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The Future of Amenity Spaces

As our world expands and evolves, the amenities in multi-family spaces must also advance to keep residents entertained, productive, and healthy. The way we live, and work has forever changed since the pandemic, and we must keep up with the new standard of multi-family living in conjunction with societal needs. Studies show that a whopping one in eight people in the United States are living in multi-family communities and the demand for these buildings has reached an all-time high.

According to projections from a study commissioned by the National Apartment Association (NAA) and National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC), many cities, including our very own Washington, DC, will need over a half million new units built within the next 13 years. The team at Hartman Design Group is ready and eager to be part of the evolution of multi-family living.

Our Founder and CEO, Phyllis Hartman, is weighing in on what to expect from the future of amenities and what we are doing as a business to rise above the competition.

What changes are currently being implemented into multi-family amenity spaces that differ from those pre-pandemic, and how does this affect the interior and architectural design?

The lifestyle shift to remote work began prior to COVID and is now a solid sociological change.  Residents expect that developers will provide convenient, comfortable, functional, beautiful, and healthy work area in the common spaces of apartment buildings. Some of the features include podcast and “Zoom” rooms, work lounges, conference rooms and communal tables-all with accessible power.

We are also designing outdoor spaces for remote working with covered pavilions and power.  Work from anywhere and the blur of work and play is the way people live today.

A building that feels and is healthy is critical to residents, especially since COVID.  Indoor air quality and a strong connection to nature has been proven to reduce stress and lower blood pressure.  We achieve this through thoughtful material selections, views of nature, and open fenestration that allows the interior to fully connect to the exterior.

Social amenities are high on residents list of expectations including convenient package delivery and pick up; prepared food delivery and pick up locations; cold storage for grocery delivery; pet spas; bike storage.  Residents value time over money and want every amenity that allows them to have more time for the things they love to do.

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Adaptive Reuse: New Relevance for Old Buildings

As markets evolve, in response to changes in business form and economics, they leave countless structures in their wake as one manner of doing business gives way to another. Consequently, the built environment must make changes to accommodate these changes. The great question of our time is what to do with obsolete buildings—especially so many office buildings. Tall and boxy, they do not tend to be architecturally memorable, but to replace them would be wasteful—and in many cases cost-prohibitive. That is where the multi-family industry is stepping in.

Over the past three years, Hartman Design Group (HDG) has teamed with developers to convert aging office buildings in DC and Baltimore into Class A apartments, and this experience is part of a sweeping national trend. In the past 10 years, 18.1 million square feet of office space in New York and L.A. have been converted to residential units 1/. The DC region is following suit: The Downtown DC Business Improvement District released a 10-year forecast report in 2017 that includes a goal of encouraging the residential redevelopment of at least 400,000 square feet in outdated office buildings, 2/. and DC City Council members are considering legislation to provide tax abatements for developers to move in this direction. In Baltimore, The New York Times reported that 1.9 million square feet of office space has been converted to residential use just since 2013.

1. Case Study: The Historic Adaptive Reuse of 2Hopkins Apartments, Baltimore, MD

“I’d love to see the development community do more projects like this,” says Kevin Berman, the partner in charge of development for Berman Enterprises, which had the vision to convert the midcentury Mercantile Bank and Trust Building in Baltimore’s Charles Center into 2Hopkins, a Class A multi-family high-rise apartment building. The historic society required that the outside of the building and certain public-space features retain the original design, yet the design team (BCT Architects and HDG) had a free hand in the unit designs and the newly built amenities, such as laptop-friendly co-working spaces in the lobby and clubroom, electronic storage lockers for package deliveries, and a pet spa and indoor dog walk.

The lobby in particular helped set the tone for our team. “It was a tremendous architectural statement with this two-story volume with a coffered ceiling,” BCT architect Scot Foster says. HDG used that envelope to inform a newly multifunctional space with a concierge desk, coffee bar, and lounge/work area under dramatic custom chandeliers. The design team sourced furnishings for the lobby and 21st-floor clubroom in a palette of neutrals with accents of orange and turquoise—midcentury hues that hearken back to the building’s origins. A vintage 1960s clock display is another pleasant nod to the past in the thoroughly modern fitness area.

