It used to be that this type of multifamily housing meant boring and thoughtless design with plain walls and uncomfortable furniture. But no more! Just because a building is not market rate doesn’t mean it can’t be stylish or that the residents that live there don’t deserve a welcoming and inspiring space to come home to. These are the feelings SR/A sets out to create with every project, regardless. So how do we achieve this on the stricter budgets that often come with affordable housing?
Pick The Moment
Each space, big and small, gets a single, impactful moment. This may be a custom trim detail or a bold wallcovering, maybe even a grouping of oversized sculptural chairs, but whatever it is it becomes the conversation–starter of the space and the foundation of the remaining elements selected to surround it. This includes those spaces that used to be considered utilitarian like restrooms and mailrooms. Affordable housing typically has a reduced amenity offering so we made sure every area gets the thoughtful approach and special moment it deserve
Work Our Network
On any project, but especially one with a tight budget, working closely with our material reps to know what is cost-effective is critical. We leverage their years of experience and intimate product knowledge to understand which selections can offer economies of scale. Using the same vendor for various items can often mean great deals for our clients when they go to purchase materials for the project.
Remember Labor is a Cost Too
Sometimes a material may be cheaper upfront but costs much more to maintain over time (looking at you, halogen lighting…) so anticipating future maintenance and upkeep is key in designing a space that will stand the test of time. Broadloom carpet, for example, is less expensive than carpet tile but depending on the application may have significant waste which, once factored in, may make them equally cost-effective at the time of order despite the tile is much easier and lower-cost maintenance in the long run.
Balance Timeless with Creativity
One of the most important considerations when designing is the expected lifespan of the project. Is the building going to be redesigned in two years or twelve years? Often with affordable housing, the answer is somewhere on the longer end of the spectrum, so it becomes even more crucial that the design implemented is one that can withstand style changes. The most important way that we account for this is understanding the significance of architectural selections and their implications as opposed to FF&E. It is relatively inexpensive to change out artwork, pillows, even furniture pieces, that have served their time. On the other hand, a trendy tile, millwork, or wallcovering installation that would require time-consuming (read: expensive) labor to remove and replace is a different story.
Sometimes thinking outside the box means using an inexpensive material in a modern or unique way, like a basic subway tile in a fun pattern, or sometimes it means implementing color in an unexpected manner. Whatever the element might be for each project, this is part of the magic that happens when a group of designers get together and take the time to really explore what is possible.
Ask anyone and they’ll likely tell you it’s pretty easy to design a stunning space without budgets, timeline, or space constraints. Our evidence shows, no project is without at least one, but usually all three, of these. The mark of a true designer and valued industry partner is someone who can navigate all of these and still deliver a product to be proud of. For us, good design isn’t a question of “if” but a question of “how” and we will find a way to make it happen no matter the circumstances.
Want a sneak peek at our most recent affordable project? Head to our On the Boards page for the latest coming to DC!
Katharine Gatz is SR/A’s Projects Manager. Her four-legged family member, Graham, can be seen at a company social in the photo below.