Integrating a Hospitality Approach into Apartment Living



Imagine soaking in the flicker of a fire pit surrounded by deep blue water in a shallow pool. Your perch is on a plump, elegant lounge in a pergola-covered patio just a few feet away. The flames dance atop the rippling cool water as the sun dips behind the horizon on this warm summer evening. Soft music plays in the background, offering a soothing respite from the outside world.

Fluffy towels await nearby, just in case you want to take a dip. But, first, a sip from a cool drink. The plastic umbrella is optional.

Sound like a restful evening at a world-class resort? You bet, but multifamily housing designers believe the same setting can be a part of today’s apartment living. Architects who create upscale communities in city centers are incorporating a resort-style feel into their designs so renters can escape in their own backyards.

Architects designing apartments fortified with resort-style amenities

The experiences aren’t limited to elegantly crafted pools and patios, but extend throughout the property and into units that are intended to create an exciting retreat at the end of a day’s work. Spaces for concierge-type services like package delivery and dog walking, plus after-hours wine parties and techy fitness centers beckon apartment residents to stay a while.

It’s all a part of attracting and retaining residents through an amenity-fortified lifestyle that doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. Architects are taking a page right out of the hospitality industry handbook to enhance the appeal of urban living.

“It’s the cold towels, fresh towels, water bottles and things like that for the resident that really steps it up,” said Erik O. Earnshaw, a partner at BGO Architects in Addison, Texas. “It’s that hospitality touch to it. It’s a little bit more on the management side, but the accolades that it will bring to the development will help ensure to get you a little more rent or retention.”

Earnshaw doesn’t put a return on investment for such a business model but says many of the projects he and fellow architects shared earlier this year at a multifamily conference are what residents want today in upscale apartment living.

While unit accommodations are important, residents desire around-the-clock, accessible community spaces where living is extended beyond the apartment. Common areas should invite residents to kick back and relax.

Smaller, intimate gathering spaces and concierge services transforming lobbies

David W. Hensley, founding principal at Hensley Lamkin Rachel, Inc., has spent numerous hours scouring hotels and resorts to understand how spaces can be used to create more inclusiveness.

Trips to hotels in California, New York, Seattle and Portland revealed how the hospitality industry views common area usage. What he learned was how large common areas were divided into smaller spaces to create a very personal feel. Examples included screened, see-through walls, and how placement of a bookcase or fireplace provides division without complete confinement.

In a hotel, Hensley said, guests typically don’t meet people in their rooms but choose to gather in larger communal areas that feel more intimate. Smaller seating areas designed for four people, and a wine or coffee bar that accommodates a dozen or so help create that ambiance.

“It was really about defining series of smaller gathering spaces so quite a few people could be there, but it did not feel like the scale of a ballroom,” he said. “It was a series of small spaces that were more intimate.”

Hensley said the translation to multifamily is placing such areas near the elevator lobby so residents can come down and greet people. From there, they can take a short walk and relax in a seating area, watch TV and listen to music before venturing out.

He also noted how hotels designed common areas to be multifunctional, and how properties should incorporate that approach for resident entrances, lobbies and seating.

For instance, the lobby at an apartment community has traditionally been open to residents only during business hours, when the leasing staff was present. But Hensley says other uses are possible for the tables, chairs and sofas well beyond five o’clock.

“We’ve got to make it function like a hotel concierge and seating, and let’s let it get used in an evening and close off a minimum amount of area so that we don’t lose that much square footage after hours,” he said. “That led us into how does it get used. Is it a coffee bar or not? Is it TV area? Is it concierge type service for cleaning and packages?”

HLR Architects began integrating 24-hour accessible package delivery space into its designs to accommodate growing demand by residents. It’s been a win for management, he said, because properties no longer have to dedicate staff for handling resident packages.

“Integrating this concierge-type, after-hours self-service with after-hours space, it was this whole transformation of how we use the lobby, and the seating, the lighting and the coffee bar, and how people meet as a gathering space to go out,” Hensley said. “So many more of our buildings are in Uptown, Downtown or in walkable communities.”


‘Urban splash’ changing the way pools are used

Earnshaw calls today’s pools “urban splash,” an extension from the lazy river concept popular in student housing. While they are still for playing, swimming laps and cooling off, pools are an eye-pleasing gathering spot where residents can relax semi-privately or socialize.

Pools are getting larger, and so are seating areas surrounding them. Water features and lighting are deployed to create an experience that tickles the senses and encourages a restful afternoon or evening waterside.

The same is true for other apartment amenities, like fitness rooms and sports attractions. Some are being designed for semi-private use, and others like simulated golf centers are positioned in the open so that passersby can catch a curious glance at their neighbor’s swing.

Spacing these amenities throughout the property offers greater opportunities for residents to participate and explore, rather than going to one congested area for all.

“For many years, you’ve seen swimming pools empty, seen a lot of amenities in the fitness spaces, not so much empty but at peak hours half full,” Earnshaw said. “But we’re seeing more people use it, but we are creating enough different locations within the building whether it’s the dog park, the swimming pool, rooftop decks or game rooms. We don’t always try to put them exactly together and connected, but actually distribute them throughout the development so there ends up being different nodes for contemplation and also gathering and so forth.”

Residents expect greater amenities for the prices they’re paying

In the last three or four years, HLR Architects has designed about a dozen properties in Dallas and Seattle with a resort-style theme. The results have been encouraging, although there has been a learning curve at some of the properties on how to effectively use the spaces.

HLR Architects learned to guide the properties on how to best use the amenity space to create a welcoming feel, Hensley said. Working with management to properly furnish or finish out new spaces has help boost appeal so residents fully utilize them.

“We said you have to spend a little bit of time here, you have to use a tile floor not concrete floor, you have to use a brick or painted wall, not a hardy panel,” he said. “You have to have a good couch and TV, then it’s successfully used. We make sure we give them clues in terms of finishes and furnishings.”

If effectively done, the prospects of a vacation-like experience sells, especially where people gather, Earnshaw said. Coffee bars and free java, happy hours, wine tastings and other services and offerings typical of a getaway destination are important to enhancing today’s resident experience, even if factored into the rent.

With rents in city centers commanding some hefty prices, residents expect more, he said.

“Those type of added amenities are almost required by the resident today for the rent they are paying.”


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

author photo two

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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