Many office buildings pose challenges for adaption to residential apartments, especially unit layouts, but 2Hopkins offered the perfect footprint for this endeavor. The floor-to-ceiling windows on all sides of the building, paired with 10-foot ceiling heights on every floor, created views of Baltimore that would be difficult to attain in a new-construction high-rise.

2. Case Study: The Non-historic Office Conversion at Legacy West End Apartments, Washington, D.C.

Many office buildings pose challenges for adaption to residential apartments, especially unit layouts, but 2Hopkins offered the perfect footprint for this endeavor. The floor-to-ceiling windows on all sides of the building, paired with 10-foot ceiling heights on every floor, created views of Baltimore that would be difficult to attain in a new-construction high-rise.

The Legacy West End at 1255 22nd Street NW is an example of a past-its-prime office building perfectly located for residential conversion. The existing, late-70s-era office building would not qualify as Class A office space today, says architect Michael Foster of MTFA Architecture, who drafted the Legacy’s new plans. Its interior spaces are smaller than modern office buildings, but those smaller dimensions are preferable for a residential setting, and its location between Washington and DuPont circles makes it an ideal place to live. MTFA gave it a stunning modern facade, plus three upper floors and a rooftop pool.

A new wing was added to increase the unit count. Yet the original structure, parking garage, and elevator core remain intact. As the HDG design team sought to transform the interior, we had to get creative with elements that could not be changed such as the elevator-core location and a slab that lowered a portion of the ceiling in the lobby.

The two-story lobby required significant renovation to transform the stark “office” feel into a residential vibe that expresses its luxurious address in the thriving West End. Lacking the expansive amenity space found in newly constructed residential properties, the design team looked for opportunities in every nook and cranny to add new features, like the open second-floor elevator lobby that we enclosed to create booths, small conference rooms, and co-working spaces. The main lobby area was too small to carve out an enclosed leasing office, so we designed a communal table where agents work by day that converts to a coworking area for residents after hours. The rest of the space is devoted to comfortable seating areas around a linear-flame fireplace, while broad window seats offer views of the streetscape. The top-floor addition—a glass box in the sky— offers a clubroom on one end and a library and outdoor terrace on the other. The sun-filled clubroom, which connects to the pool deck, enjoys sweeping views of the city, the National Cathedral, and Rock Creek Park.

Conclusion:

Due to changes in the way tenants use office space, some traditional office buildings are becoming obsolete. In some cases, this situation is incurable, and owners face a tear-down or conversion decision. A building in the right location with the right footprint offers an excellent opportunity for conversion to a multi-family residential property. A qualified design team will ensure success.

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/16/realestate/commercial/washington-dc-real-estate.html
  2. https://www.downtowndc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Downtown-2027-Vision-for-the-Future-Web.pdf
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The Amenities Race

With increasing competition, apartment properties are competing for occupants with newer and more original amenities. Which work? Which are worth the investment, upkeep and floor space? We believe the winner of this race designs space that enhances well-being.

Amenities that promote well-being:

10 years ago, did any of us in the multi-family design and development world understand how renters’needs and desires would transform into what they are now?   Who would have predicted that in 2017 some of the most important and critical amenities would revolve around on-line shopping and pets?  As sociological trends shift, we find many flocking to urban environments, living small for the benefit of city life, embracing pet ownership, and the convenience of having every impulse buy and necessity delivered to their doorstep.

Recently while sitting in miles of bumper to bumper Washington traffic, I had a paradigm shift of my own.  If we have a choice to spend the time in grid-lock versus walking our dog, having coffee at a neighborhood cafe, relaxing on a rooftop deck with friends and working in a well-appointed cyber lounge with free wireless internet, then why would today’s renter not choose to find more enjoyment in how they spend their time?

So how can we design properties with amenities that enhance well being?

“THE GAME CHANGER IS TO APPEAL TO THIS SOCIETAL TRANSFORMATION BY REINVENTING COMMUNITIES AND AMENITIES THAT RESPOND TO THE WAY PEOPLE LIVE IN THEIR LOCAL CULTURE – INSIDE AND OUT.”

