Q&A With Jeremy Baldwin: A Top-down View of the New Multifamily Living, Working and Lifestyle Trends

Jeremy Baldwin

BOSTON–The essentials of multifamily living have evolved well beyond kitchens, bathrooms, and living spaces. With advances in technology, new workstyle changes, and new necessities and amenity demands, multifamily communities are seeing the emergence of new lifestyle trends. Now at the forefront are workspace and technology rooms, health and wellness facilities, gaming rooms, food and goods delivery areas, EV chargers, recycling amenities and a variety of in-unit upgrades.

In an exclusive interview with Boston Real Estate Times, Architect Jeremy Baldwin, AIA, Multifamily Studio Lead at Maugel DeStefano Architects, talks about the new emerging trends. The text has been edited for clarity.

BOSTON REAL ESTATE TIMES: What is new in multifamily interiors and amenities?

JEREMY BALDWIN: It really depends on where the project is located, what neighborhood it’s in, who the competitors are, and how you are setting yourself apart from the other multifamily developments in the area.

It also depends on the size of the project. If you’re doing an amenity package for a 40-unit building, it’s much different than a 360-unit building. You’re creating amenity areas within the building, but how they relate to the surrounding neighborhood is important. You must assess what kind of amenities are directly within walking distance of the developments, also.

But there is one thing is that is going to continue to be in demand, and that’s co-working space. That’s not going away. I think everybody acknowledges it, big developers or small, they want a space in the development where tenants can go to be in a private work setting, that is outside of their apartment. It’s a way of getting away if you’re living with a spouse that’s also working from home, so you have your own private space to do your more in-depth conference calls. This is brand new in the multifamily design world. Earlier, we talked about lobbies, but we never talked about co-working spaces within the complex. It’s also a way of setting yourself apart from the developers that just did a project within the last 10 years, because they’re not going to have these spaces, or they will have to convert their multifamily buildings to have something like this.

BRET: What about Zoom call rooms and lighting?

JB: We’re doing Zoom call rooms where the lighting is different in there, and the sound quality is different within that room.

Diversity of the co-working spaces is important, too, because no two people like to work in the same way. You could have somebody that likes to be in a more public setting with other people around doing things, like in a Starbucks, where you’re doing a co-working space that’s engaging within the public realm. And then also do more private spaces, where you can rent out a conference room and have four to six people come over to your building for a meeting. We’re figure out all the ways to cater to the different styles of people in the development—and, yes, it can get complex.

BRET: Can you talk about how design plays a role in catering to a specific demographics?

JB: You’re not going to do the same amenity package for a 55-plus community in the suburbs as you would in downtown Worcester, for example, where you’re trying to cater to the people in their 20s to 30s, even possibly college students. Take a two-bedroom unit that is rented to two different students that pay one rent. They each have their own private bathroom, their own private bedroom and everything else is shared, such as kitchen space. It is a younger crowd. We’ve seen the idea of doing entertainment rooms, basically like a gaming room where you have PC gaming, and Nintendo Switch gaming, etc. It sounds a little out there to a lot of the older developers, but you know, if you are catering to the 20s demographic, I think that it can go a long way. We are also discussing ‘podcast rooms’ – which are rentable rooms designed with special acoustics and lighting and fun artwork on the walls.

BRET: What about integrating design with the neighborhood?

JB: When you go from Worcester to Boston’s Seaport, the audience is very different, and it must be taken into consideration while designing a multifamily community. The audience in the Seaport is very different. Also, in the Seaport everything is so readily available right out front your door where it’s not as much in the suburban communities or the western region of the state. It’s getting there, but you really do need to make sure that you’re analyzing your direct neighbors and how you can create a project that engages with the whole neighborhood, not just within your own building.

BRET: In the online shopping/home goods delivery era, what is going to go through your mind when you’re pondering over a new multifamily project?

JB: The package rooms. I mean, they’ve been growing. So much stuff is being delivered to homes now—you name it, UPS, USPS, it’s FedEx, or even grocery stores. Package rooms should also have a commercial refrigerator so that the perishables can be stored, while a tenant gets a notification on their phone that their groceries had arrived and need to be picked up.

BRET: What else are you thinking about?

JB: We are also thinking about a waiting area for Uber or Lyft. It is not just about parking area for tenants anymore because in many communities, not everybody has a car. So how should that be catered to? Five years ago, we were not talking about these things.

The amenities are where developers can set themselves apart. A lot of times it’s trying to check all the boxes, to figure out how you set yourself apart from others. It’s the one opportunity to stand out. Think about wellness and fitness rooms, rather than just having a couple of ellipticals inside a room? Savvy developers are always asking us ‘what you are seeing’ and ‘what new trends are out there’. They seek out creative ways to get noticed.

BRET: What about inside-versus-outside amenities?

JB: We do coordinate quite a bit with civil and landscape architects because you’re trying to understand how the amenities packaged within the building caters to what’s happening outside the building. We’re constantly in those discussions about how we can bring inside and outside elements together.

The goal is to draw people from their residence outside and trying to engage them in other ways. So having the landscape architect on board with a good amenities package and understanding how our community rooms can cater to a pool are, or if it’s an outdoor pavilion, a movie-screening lawn. All those features are layered within the whole amenities package.

BRET: Do developers have any idea of what type of tenants they are envisioning?

JB: That’s one of the first questions we always ask. We send out a questionnaire to any new project. We’ll ask them what is their goal? Who are the tenants that you’re trying to cater to? And then we can have more in-depth conversations which inform the design.

What about sustainability and new energy codes?

JB: I think every architect is dealing with it, now that the new energy codes are in place in Massachusetts. There are basically three different stretch codes now that must be dealt with. And, they’re different in every community. So, we’re all trying to adapt on the fly and figure out how. Massachusetts has the most progressive energy codes in the country now. But, I predict that in 5 to 10 years the talk is going to be about decarbonization.