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Designing a Multifamily Community to Maximize Every Usable Square Foot

Brian Crowell
An Ori Pocket Closet in an apartment

This article originally appeared in Multifamily Executive. Read the full, original article here.

For multifamily developers in cities throughout the United States, the prevailing work-from-home culture will mean developing buildings that meet the skyrocketing demand for apartments that are spacious enough to accommodate a home office, and smart enough to enable residents to work efficiently. However, long before the pandemic, these developers were already facing myriad issues—a dearth of vacant land, onerous restrictions on density, and rising construction costs, to name a few—that make it financially challenging to develop apartments any larger than the space-efficient units that have defined the country’s urban markets over the last decade.

So, when building bigger is not an option, how can multifamily developers go about designing multifamily communities that maximize every usable square foot and create a win-win for both developers and residents?

Standard Utilities: Water, Electricity, and Fiber Internet

Consider bypassing the typical internet providers and offering proprietary, super-fast internet routed into every unit like a utility, similar to water and electricity, and to charge less than half of what big internet providers charge. Those moving in don’t need to worry about installation or what kind of cable-internet bundle they should opt for. They’ve got enough on their plates already. Why make them wait around for the cable guy when they can be connected the second they walk in the door? At our communities, we expect residents to be ready to cut the cord, and we are eager to help them by gifting Roku media player devices with lease signings.

Having 1 Gbps fiber internet pre-installed opens the door to many other technologies. Once the infrastructure is in place, a developer can enlist smart home system companies to enable residents to remotely control lights, locks, video intercoms, and thermostats. Imagine being able to let in a friend through all common area entry doors and gates with a swipe of your finger, even when you are on vacation.

Other examples include package delivery lockers that can accommodate oversized items and those that need refrigeration as well as app-driven dry cleaning drop-off and pickup services.

All those smart solutions working in concert can make for hassle-free apartment living; they are great and lessen the strain on disposable income, but they don’t actually increase usable square footage.

Creating Space

At one of our communities in Fort Worth, Texas, we’re partnering with Ori, a provider of multifunctional robotic-powered smart space solutions. Think walls that open into closets, beds that descend from the ceiling, entire bedrooms that disappear to reveal a living room or home office. Ori’s value proposition rests on the premise that most of the world's interior spaces contain static, mono-functional furnishings, forcing people to compromise on privacy, light, storage, and usefulness. The firm creates interiors that maximize the potential of usable space. For example, the Ori Pocket Closet is an app- and voice command-controlled shelving unit, entertainment console, and spatial divider that expands into a walk-in closet on demand and also includes a drop-down table to accommodate home office needs.

Ori’s engineering team mocked up floor plans with their smart space solutions fully integrated, which impressed us and showed us configurations of space we had never thought of. That, in turn, led to a back-and-forth collaboration.

Amenity Spaces People Actually Use

Rather than checking boxes with the standard set of apartment amenities, brainstorm ideas for what features and what programming would create and foster a sense of community.

For example, in Fort Worth, we created one massive courtyard connected by indoor and outdoor sitting areas with grilling stations, double-sided fireplaces, hammocks, outdoor movie screens, and arcade-style games, where people can spend leisure time and have the kinds of prolonged interactions that create friendships. We also included a sky lounge with views of downtown and an extra-large infinity edge pool with sun decks. And definitely no name tags during the grand opening party.

Convincing Investors

Last, of all the challenges a developer will face in creating a smart apartment building, one of the hardest parts is proving the value proposition of these tech solutions to those providing financing. Unlike the modern renter, the decision-makers providing the capital in places like Chicago and New York tend to be old school and less likely to be early adopters of technologies that many of us have become familiar and comfortable with. Therefore, finding equity partners that have an appetite for something new and innovative can be imperative.