 

Work and play everywhere:

Great design is a good start and is fundamental to every successful project.  The art of architecture and design has throughout history had a significant impact on well being.  Yet it takes more than that.  The game-changer is to appeal to this societal transformation by reinventing communities and amenities that respond to the way people live in their local culture-inside and out.  This includes designing multi-family buildings that converge all of the features that people need to work, play, socialize and re-charge in a healthy environment.

Even though millennials may be the driver of this trend, regardless of age, people want a high quality of life and less stress.  Those in the workforce are spending more hours at work and many are constantly connected.  Developers and designers of multi-family properties can make the time more productive for residents and work more enjoyable by creating well-designed co-working amenity spaces.  Conference rooms, booth seating, work pods along with high tech audiovisual features create a live/work environment that allows for individual work as well as teamwork.  In a time when offices are being designed like homes, residential buildings that provide well-appointed workspaces support the trend of the live/work blur.  The owner, residents, and employers reap the benefit.  Less time spent in traffic or on mass transit translates to a more relaxed, happier, and more productive workforce and resident.

“DEVELOPERS CAN MAKE TIME MORE PRODUCTIVE FOR RESIDENTS AND WORK MORE ENJOYABLE BY CREATING WELL DESIGNED CO-WORKING AMENITY SPACES.”

 

Online shopping:

Package receipt and storage are an expected amenity and one that is growing more important. Our clients frequently ask us how large of a package room is required.  As we look to the future, I am not sure we can predict the need, though we know that the demand is increasing.  Currently, we are recommending 2 SF per unit.  In a 300 unit building, that means 600SF should be devoted to a large, secure room to store packages.  Package lockers can supplement and, in our experience, have been very well received by residents and operations.  They provide flexibility for residents and save much time for the leasing and concierge staff.

Consider turning the package locker area into a social experience for the residents.  If there is space, consider a wrapping station for easy package return, shipping, and gift wrapping as well as a communal table.

Pets:

We love our pets and it is proven that pet ownership reduces stress!  It is well known that interaction with a gentle pet has significant human benefits such as lowered blood pressure, endorphin release, pain reduction, and relaxation.  Pets are also social magnets.  What better way to get to know your neighbors than to get to know their pets?  Multi-family developers can create a sense of community by engaging and promoting a pet-friendly environment.  For planning purposes, we recommend that pet spaces move to the top of the programming list.

Much can be done to support your resident pet lovers without breaking the budget.  Instead of a closet with a washing tub, create a pet experience space.  Pet/human lounges that provide a place for pet owners to gather for conversation and pet play can be indoors or out.  Pet runs with play space and well-appointed spas are memorable and make a marketing statement about the pet-friendliness of the property.

Re-charge through connection to nature:

Our need for a connection to nature is deep and fundamental.  As we become a more urban society, designing spaces that bring the outdoors to our built environment is increasingly important to our health and well-being.  Incorporating elements of nature, even though graphics and interior plantings, have stress-reducing effects.  Biophilic Design is the emerging science that advocates the human connection with nature in the built environment as a way of soothing and energizing the mind and body.  Through thoughtful design, every common space can support our changing lifestyle and the tendency to blend work, play, and relaxation.  Buildings that are flexible and adaptable enough to accommodate our transformational and healthy lifestyle are the way of the future.

Written by Phyllis Hartman, ASID, LEED AP

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Budgeting Your Multi-Family Renovation

360 State Street Lobby After RenovationIn the previous issue, we discussed how to know when your multifamily property should be renovated and what level of renovation was appropriate.  Once you have determined this, you will need to set a budget.

How much should you budget for your renovation?

Too often the renovation budget is set by an underfunded escrow account or is a result of mere guesswork.  If the budget is set prior to a comprehensive understanding of the building’s existing conditions, the amount of space to be renovated, and the marketing challenges, the number will be inaccurate.  Either method can set the owner up for disappointment.

Determining a budget is a task that should take place long before the renovation is to begin. The budget for repositioning a property is frequently determined in the year preceding the expected renovation.  Depending on the level of the renovation planned, the budget may need to be determined farther out and the dollars allocated across multiple years. Collaborative discussions to prioritize the work will provide the best possibility for accurately setting the budget and obtaining future ROI. To assess the market, understand the conditions of the building, and develop a budget that is based upon real conditions, consider a team approach from the beginning.  Involving your design professional, management/marketing consultant, building engineer and asset manager before the budget is set will help to alleviate unrealistic expectations.

