Why Lobbies in Multifamily Buildings Are Worth It
May 23, 2019
When I’m headed home from work, my brain is abuzz with the day. Even if I stopped for happy hour on the way back to my apartment, all I can think about in that last bit of commute is getting back home and decompressing. I loved my apartment when I rented it, with its modern kitchen and big bathroom. But like most urban apartments built in the last decade, it wasn’t a super spacious place for a soft landing after a long day. But, I remember how it would feel to arrive in that big, modern lobby — opening the large, heavy doors leading to the lobby lounge, a fireplace framed by luxurious couches and a curated assortment of stylish seating; the sound and smell of coffee brewing in the background; and a soothing color palette of blues and grays, and natural walnut; all bathed in soft, moody music. I would kick back in front of the fireplace and play with my phone or chat with a neighbor and pet one of their dogs coming in from an evening walk. Those 10 minutes each day were the moments I was happiest to live in that building. When I renewed my lease, that incredible lobby was a big reason why.
I had lived in plenty of modern apartment buildings before. Some of them had small, sad, “token” lobbies: these were almost worse than none at all. Some lobbies were big and opulent, but thoughtless, which made them feel vacant and dead. How did that big modern lobby with its sprawling, plush lounge give me such a sense of serenity and relief when I came home? How did it succeed where so many others had failed? The designer and developer valued the lobby and understood how important it was to make sure residents have fulfilling experiences from the minute they walk through the door. They didn’t see them as merely “renters” or even “residents” — they saw them as people.
The above lobby is at Station House in Washington DC: Project by Rockwell Group and Hickok Cole, with your own Charles Fadem working on it for three years.
The way we live is changing, and the “Monopoly” house with the big yard and the white picket fence is no longer a reality for most of us, at least not anywhere near a city job. Many young professionals’ lives, (yes, even those with families), happen around, and in, apartment buildings. Precious memories are made in these buildings: personal achievements are celebrated on rooftops, family visits spark impromptu reunions in the lounge, friendships are sparked with the neighbors and staff in their shared spaces. The lobby isn’t just a foyer in an apartment building, it’s the backdrop for special moments and surprises, quiet minutes of reflection, real sorrow and joy.
The design of a lobby space needs to not just accommodate these moments, but do so much more. Not only are the best lobbies a backdrop for life’s in-between moments, they’re also sometimes a functional working space for the leasing staff, an area where prospective residents wait, where packages are delivered and handed off, and where ideally, the personality and culture of the building is on display to attract new community members. And, all the while, it’s a space that should make current residents feel comfortable, welcomed, and relieved. Designing a lobby that does all of these things well is a trick in and of itself. Pull back a bit and see a lobby from the eyes of a developer and it gets even more challenging.
This lobby can be found at Jack in Seattle, and we hope you’ll check out new images of it soon on the Board & Vellum portfolio!
There are dozens of apartment buildings in many neighborhoods, all vying for the attention of renters, and the only ones that stand out, are the ones that look and feel different, especially during that crucial first impression. Those moments between opening the front door and beginning a leasing tour are usually the moments people make up their mind about a building. I can say, with experience, that the rest of the tour (including looking at the units) is usually just confirming what we’ve already assumed from that crucial first impression.
Welcoming elements like couches and a fireplace, some higher-end finishes, and a curated look and feel helps a little, but what matters more than any amount of design, is people. A lobby should be a space where people feel safe, comfortable and welcome. A space that invites us all to relax and be taken care of. A successful lobby is a place where people don’t just come to visit, they stay to enjoy themselves. A lobby isn’t just an entrance, a place to wait for the elevator or get a package. It’s an experience, and one that, each time the door opens, should make every visitor think the same thing: “I’m home.”