Apartment Design Trends from The Home Depot

Insights from The Home Depot on designing today’s apartments for the younger generation

A new set of trends, likes and dislikes accompany every generation that comes along. Today’s older apartment residents cut their teeth on goldenrod and avocado appliances, then graduated to granite countertops and tile floors. Those preferences seemed light years away from the Early American styles of paneling, plaids and linoleum ushered in by their parents and appeared to be solidly etched into the landscape.

But, like many, they had only so much gusto. A new generation intent on making a different kind of statement is changing the way apartment designers are approaching new builds and remodels with more personalized styles.

At The Home Depot, the multifamily trends and design team has gotten considerably younger in the last few years for that reason. Sarah Fishburne, a Boomer who heads the group, is surrounded by Millennial designers who have worked for big design teams.

While The Home Depot caters to every generation, much of the design conversation centers on the detailed yet transition-oriented age bracket that now dominates the U.S. population. Outfitting an apartment goes far behind applying the latest trends to create the wanted urban existence.

“It is a different generation,” Fishburne said while wrapping up a session on new trends and designs at June’s National Apartment Association Education Conference & Exposition in Atlanta. “They want somewhat to be catered to, and this customization that steps them out from this cookie-cutter lifestyle. But on the flip side they are less attached to stuff than we were. They don’t buy for longevity. Knowing that mindset will help you cater to them.”

Unlike Boomers, younger renters are more calculating in the styles and amenities they demand. Fishburne said their apartment is an emotional investment that requires a strong sense of community whether it’s using indoor or outdoor space.

Senior Designer Liz Ballard, a 2010 interior design graduate of Valdosta State University, told attendees that her generation wants living conditions that help forge fast friendships because Millennials are always on the move. She said spacious outdoor settings that inspire conversation are desirable.

“We are all about being very transitional, we move to several cities and we want to be friends and make friends fast,” she said. “We want to find a group that we can hang out with. Giving your residents an area where they can cook and have fun outdoors is extremely important. It also will help foster a sense of community and ownership in your property.”

Ballard had one-bedroom in downtown Atlanta and was cramped for space when socializing. She wished her community had a common area with a grill so she could invite friends.

Indoors, one way to appeal to the younger renters is offering a limited choice of current colors so they feel they’ve made an investment in the apartment.

The investment can be justified, Fishburne said, because Millennials are renting longer than her generation.

“Giving them that look inside their rental unit is one thing, but how do you create that community that is part of them, that they talk to their friends about and want their friends to come there as well. That’s what you’re creating. It’s not creating best design, it’s creating that lifestyle they want to be part of.

Fishburne and Ballard offered The Home Depot’s recommendations – from flooring to landscapes – to stay in step with the demand of younger renters:

the home depot

Kitchens and baths

Investing in kitchens and baths are the biggest bang for property owners’ buck, Fishburne says.

“Eighty percent of people will focus on those places,” she said. “So when they walk in they don’t want to feel like it’s dated.”

Both spaces are typically easy to remodel and don’t require a demolition. If cabinets are in good shape, just change the face with new stains, paints and finishes to the keep up with the times.

Bathrooms with plenty of storage, countertop space and lighting are most attractive. “On average, a person has over 200 items to store inside their bathroom.”

In the kitchen, Fishburne says a cost effective update is open shelving, a huge trend being spearheaded by Martha Stewart. The concept is great for easily accessing dishware, serve-ware and putting anything on display.

Durability and appearance make quartz contertops another go-to amenity.

Flooring

Two years ago, The Home Depot launched LifeProof carpet, stain-resistant flooring that comes with a hefty warranty. The line has Nanoloc spill shield technology that “gives intrinsic soil resistance with 100 percent permanent, built-in stain protection that will never wash off, walk off or wear off and easy to clean,” according to the company’s website.

The Home Depot offers a lifetime warranty on stain resistance and a 25-year warranty on texture. It comes in 800 color and style combinations.

Also, Ballard said the company just launched a similar PetProof line that prevents water and waste from penetrating the carpet fibers.

Vinyl plank flooring continues to be a big winner to get the look of rustic or clean wooden floors without the price. Ballard said running a continuous look throughout will make the unit feel larger.

New innovations in vinyl laminate are providing more durability in areas prone to moisture, like bathrooms, laundry spaces and kitchens. An interlocking system of Pergo Outlast now holds a spill for up to 24 hours.

Paint and colors

In kitchens and baths, whites and grays from painted to stains are evolving and appear to be firmly entrenched. In other areas of the apartment, mid-range neutrals like taupe and gray are welcoming, Fishburne said.

Cool grays are emerging in some urban markets, but the design team is predicting warm neutrals will return in the higher end residential markets then trickle down.

“By updating to a fresher palette, it will make the space feel fresh, make it seem larger,” Fishburne said. “For bathrooms we recommend tranquil palette of pastels. Pale aqua, gray mints, petal pinks make it inviting and spa-like.

Lighting

Lighting is one feature that often is overlooked, says Ballard. Mixing and matching different styles of lighting is an opportunity to get creative and make the property stand out.

“Lighting is a great way to make a big impact,” she said. “Lighting in the leasing areas is one place you want to spend money to make a big impact for potential new residents, but also to think about your lighting in your units is very important.”

For the kitchen, she suggests recessed LED lighting. Because LED strips are narrower than fluorescents, they can be run discreetly under or inside kitchen and bathroom cabinets.

Appliances

Appliances are important when targeting Millenials, Fishburne said, citing the generation’s desire to cook at home most of the week.

But the property doesn’t need to have top-of-line appliances, only something that’s energy efficient and doesn’t date the property because it’s white.

“We recommend going toward stainless steel look,” she said. “The most popular style coming out is black stainless. For higher A-plus properties, that’s what we would recommend to go to.”

the home depot

Faucets and hardware

Ballard says property managers should not be afraid to update fixtures and hardware in baths and kitchens. They don’t require a huge investment, and even the most modest update can improve the look and feel of the unit.

However, investing more in durable faucets and sinks in the kitchen can pay in the long run.

“Since your faucets and sinks are the most frequently used items, they get the most wear and tear, it’s really a place to consider investing just a little bit more,” she said. “If you can update your hardware on your cabinetry and don’t forget about your faucets and sinks, it will really make a big impact.”

Brushed nickel, bronze or matte gold are trending colors.

Exterior spaces

As Ballard suggested, creating an inviting outdoor space is a big home run.

Outdoor zones for dining and conversation create a homey feel. Customizing with string lights, fire pits, throw pillows and planters add to a sense of ownership, she said. Oversized pots are trendy décor and easy to maintain.

Grilling and smoking products offer a choice for younger renters to fulfill their wishes for cooking with a flare, not just hot dogs, hamburgers and steaks.

Multifamily has changed in recent years, and Fishburne and Ballard say properties should stay current, especially to attract those who are most likely to rent the longest.

“You will need to evolve with the demands of your residents,” Fishburne said. “We hit every type of demographic, but the Millennials are very demanding and have higher expectations than any other generation. It’s really staying on top of what they expect.”


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

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Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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