Depending on many factors that cannot be controlled for your plans, construction pricing can vary from year to year.   Even with the best planning, actual bids may come in higher than anticipated.  It is best to have a phasing and VE plan in place in the event that this occurs.

Phasing of the construction can be a great way to manage a budget that needs to be spread over a few years.  However, it is important to consider that there usually is a premium cost to phasing which will need to be considered in the budget.

360 State Street Before Renovation

Renovation Funding

Many owners frown at earmarking funding for renovation projects. They require management to meet the funding requirements from operational cash flow. This can be problematic for a variety of reasons.   The cash flow requirements for renovation projects are frequently substantial, and the funds are, in most instances, required at the early stages.  Professional and permitting fees, deposits, and advances need to be paid out before materials are procured and the contractor begins work.  Additionally, during the renovation process, the property will not show at its best.  This creates a tough selling situation for the marketing staff, which could mean a decline in revenue during construction.  This will further limit the operational cash flow available for the renovation.  To successfully meet your budgetary needs, you should consider setting aside funding specifically for the renovation.  A well-thought-out budget that includes a construction timeline will help to manage funding and decrease strain on operational cash flow.

360 State Street Lobby After Renovation

Realizing ROI

A cosmetic renovation may be considered an expense as it will serve to refresh and to maintain the look of the building for a period of time.  A more comprehensive renovation will actually increase the life of the asset, so it would generally be considered a capital expenditure.

Keeping in mind that the core purpose of renovation is to improve revenue streams, it is important to consider that this will happen effectively only when the life of an asset is increased.

Owners and stakeholders will demand bang for their buck. Any renovation project is going to be tough to sell if there is uncertainty related to the return for the investment.  Consequently, part of planning a renovation includes doing the math to obtain the estimated ROI.

So many variables impact rents – such as the age of the building, its location, the surrounding competition, and the tenant profile – that ROI will vary widely from market to market and from property to property within the same market.  As a result, nationwide data is difficult to come by for multifamily housing renovations.[1]  However, skilled property owners say it’s reasonable to expect a 10 to 30% ROI on their renovation projects, with wood floors, kitchen upgrades, and improved interior lighting as some of the top ROI generators.[2]  For purely cosmetic renovations, a 25 to 30% return should be the target.[3]  It is important to analyze typical ROIs in your market before setting a budget and determining what upgrades to include in your renovation.  The life span of your renovation will also have an impact on your ROI, so be sure to include this in your calculations.[4]

By addressing these considerations, you can have a successful renovation that will increase the life and profitability of your property.

360 State Street Lobby After Renovation

[1] Jason Van Steenwyk, Rental Property Renovations that Pay Off, (Sep. 2, 2015), http://www.allpropertymanagement.com/blog/2015/09/02/rental-property-renovations-and-improvements-that-pay-off/.

[2] John Caulfield, Rehab ROI: Which Upgrades Cause the Biggest Rent Bumps?, (May 28, 2014), Multifamily Executive, http://www.multifamilyexecutive.com/design-development/renovations/rehab-roi-which-upgrades-cause-the-biggest-rent-bumps_o.

[3] Harrison Willis, Repositioning a Multifamily Asset, (2016), Cornell Real Estate Review, 14(1), 62-69,  http://scholarship.sha.cornell.edu/crer/vol14/iss1/12.

[4] Donald M. Davidoff, Rehab ROI: Do the Math, (Oct. 28, 2014), Multifamily Executive, http://www.multifamilyexecutive.com/business-finance/commentary/rehab-roi-do-the-math_o.

 

Check out the full renovation of Park Bethesda here: http://www.hartmandesigngroup.com/renovations/Residences-at-Capital-Crescent-Trail/

Written by Phyllis Hartman, ASID, LEED AP

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Lighting Your Way to Excellent Design

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Lighting is one of the most important elements to consider when designing any space, and this important tool is continually evolving. Meeting the requirements of the state, county and national regulations, as well as the electrical engineer’s energy model, necessitates the evaluation of our client’s needs on a grand scale.  This evaluation must balance many factors including budget, aesthetics and energy efficiency.

