At Aspire 7th & Grant in Denver, Semple Brown Design incorporated partitions in the gathering areas and designed for timeless appeal across a wide demographic range.
David Lauer Photography At Aspire 7th & Grant in Denver, Semple Brown Design incorporated partitions in the gathering areas and designed for timeless appeal across a wide demographic range.

In 2020, the definition of home was reinvented. All houses, townhouses, apartments, and condos quickly transitioned from traditional places of rest and relaxation to new, multifaceted living, working, and learning environments.

When COVID-19 emerged in March of last year, managers had to first decide how to keep all their residents that live in close proximity safe and healthy. Now, developers are asking “how do we create community with residents in isolation?” and “how will this health crisis affect future multifamily developments?”

MFE reached out to a few industry design experts to see what their predictions are for 2021 and beyond. While some do relate to COVID-19, others continue to focus on new technologies, health and wellness overall, trending design palettes, and life after the pandemic.

1. Outstanding Outdoor Amenities: With more people accustomed to spending time and socializing outdoors, Boise, Idaho–based interior designer Judi Kieffer says her multifamily housing clients report that their No. 1 outdoor amenity is the pool, with an increased use in private cabanas this past summer. She plans to continue to focus on pool areas and expects to put more attention on other types of outdoor amenities such as bocce ball courts, badminton, volleyball, built-in barbecues, and elaborate fire pits, as well as gardens for growing food.

2. Touchless Tech: To help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses, many residential communities adopted or are planning to adopt touchless technologies that reduce person-to-person contact with surfaces. According to David Wolf, president and CEO of Wolf Development Strategies, these offerings include “virtual doorman systems that enhance security and service at non-doorman buildings and offer operational savings for properties that have historically had concierge staff. These features, along with automated doors and fixtures, will become more standard in 2021 and beyond.”

3. Authentic Design: Similar to single-family home design, natural and earthy colors and design trends are emerging. Sheena Brittingham, principal of Portland, Oregon–based Vida Design, says “the juxtaposition of natural and earthen materials provides balance and serenity. There is a strong desire for quality and artistry in finishes, lighting, furniture, and art that is hyperlocal to the neighborhood. We also are seeing a greater appreciation for plants, authentic vintage furniture, and a wabi-sabi design approach that is perfectly imperfect.”

4. Work-from-Home Support: Although many companies will be eager to welcome employees back to offices, the shift will likely be gradual. Mary Kay Sunset, principal at Denver-based Semple Brown Design, says to consider “incorporating home office workspace into individual units as well as creating co-working space in common areas to include conference rooms, private single-use areas, and multimedia capabilities.” Developers should plan to provide high-speed and secured Internet access and charging stations in technology-driven areas, while creating a flexible and comfortable setting for people who want a dependable place to work from their laptop.

5. Increased Package Storage: With the accelerated adoption of e-commerce, multifamily property managers have been inundated with packages. Wolf reports package storage and delivery are high up on the 2021 must-have list. Buildings, large and small, will soon be allocating more square footage to package solutions, including cold storage for food, flowers, and other perishables.

6. Dogs and Bikes: Along with increased packages, the pandemic brought new “COVID puppies” and newly procured bicycles to exercise or get around. Kieffer says people will need a place to help take care of them more than ever. “We’ve been seeing an upsurge in bike storage rooms and dog/bike wash areas already, and we expect this trend to explode in 2021.”

7. More Maker Spaces: From craft rooms to music studios, Brittingham reports her firm is “seeing a greater emphasis on spaces that are specifically programmed for creative craft. Maker spaces with work benches, floor drains, and extra HVAC ventilation are a huge perk, and provide a central hub for community-hosted events like planting parties, pumpkin carving contests, or painting classes. We also are seeing more music/podcast rooms, designed with acoustics in mind.”

8. Private-Public Spaces: Many people choose to live in multifamily communities because they enjoy being part of a community and like meeting others. Sunset and Wolf agree private-public spaces will become more popular. “The tighter social circles that formed during the pandemic will drive demand for more secluded—and sometimes reservable—areas in larger communal spaces, a setup that, while inherently social, preserves some of the intimacy residents grew accustomed to in recent months,” states Wolf.

9. Smart Elevators: Most common in office buildings, smart elevators can cut down on wait times, ride times, unnecessary stops, and how many people are in the elevator. High-rise multifamily buildings are predicted to take advantage of this feature soon. Plus, Kieffer says, “In common spaces, we’re also seeing a surge in interest for touchless elevator systems and doors.”

10. Healthy Home Features: Due to the pandemic, today’s residents are more conscious of their health and how their environments affect their health. Wolf states developers should consider “air and water purification systems for both residences and common areas, as well as advanced lighting designed to replicate circadian rhythms. Physical spaces where residents can exercise or relax remain in high demand, but, in 2021, the amenities residents can’t see will draw just as much, if not more, attention and serve as a true differentiator in the market.”

11. Dining and Drink Options: With people more inclined to stay close to their apartment buildings, Sunset says to “provide choices such as in-house bars and cafés where residents can sit and enjoy a drink and appetizer while socializing with their neighbors. Grab-and-go food kiosk areas, with prepared sandwiches and salads, give residents the option of grabbing a snack without having to venture out or calling a delivery service.”