ATLANTA — Multifamily developers’ definition of luxury is constantly changing, causing general contractors and architects to plan for the unforeseen and possibly change up designs when it comes to unit finishes, community amenities, parking structures or retail space within the communities they help build and design.
“A big component of luxury now is creating an environment for community and location within the social hub of the market,” said B.J. Laterveer, principal at Alpharetta, Ga.-based Dwell Design Studios. “The amenity spaces got so big and cavernous, but now they are rightsizing.”
Laterveer’s comments came during a panel titled “Developing Apartment Buildings for Today, but with an Eye on Tomorrow: An Architectural, Design & Construction Update,” at the 10th annual InterFace Multifamily Southeast conference hosted by France Media. Joining Laterveer on the panel were Paul Bertozzi, president and CEO at Live Oak Contracting; Ben Hudgins, principal at Brock Hudgins Architects; JoAnn McInnis, vice president at Carlyn & Co. Interiors & Design; Royce Elliott, chief operating officer at Juneau Construction; and moderator Nick Olaya, director of asset management at Alliance Residential.
The conference took place Tuesday, Dec. 3 at The Whitley in Atlanta’s Buckhead district and attracted 384 attendees.
Laterveer said developers are planning smaller amenity spaces within the community and are leaning on the surrounding neighborhood instead to fulfill the amenity needs. Dwell Design Studio recently designed NOVEL Atherton, a 346-unit complex in Charlotte’s South End. The community is situated near several restaurants and retailers, in addition to the Blue LYNX Light Rail and the Charlotte Rail Trail.
“The last five years, a major change is the growth of geography as an amenity,” explained Laterveer.“There is more interaction among residents and giving residents the ability to walk to the good restaurants and walk to the bars and using those exterior amenities as much as the interior amenities.”
Luxury is now focused on interior finishes such as wood flooring throughout a unit, granite countertops and top-of-the-line cabinetry because “people make their choices off the unit and the feel of that unit,” McInnis said. For example, McInnis and her firm, Carlyn & Co., designed Modera by Mill Creek-Morningside in Atlanta to offer best-in-class finishes such as 12-foot ceilings, custom cabinetry, quartz countertops and wood plank-style flooring.
Hudgins warned of the dangers of incorporating the same finishes and amenities time and again, however, saying those touches can only help market a property so much. Instead, Hudgins advised, communities should provide services to improve a resident’s quality of life.
Indeed, most apartment communities have added a package service system as an amenity, adding convenience for the resident. For McInnis, package management is something she and her team design around and has melded business centers and hospitality space within a mailroom.
Laterveer echoed the importance of handling this service, saying “I don’t know that there is a community out there that isn’t doing package lockers or has a formal set up for that.”
Parking and retail puzzle
Since there is no one-size-fits-all format for design teams to follow, they must prepare for any situation before breaking ground, including future retail development at the site.
“We are having conversations way earlier than we ever have with developers on what their vision is for the retail space because it does give personality and flavor to that community,” said McInnis. “There is not a piece of dirt moved yet and we are having conversations of what would make sense in that space that we can serve that community.”
Elliott said he has seen some landlords struggle to fill ground-level retail space, so Juneau has implemented plans to downscale the space following delivery.
“We have recently seen a lot of adjustment in retail size even after construction,” said Elliott. “To me, the trend is making those spaces smaller.”
Hudgins explained completing the parking and retail puzzle is the first piece to consider. He said trying to fit residents, package delivery, vehicle access and the retail space can create friction on the lobby space.
Atlanta-based Brock Hudgins Architects has designed surface parking in urban areas with the future option of developing the space. Hudgins also pointed out that when it comes to structured parking, designers can’t go back to retrofit for use in the future, making it “an important consideration up front.”
Suburban mimics urban
Some renters are looking away from urban cores and more in suburban areas but still want the lifestyle the city gives. One of the challenges of building for these renters in a suburban area is reviewing the amenity checklist and making sure they all fit, said McInnis.
“In some cases, the suburban market needs more amenities,” she explained. “The urban market can get away with not checking the box on a 2,500-square-foot fitness center, but if you’re in a suburban market, you may need to have that amenity because [residents] can’t just walk outside and gain access to it.”
Laterveer emphasized that developers are seeking an urban feel in a suburban area, such as the Ballantyne neighborhood south of Charlotte that offers 16 miles of walking trails that nearby apartment communities like Redwood Capital Group’s Lowrie connect to. Similarly, the Lake Nona District southeast of downtown Orlando has greenway trails that will connect future residents of Futura at Nona Cove to Lake Nona Town Center.
“You’ll see apartments in the suburbs hooking onto a greenway that is vibrant and can carry you to other locations as well,” said Laterveer.
— Alex Tostado