Within weeks of opening in one of San Diego's trendiest downtown neighborhoods, Market Street Village's 80 studio rental units were nearly full.

“We find that studios are in more demand than other units,” says Jim Rivard, a principal and director of real estate with SRM Development, the Spokane, Wash.-based company that developed the 229-unit Market Street Village. “Studios lease up more quickly because they are more desirable for a single person in high-rent areas.” Market Street Village's studio units range from 491 square feet to 658 square feet and rent for $1,095 to $1,410.

Market Street Village is SRM Development's second rental project in San Diego with such a large number of studio units. The company also owns Entrada, a 173-unit property with a unit mix of 75 percent studios.

LIGHTER FARE: Studio units in the 210-unit Depot in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, feel much bigger than they actually are because they boast plenty of windows to bring in light.

“A lot of savvy developers are putting more studio units in their buildings because they get more money per square foot, and they can build more units in the building,” says Eric Naslund, principal of Studio E Architects, the San Diego-based firm that designed Entrada and Market Street Village.

While these studio units may be small—they typically range from 450 square feet to 650 square feet—the trendiest units feature high-end finishes to attract residents, as well as large windows and balconies to make small spaces look bigger. They boast defined sleeping areas, open kitchens, and amenities such as decorative half-walls, built-ins, walk-in closets, and washers and dryers.

The most desirable studio units offer far more than affordability: They are stylish, comfortable, and luxurious. “Years ago, studios were the cheapest option and attracted people with limited income. They were just small boxes with little design put into them,” says Ron Harwick, principal with James, Harwick + Partners, a Dallas-based firm that has designed several multi-family properties with studio units. “Residents today are more discerning. They're buying into the urban lifestyle, and they're looking for something special in their studios.”

TWO STEPS TO DAYLIGHT

People are willing to give up “real space” as long as their studios feel spacious and boast luxurious finishes, says Stuart Leipziger, senior associate with The Lawrence Group, a St. Louis-based firm that is transforming the Marquette, a downtown World War I-era office building, into rental and for-sale residential units. The firm is serving as both architect and developer.

With a blank slate, The Lawrence Group decided to create double-loaded corridors in each wing of the 22-story building so all units would have plenty of windows and daylight, Leipziger says. Studio units are long and narrow, stretching along window walls and ranging from 550 square feet to 650 square feet. With so many windows, the units look much larger, he notes.

“It's the two steps to daylight theory,” says James Loewenberg, co-CEO of Magellan Development, a Chicago-based firm that designed and developed the 28-acre Lakeshore East project, which includes several high-rise residential buildings such as the 608-unit Tides and the 548-unit Shoreham. “When you walk into a studio, you shouldn't have to take more than two steps before you see windows, which bring in light and air and make units feel much bigger.” Roughly 47 percent of the rental units in Lakeshore East are studios.

Increasing ceiling heights to 10 feet and adding balconies also helps create a feeling of space. “If you walked into a unit with an 8-foot ceiling versus one with a 10-foot ceiling, the difference is dramatic because of our psychological reaction to volume,” Harwick explains. His firm increased the ceiling height and added “Romeo and Juliet” balconies to the studio units in the Cityville-branded apartment projects in Dallas, which were developed by Dallas-based First Worthing.