3 Tips to Create Comfort and Functionality in Multifamily Units

| Juan Cabrera Moreno | Serviced Accommodations

We have been recently working remotely on a multifamily housing project in the US which has once again reminded us about the importance of a well-designed layout for this type of development. Multifamily housing typically offers small spaces where many people spend more than half of their lives. Therefore, it's crucial to ensure that every square meter is utilized efficiently. In the last few decades, we have seen a surge in new developments of this kind, but what exactly is multifamily housing?

The concept has been around for many centuries but its importance has been emphasised in the early 50’s. It has been implemented as a strategy to solve the housing crisis all over the world. It can be defined as a group of individual residential units within the same building and located next to each other or stacked on top of the other. It’s 2023 and we still need a lot of new housing, but a lot has changed.

As a generation, Millennials have turned from owning property to renting it. Built to Rent [BTR] is a popular concept that emerged a couple of years ago. It’s designed for the rental market rather than long-term home ownership. The need for renting properties shows no signs of slowing down. To meet market demand, we have been experiencing a construction boom in the last few years. The market acceleration comes with many challenges: how can we be sustainable? how can the processes be more efficient?

As interior designers, we see it as our mission to solve those problems by bringing innovation and inclusiveness to our designs. One thing is sure: the multifamily units need to allow for a big diversity which reflects the spectrum of individuals wanting to rent it. That’s why the layouts come in different sizes and configurations.

The studio

It’s a very compact space, but large enough to provide everything you need to live. It contains a bathroom, and an open plan kitchen combined with a dining space. A living zone that can transform into a place to sleep is usually contained within the same room. On average a studio unit is less than 35 sqm.

One bedroom flat

The size of a one-bedroom flat is between 35 - 50 sqm. Not a lot, but it makes a big difference! The bedroom is a fixed room and separated from the kitchen/living space.

Multiple bedrooms

It is everything from a compact 2 bedroom flat up to a large 100+sqm unit. It’s intended for families and shared living. The more people live inside the unit the more efficient and sustainable the flat is. No matter the unit type, there are some common watchpoints when analysing them.

multifamily design Circulation Proportion Cluster

  • understanding the right proportion between a private and a communal space
  • enhancing the circulation
  • clustering the spaces that need servicing (kitchen and bathroom)

Based on our experience at A Designer At Heart, we have come up with 3 tips to improve your multifamily layout. Here they are!

1 - Don’t underestimate the need for storage!

multifamily design Storage distribution

The multifamily housing market is money driven. The more efficient (or squeezed in!) the layout, the higher the profit. It is tricky to save space in a bedroom or a kitchen, so quite often what gets compromised is the storage. It seems a smart saving without losing the quality, but only at first sight… So many times we have seen flats where there is nowhere to put a vacuum cleaner or a mop. What a tenant gets is the opposite of quality - a living room clustered with appliances. It is particularly common within smaller flats.

Our tip is to plan the storage space integrated within the layout from the very beginning. The tenants appreciate these spaces ranging from smaller build-in closets to larger walk-in ones. On top of that, let’s use the entrance space and corridors for additional storage. It’s perfect for all the household appliances or extra suitcases you may have.

Multifamily design Furniture Selection

Most of the properties come furnished. That’s an amazing opportunity for landlords to get creative and improve their tenants’ experience. The use of storage furniture like ottoman beds or low benches with storage inside can become your best friend when you lack space. Our simple advice is: always provide more storage space than you think is right.

2 - Select the right furniture and plan your M&E layout carefully

The furniture brings life and sense to each space and its selection is crucial, especially for the small rooms. It can go wrong both ways, the furniture can be too big or too small for the space and understanding the proportions of the room is key. You need to figure out a composition that will make your space feel balanced. Big ottoman seats or small stools can bring dynamism to your design and at the same time seat all your friends. Multifunctional furniture can improve your space and turn your living room into your own workstation for example.

On the other side, the location of the M&E layout needs careful planning. I bet you experienced a situation where you couldn’t find a socket next to the sofa, sometimes even in the entire room! The key to a successful electrical layout is a proper understanding of how the space will be used. It’s always a good idea to appoint an interior designer to look at the layout even if a residential unit will be rented out unfurnished. This will bring extra value to the design and future-proof the sockets provision. That in turn will increase flexibility for future tenants.

3 - A kitchen layout is your best ally

It’s quite common those days to integrate a kitchen with other communal areas. We see it as an advantage as it brings an emphasis on the importance of this space even more. A kitchen is the heart of every home. That’s where the family gets together to cook or where the roomies bump into each other accidentally. An island is a great idea that helps facilitate social interactions as people gather around it face-to-face. As designers, we shape communal spaces to promote the feeling of community and there is nothing better for bonding than to gather around a communal meal. Since working from home became the norm, the kitchen top became a multipurpose table where you can cook, drink or work at different times of the day. That requires an efficient design that is easy to clean and which allows a variety of actions to take place. Perhaps you have ended up in a situation before where two people work from home and the space seems tight to allocate both. The multipurpose table gives the opportunity to act as an extra small desk. Flexible design cannot be stressed enough. Relying entirely on fixed furniture might bring quite a lot of limitations long term.

Multifamily housing has been evolving over time. As interior designers, we aim to bring efficiency and comfort to every tenant. Our role is to come up with creative solutions by focusing on small details. Every year we can see smaller and smaller housing units. Selecting the right layout, with appropriate furniture, and at the same time keeping it flexible are just some of the challenges which we help our clients with. We hope those 3 tips will make a difference for you as well.


Cover image: A Designer at Heart's design for LIV Student

Juan Cabrera Moreno

Written by: Juan Cabrera Moreno

Juan is an Architect and Interior Designer from Colombia with 5 years’ experience working on high-end residential and commercial projects in America and Europe. He has a Master´s degree in design from Bartlett School of architecture in London. He spent the last 2 years working as a freelance architect and partnered with multiple creative studios for projects in residential, commercial, and branding. He is particularly interested in how design shapes the way people interact and connect with spaces.


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