SF Apartment : November 2017
Find the Flow
by Emily Landes
Who needs a dining room? Or a formal living room? In fact, who needs “rooms” at all, when you could have “space”? These are just a few of the questions that today’s tenants are asking that are completely transforming the way apartment buildings are designed and utilized. “That notion that every room has to have a purpose? We’ve moved beyond it,” explained leasing agent James Wavro.
Instead, apartment industry experts say that tenants want to be able to decide how to best use their units. That means increasingly open floor plans that allow for “flow” and “flex space,” as well as the option of privacy. It also means creating well-planned storage systems for everything from clothing to bikes. Finally, tenants want units that are topped off with timeless finishes that still look clean and modern. “People will respond when something is done well,” Wavro said. “People don’t often know what they want, but they know when something looks good.”
Flex and Flow
Angelo Sangiacomo was ahead of his time in many ways, but certainly when it came to apartment design. As Trinity Executive Managing Director Walter Schmidt recalled in an interview with SF Apartment Magazine shortly after the 91-year-old Trinity Properties founder passed away in 2015: “Obviously, a lot of people can be successful in life, but to develop and acquire a certain flair for quality, taste and design and then have that be an integral part of your business plan largely contributed to his success.”
Sangiacomo especially relished making even small spaces feel impressive. In the same interview, his daughter Susan recalled that his favorite apartment type was the studio, which he often decked out with bay windows, wood-burning fireplaces and real brick.
Some of Sangiacomo’s original design decisions are still relished by today’s tenants, according to Shadd Newman, director of operations at Trinity Management Services. “Angelo was a visionary when it came to making use of space,” he said. “Residents appreciate that older units we constructed are very efficient, minimizing hallways and other dead space. In older buildings, residents are also still drawn to high ceilings, bay windows, natural light, and classic touches like chair rails and genuine wood floors.”
Still, even the most well-designed older buildings need some updates. A generation ago, people wanted their kitchens tucked away in the back of the home, out of the line of sight. For today’s tenants, the kitchen is the heart of the home, and they want it placed front and center. “Where practical, we’ve opened up kitchens to the living space,” said Newman. “It’s an investment, but the layout resonates with our current renters. The apartment becomes more conducive to how they like to live and entertain, with everyone able to gather in a communal space.”
“The most significant changes I have seen in apartment layouts are kitchens becoming part of the main living space,” agreed architect and SFAA member David Locicero. “The most common changes that people want to make are to modernize and enlarge a kitchen or open it up to the living or dining room.”
That new “open concept” living/dining/cooking space allows tenants the flexibility to transform last night’s dinner party space into today’s home office. “It accommodates reconfigurable furniture layouts,” explained Newman. “We see that residents utilize rolling carts or islands that offer a lot of flexibility, adapting the space to their needs as they change from day to day.”
In fact, luxury apartment building Jasper, located in Rincon Hill, offers a space in most of its units that it calls the “Room of All Trades,” which its website defines as “an infinitely customizable bonus room, a canvas for your imagination.”
Wavro says that prospective tenants find that their imaginations can’t function when they walk into an apartment peppered with walls that they feel shut down spaces. They may not be able to say exactly why they walked away from an apartment, but they elude to a general lack of “flow.” “A lot of times people don’t verbalize, but you know,” he says.
Even as tenants are going with the flow in their common spaces, there’s still a premium placed on having the option of privacy. Residents continue to prefer one-bedrooms to studios, and are usually willing to spend a little more money to be able to shut a door on their sleeping spaces. “Studios are what people take when they can’t afford a one-bedroom,” Wavro said. “One-bedrooms are still what people want if they can afford it. People don’t like to look at their bed.”
Trinity has had a lot of success in its new Mid-Market Trinity Place development because it has focused on one-bedrooms, as well as units that are studio-sized but still have sleeping areas that can be closed off from the rest of the space. “Our newest phase of Trinity Place is almost 80 percent one-bedrooms, and we’re exceeding our lease-up projections,” Newman revealed. “For those who are more budget conscious, we continue to have strong demand in Phase One and Two of Trinity Place for junior one-bedrooms that offer an efficient use of space. These units have features like walk-in closets and sliding partitions to create privacy in the sleeping space to lend value in an area that’s similar to the square footage of a comfortable studio.”
Well-planned closets got apartments filled back in Angelo Sangiacomo’s day and continue to do so today. “He always wanted to make sure to create storage space because he was in real estate and when he was showing homes, I think it was always the wife at the time who would be the deciding voice of if they were going to get the house or not, and the one thing they always looked at was storage,” his daughter Susan said. “So he was always obsessed with closets, closets, closets. Every little inch had to be used.”
Sangiacomo’s same closet cleverness has been applied to Trinity Place. “Our apartments have efficient layouts with abundant storage,” Newman said. “Prospects are often pleasantly surprised by the amount of closet space we fit into smaller apartments.”
Wavro advises owners with minimal remodeling budgets to invest in their closets first. It doesn’t have to be custom—off the shelf will do—but make sure that the unit has been outfitted with some kind of storage organizing system, he said.
While thinking about storage, don’t forget the garage. Wavro says that bike storage is becoming a must-have with more and more tenants. Trinity prominently advertises bike storage in many of its properties, including Trinity Place. Jasper offers bike storage, as well as a designated bike repair room, on-site bike sharing and car sharing services, and electric car charging stations.
The shift is part of what architect Locicero sees as an increase in desirability for green amenities in apartments, and it’s one that owners should seriously consider as part of their remodeling plans. “The ‘tiny house’ trend, the trend of baby boomers selling their suburban homes and moving back into the urban centers, and the desire of younger renters and buyers to have things be both new and ‘green’ or sustainable are all going to start being seen in new building designs, as well as in remodel projects,” he said. “The new 2016 California CalGreen Code and the Energy Code are going to have a profound effect on all projects. The mandated energy efficiency as well as other green and sustainable approaches are going to change designs. They already are.”
Keep It Classic, San Francisco
Green might be great as a concept, but not as a color choice. Across the board, the apartment experts recommended keeping finishes neutral and avoiding any current trends that may quickly go out of date. “For rentals, neutral is the way to go. You want to leave out as much of your personality as you can,” Wavro advised.
“The problem is that one person’s character is another person’s eyesore,” Locicero added. “Many times things that were added to an apartment in an effort to give it character can quickly become dated and become drawbacks for the owners and renters…Better investments are in quality wood trim, good cabinets and built-ins. I counsel my clients to keep things in rentals ‘classic’ rather than going for trendy, particularly when it comes to finishes and colors.”
At future-focused Trinity, the buzzword is “timeless.” “We find that focusing on timeless finishes is our best enhancement,” Newman said, while adding the company does try to include neighborhood-appropriate flourishes where possible, like Spanish-inspired tile surrounds in kitchens in the Mission.
In bathrooms, owners can’t go wrong with a simple white marble tile, with a glass-door shower instead of a tub, and fixtures that have a high-end look, not necessarily a high-end price tag, Wavro said. “It doesn’t have to be WaterWorks,” he joked. Locicero has also noticed an increased emphasis on bathrooms, which he sees getting larger even as overall apartment sizes have decreased.
Another thing that’s decreased recently, according to Wavro, is tenants’ patience for apartments that don’t have the flow, functionality and updated yet timeless finishes they desire. “People are getting pickier,” he said. “There’s a lot of options for people to choose from. Those properties that are quirky are going to sit there because there are other options available to them.”
Emily Landes is a freelance writer and the former editor of SF Apartment Magazine.