Decadent Downsizing

“You know why the dense urban apartment design trend has spread across the entire country?” offers Daniel Gehman, a principal at Los Angeles and Irvine, Calif.–based architecture and design firm TCA, which is working on a pipeline of approximately 6,500 units this year. “There’s one primary reason: HGTV. And I’m not just talking about the design community. The proliferation and popularity of real estate– and design-oriented television has redefined renter expectations. Everyone watches at least one of those shows.”

For those not completely sold on the omnipotent power of television to alter consumer household design expectations, Gehman offers another compelling reason (one that he says is likely irreversible) for the downsizing of the modern apartment unit: condo conversions. Whether it was competing against condo product before the crash or the legions of condo shadow rentals that have since flooded the apartment market, Gehman says the higher-end finishes of for-sale multifamily housing have permanently raised the bar for rental interiors.

“It’s created a vision in the mind of the apartment dweller that he or she is automatically going to get granite countertops because everything on the market looks like that,” Gehman says. “You have a whole generation that—just as they don’t know what a landline phone is—has no idea what P-Lam and Berber beige are. The way you solve for those expectations and stay at a certain price point is to decrease the square footage. It’s the old champagne-on-a-beer-budget problem—it forces developers to squeeze the unit but make the remaining spaces more luxurious-feeling.”