Though the first cost is still considerably more than conventional fluorescent and incandescent luminaires, LED lighting is the way to achieve both the low wattage requirements and the appealing effect. With this in mind, a realistic approach to the lighting budget is important. Considering that the savings over time will well outweigh the initial cost, LED lighting is an investment that pays off.

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Not only will the cost of electricity be substantially lower, the greatly reduced labor (to re-lamp) and bulb replacement expense quickly help to recoup the initial cash outlay. Additionally, when renovating a building, consider the many retrofits LED lamps on the market. There could be no need to replace light fixtures and Pepco rebates may well be applicable. Whether using retrofit lamps for a renovation or new construction, choosing the right color temperature and rendition is critical to setting the mood and obtaining the desired ambiance. For calm, relaxing spaces, consider using soft, warm lights with orange and yellow hues (2700K or warmer). For a room that is intended to be livelier, like a fitness center, a slightly cooler temperature (3000 or 3100K) is ideal. The color rendition of 80 or higher is recommended for the best color interpretation.

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To create the mood, many different types of lighting fixtures are required. Downlights provide general lighting and pooling of light on the floor, accent lighting is used for special features and art, while sconces and chandeliers are used for additional layering of light as well as decorative elements. The good news is that there are LED lamps for most fixture types today so you can easily achieve the look desired and contribute to the green initiative. If you’re working with an interior design firm, make sure everyone has a clear understanding of the mood you wish to create, the budget and required energy efficiency. Your interior designer will know the best way to utilize the natural light coming into the room, and how to properly support that light with general, task, accent, or a combination of all three types of lighting.

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Time-Less…is More

 

Timeless design can be functional and sensible. It is a style that suggests a quiet confidence. It’s not over the top, nor is it boring. The timeless design is perfectly scaled and proportioned. When using the elements of timeless design in creating a functional space you will see that the furniture will fit the room perfectly. It should belong to a room and be neither too large as to overpower, nor too small as to seem unimportant.

What defines Timeless Design? The irony is that it’s hard to quantify, but when you see it, you know it. It somehow stands out above that sea of mediocrity and looks, feels, or acts different. Timeless Design does not just happen. It cannot be rushed, nor is it hastily completed. It is borne of inspiration and preparation and executed with experience and skill. Timeless Design means that someone set out to create a space or product that remained relevant for the ages.

Timeless designs, much like classic design, steer away from overly decorated and overly busy patterns, shapes and spaces. It mimics the phrase “less is often more.” Be careful when incorporating a Color of the Year into your home. While fun and energizing, many of these colors will not stand the test of time. It may be best to incorporate this color with accent pieces and accessories.

Creating timeless design is relatively easy. Background colors should be neutral, and not busy. There should be an emphasis on clean lines and shapes. Furnishings should be timeless in design as well, drawing inspiration from antiques and items that continue to popular over the years. Hartman Design Group employs these timeless elements into their work, and nowhere is it more apparent than at Cathedral Commons in Washington, D.C. The HDG design team devised a sophisticated gray, blue and white palette accented by deep wood tones and natural stones to create a contemporary yet timeless, classic interior.

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Q&A with Phyllis: Multi-Family Renovations Part II

Multi-Family Renovation: 4 Valuable Questions to Ask Your Team

In our last post, Phyllis shared her insight on a commonly asked question about multi-family renovations: “How much will it cost?” Once the design team has a clear understanding of the project restrictions & goals, they can begin to move forward with planning. Here’s more insight from Phyllis on other commonly asked questions about multi-family renovations.

Question 1: How will you incorporate design & lifestyle trends so that our property is competitive in the marketplace?

