Hyperbole aside, designers say that the decreasing square footage of units often presents the developer with the ability to take advantage of opportunistic floor plan avenues that get lost in the homogenization of 1,000-square-foot, single floor plan, stacked communities. “The smaller the plan, the more we open it up,” Meeks says. “In the kitchen, we are making the islands larger and lower, to use as primary eating spaces, and forgetting about additional compartmentalized dining room areas and alcoves. They don’t want that. It’s not so much that they just eat everything at the counter; it’s that they want more flexibility in their space for how they live.”
Smaller apartments also mean developers need to create living spaces and opportunities for interaction and community outside of the unit. And a coffee maker in a business center off of the leasing office is no longer going to pass muster. What’s more, square footage sacrifices made for the sake of unit density aren’t necessarily regained in common areas, either. With overall project sizes scaled down to meet land affordability and overall capital financing requirements, community designers are looking to do more with less in the public areas of their properties, as well.
“In general, people seem willing to accept smaller overall floor plans if they have areas and spaces in the community that truly act to expand their living environment,” says Dan McCadden, managing director of development for the West at Phoenix-based apartment developer and owner/operator Alliance Residential. “Of course, that’s easier said than done. There are a lot of communities that get built with a reasonable amount of square footage allocated to fitness rooms, club rooms, or lobby areas that end up not being programmed very well. You need to design your spaces so they are easy to use, as well as easy to look at, and I think sometimes the development community forgets that when they’re trying to make a visual statement that comes at the expense of how things operate.”