Lessons Learned in 2016: Decorating Mistakes that Kill Sales & Rentals

Making a space work for occupants starts with three building blocks of design: scale and proportion, function, and lighting
By Mary Cook

In the world of interior merchandising, where target markets drive the design of model homes, decorating mistakes can undermine—or even kill—rentals and sales. That’s why real estate pros—from architects and builders, to developers and asset managers—should pay painstaking attention to the way their model apartments and amenities are decorated.

Most think they do. But as a firm that focuses on designing amenities, hospitality spaces, and model home interiors that drive conversion rates, we’re often called upon to fix work that doesn’t deliver sales. As strategic commercial interior designers, we believe making a space work for occupants starts with three building blocks of design: scale and proportion, function, and lighting.
Architects, builders, developers, and asset managers need to keep these building blocks in mind now that the building industry is booming once again. Here’s how:

This residents’ club maximized functionality by acting as both a game room and meeting space.

Don’t Ignore Scale and Proportion
Scale refers to the size of the furnishings in a space, while proportion is the relationship of the furnishings to each other and the space as a whole. Whether we’re working on commercial, hospitality, multi-family, or single-family projects, scale and proportion are the holy grail of design, especially given current lifestyle trends. Residential square footage decreased after the recession, but now it’s on the rise again. But as it’s going up, walls are coming down, ceilings are rising and the lines between specific spaces are becoming blurred.
While we’re seduced by these expansive, soaring spaces, most people, and many building professionals, don’t know how to program them through interior design to forge multi-functional and flexible activity areas that maximize function, comfort, and human interaction. It takes a great deal of planning and consideration for the type of furnishings, accessories, and even finishing touches, such as accessories and artwork we use in every space. This is the biggest issue we end up fixing in model home interiors, and unsuccessful lobbies and communal spaces.

Natural light goes a long way towards meeting lighting goals in this home office by day, but a blanket of recessed ceiling spots kick in at night.

Don’t Neglect the Different Functions of a Room
Model home interiors don’t start with designers; they begin with the wants and needs of the residents who will live in the project. To design a room before understanding its function, or the multiple functions it will fulfill for its occupants, is like putting the cart-before-the-horse. It’s also one of the most common, costly and frustrating decorating mistakes design professionals and residents make.
It’s important to consider all the ways occupants can and will use a space at all times of the day and in every season, keeping their wants and needs in mind. These lifestyle needs, and trends, are important indicators of how a room needs to function and will dictate furnishings. Will its occupants be multigenerational, working from home, entertaining, consuming media and using it one way by day and another by night? And what works for communal millennials won’t work for more private and possibly retired Boomers.
These are just a few of the considerations that go into every room we design, and the answers have practical implications for things, like how the room will be laid out, what it will sport, and how mutable its furnishings need to be. Rooms with flexible layouts and versatile pieces can be changed to accommodate many different chapters of life and allow residents to “live better” in a space.

Make Sure to Use Adequate Lighting
It’s impossible to function without adequate lighting. While its essential role is to illuminate a space for its often varying functions, and as such has tremendous impact on the way we function in a space, it also sets and supports the mood of a room. Complicating matters, it’s critical to plan for all conditions since natural light changes throughout the day and by season, as do the ways we use a space. Consequently, lighting in a space must meet a huge range of conditions and occupant needs.
To ensure success, our lighting plans resemble a ziggurat, with a foundation that supports different and more focused tiers of lighting for a range of needs, from providing illumination for activities to showcasing art and collectibles. Foundational lighting is often designed to be inconspicuous, while other components of a lighting plan range from circumspect, such as task lamps that need to accommodate multiple positions or several people, to show-stopping, such as pendant fixtures or chandeliers meant to lend high-wattage drama literally and figuratively in a room.

By getting foundational design strokes right, a space meets the wants and needs of its target demographic.

The Bottom Line
These foundational design strokes—scale and proportion, function, and lighting— are key considerations when it comes to making a space appealing to residents of any kind. To successfully market their projects, building professionals need to work with interior designers that understand how to employ these concepts to fulfill residents’ wants and needs that appeal to their aesthetic proclivities.

Mary Cook is the founder and principal of Mary Cook Associates (MCA), a full-service commercial interior design firm that focuses on the homebuilding and hospitality industries. She is nationally known for creating innovative environments targeted to market demands and designed to increase property value. She may be reached at www.marycook.com.

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