Due to social media, generational shifts, and market competition, we have found that design trends are rapidly accelerating. In the past, most owners would contemplate a repositioning when the property or previous renovation was 10 to 12 years old. Today’s residents and prospects shop the competition, are extremely informed and expect the very best for their money. Those properties that are beginning to show wear and suffer from an amenity shortage will most likely see a resident exodus and may have to drop rent pricing to compete. Today’s modern resident wants a lifestyle. As units get smaller, great amenities have become critical. They serve as an extension to the resident’s living space. Buildings that opened 5+ years ago are already behind in the trends. These buildings can be updated by transforming every available space to a resident amenity. Lobbies that were previously designed for visual impact can be turned into a socially active amenity by adding the right kind of furniture and creating intimate seating for groups and singles alike. Adding plug-and-play areas and communal tables will turn a dead lobby into space with a great, active vibe. In today’s rental market, we recommend an evaluation of the common areas after 3 to 4 years. If the design has a timeless appeal, a simple refresh (ie: pillows, accessories, art) may be all that is required. At 6 years, it will most likely be time to deeply evaluate the market trends, the competition, resident expectations, and condition of the finishes.

Question 2: When is the best time to start construction?

March through October is the prime leasing season. To avoid disruption during this time, it is ideal to plan the construction start for the end of October and completed by March or April of the following year.

Question 3: What does the renovation timeline look like?

Whether simple or comprehensive, any kind of refresh or renovation takes time. Every client wants to spend their renovation dollars wisely, so it is important to allow time for the design team to program, design, vet, and budget the renovation. If permits are required, additional time should be allotted. Even a furniture refresh takes time to plan, and in today’s furniture world, it could take from 12 to 16 weeks to procure. For example, HDG designed a renovation on the first floor of Gables Dupont Circle Apartments in Washington, DC. Even though the space was a mere 1,500 square feet, the planning, vetting, budgeting, coordination, permit drawings and construction all took one full year. Capture

Question 4: How to keep residents happy during a renovation?

  • Make it fun! Have the staff wear colorful hard hats.
  • Keep the residents informed of work schedules.
  • Have a kick-off construction party for the residents.
  • Plan for extra services during construction, like coffee and bagels in the morning, then cookies and tea in the afternoon.
  • Display finish boards and renderings to get the residents excited about their new home.
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Q&A with Phyllis: Multi-Family Renovations Part I

Renovation Costs: How to Nail Your Renovation Budget

After over 28 years of business, we’ve found that many of our clients come to us in the beginning stages of a project with many questions about what a multi-family property renovation looks like. To give you a glimpse of our process we sat down with our Hartman Design Group president, Phyllis Hartman, to discuss some of the most commonly asked questions. This will be a multi-part series so stay tuned for part two!

Question 1: How much is the renovation going to cost?

Working within a budget when renovating a space or an entire building is usually the owner’s primary concern, meaning “how much will it cost” is usually the first question we are asked. In order to best help our clients set priorities, as well as create a realistic budget and project structure, our design team must first understand many aspects of the project, asking questions such as:

 

What is ownership expecting to achieve by renovating? For instance, is the building being repositioned from a C to a B, a B to an A, or is the goal to make the property the best B in the marketplace?

Will the renovation involve only finishes and furniture, or will spaces be re-arranged?

How old is the building and what is the current condition? A 5-year-old project may only need a quick furniture refresh, while others that are over 10 years or older may require a complete overhaul to remain competitive in the market.

Can the property compete in the current marketplace?

Are you losing residents or prospects? If so, try to determine if the condition of the interior is a factor. What is being said on social media about the property?

What is the schedule? An accelerated schedule can cost more than following a normal design and construction schedule.

Will the work be phased or completed at one time?  Phasing is usually more costly.

Will building operations need to move to another part of the building during the renovation? It is important to factor this into the budget.

Can the contractors and subs work in the building during normal business hours?

Will there be security concerns during the renovation that may require either additional staffing or cost?

 

In an effort to gain the highest return on investment, we encourage collaborative discussions to determine where the clients can best spend their money. Phasing the design and construction is a great way to spread the budget over several years, though it is important to consider that phasing does add to the total cost, and can be frustrating to residents and prospects. Living or working in a building that is in a state of perpetual construction can be difficult.

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The Meridian at Carlyle located in Alexandria, VA is an example of one of our projects that were finished in phases. Because the building was 12 years old when the repositioning began, the first priorities were the lobby and leasing spaces. The corridors have been phased over four years, and the clubroom was renovated two years after the lobby. This allowed the owner to spread the cost of the renovation over 5 to 6 years.

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