your space, layering of textures and bold splashes of color. And then outside, dog parks and gathering spaces where people can talk and play games.

 Sankarshan Murthy, co-founder and CEO of Bumblebee Spaces in San Francisco, was working in the tech industry and said his company grew out of a side project of trying to solve the lack-of-space problem in the increasingly expensive housing market.

“If you look at what you are paying for every month, most of your money goes into housing,” Murthy said. “And if you look at what exactly in the housing you are paying for, you’re not paying for sticks and drywall and concrete and glass. … You’re paying for the footprint. You’re paying for location. You’re paying for dollar per square foot.”

From there, he and his team — with backgrounds in product development, user experience, and robotics — looked to the ceiling to find their inspiration.

“We’ve basically gone after the ceiling because it’s traditionally unused except for … mechanical, electrical, and plumbing services that run in the ceiling,” Murthy said.

They created modular systems that contain a bed, storage drawers, dressers, and desks that drop from the ceiling. “But they only come to you when you need it, and the rest of the time what the resident ends up getting is the gift of space,” he said.

The idea is rooted in sustainability and reducing the human footprint with an eye toward population growth and future housing needs, Murthy added. What won’t change is the demand for efficient use of space. 

“It’s all kind of two problems at the same time: the space problem and the stuff problem,” he said. “Turns out they are actually the same problem. The more space you have, the more stuff gets accumulated. The more stuff you have, the more space you need.”

Bumblebee’s customers are primarily multifamily owners and operators, and Murthy said he expects to land the company’s first Florida client in Fort Lauderdale this year.

Bradyl Storage Solutions, based in the Washington, D.C., area, sells free-standing storage bins that make use of dead space in multifamily parking garages.

The storage units fit above your vehicle in the parking spot and offer more security than traditional wire-mesh storage, said Lindsay Steiner, Bradyl’s founder and owner along with her husband, Mike.

“Other companies make garage storage that you mount to the wall. All that I know of, they are all wire mesh, and you can see through them, and I think people are concerned that they’re a hazard to fall off the wall,” she said. “Whereas ours is free-standing, so there’s less of that concern, and it’s enclosed, so people’s belongings aren’t exposed visually for theft reasons and dust and debris in a parking garage.”

Steiner said Bradyl’s business is growing thanks to a boom in new construction, and the company is working on a contract for its first customer in Florida.

“We still do the retrofits, but new construction has really picked up, and developers that see it and are planning new buildings have specifically asked for our product,” she said.

Rebecca Felman, an interior designer and principal of R. Shana Designs in Orlando, works directly with architects and engineers to ensure a cohesive look outside and inside.

“We’re creating a complete package,” Felman said. “Colors are sometimes driven by what’s happening on the exterior of the building as well.”

Clean lines and bold, vibrant pops of color are popular, she said, and the industrial look seems to be regaining favor.

“[There are] many opportunities for layering of textures … bricks, stones, heavy textures on furniture, and then pops of color and art and pillows and accents,” Felman said. “Multiple layers, like different types of wall finishes, whether it’s in wallcovering or panel-type systems. The more layers, the richer the interior shell feels.”

Anne Rue, owner and president of Anne Rue Interiors in Sanford, said amenity spaces that are Instagram-worthy and mimic those at five-star hotels are becoming more common. She’s also seeing more simulated reality and high-tech game rooms. For example, Rue recently installed a dual-player golf simulator at one property.

With pet ownership on the rise, she said amenities such as doggy day-care facilities, washing stations, and walking services will grow in popularity.

In the future, Rue expects communities to offer refrigerated mailboxes and delivery stations, so residents could carry groceries or dinner to their apartment at the end of the day without visiting the store.

Alexander Danilov is general manager of Multimo in Fort Lauderdale, which specializes in wall beds. He said his company imports products from a Turkish manufacturer that has been making beds for European customers since the 1980s.

The trend is toward electric versions, Danilov said, where people press a button and the bed opens. An Alexa version is coming soon.

“We’ll come out with an Alexa version where you actually can talk to your phone or to Alexa: ‘Close the bed, open the bed; turn on the lights, turn off the lights.’ … It’s probably not a necessity, but California and New York customers, they’re excited. That’s what we’re working toward. Everything is going electric and then robotic, which is the next level.”

The wall beds can be outfitted with several cabinets for clothes or other storage. Sofas and desks are additional options to complete the room.

White is the most popular color, Danilov said.

“Because a wall bed is a large piece of furniture, people try to hide it,” he said. “So the best way, when they paint the walls white or pale gray, they want to use matte white or semi-gloss white finishes so it kind of blends into the wall and it’s not really visible. And it’s not making a small space even smaller because of the height.”

Dark-wood finishes don’t sell well, he added, because they make the room feel very small.

Danilov said commercial clients build in Multimo’s beds the same way they would build in kitchen cabinets or bathroom cabinets. He also supplies beds to colleges and universities for their dormitories, where space is at a premium and two or four people might be sharing the same room.

Modani Furniture in Miami has attracted more commercial clients by developing a trade program to connect with designers, architects, home developers and hospitality professionals and offer them discounts.

“A trend that we have been seeing is modern, multifunctional, and dynamic furniture,” said Hannah Marona, a Modani public-relations specialist. “The minimalistic movement of tiny houses and decluttered spaces has been sweeping homes across America, changing the way spaces are furnished.”

For example, a new sectional sofa called the Kobe features individual pieces for more flexibility, allowing customers to fit the furniture to their space instead of the other way around.

Erin Toung, owner and president of ET&T Distributors in South Daytona, sells outdoor furniture, playground equipment, dog parks, and site amenities.

“We’ll go into a property and look at the property and help them spruce it up, whether it be with color or with site amenities or with anything where the customer or prospect comes in and goes, ‘Wow, this is really nice,’” Toung said. “My goal is to make that wow pop … because those are the things that are attracting the clients now, the potential residents.”

Multifamily communities are turning tennis and volleyball courts into social gathering spaces and dog parks, she said. Jenga, cornhole, Ping-Pong, and bocce are popular games that bring people together.

“These social areas are the biggest trend, I think, where you have a cluster of deep seating or you have a cluster of high tables so that people can gather and talk and hang out,” Toung said.

She noted that shopping centers and malls are following the trend by incorporating amenities, social areas, and outdoor seating to draw customers.

Apartment communities also are installing a lot of turf.

“Turf is a big thing right now, even with dog parks,” Toung said. “Even on pool decks now.”

You can’t go wrong with amenities for dogs and their owners, she said. Her company also created a pet-and-me workout system that includes stations for adults and their canine companions along with a tie post for when your hands are occupied.

Whether inside or outside, listening to what people want, coming up with creative solutions, and using technology to your advantage remain key.

Bumblebee Spaces uses a precision electromechanical system along with software that understands what you’re using, when you’re using it, and what you’re not using.

“Basically, we inventory your home,” Murthy said. “That unlocks a really powerful amount of utility inside the home.”

Danilov said experimenting with new ideas and potential products is an important part of Multimo’s strategy.

“There are a lot of things that we’re trying to show the customers and see if they would be interested before we start producing it,” he said. “But we’re always working on research and development. That’s an everyday job.”