By Diana Mosher
Getting inside the Millennial mindset continues to be an important part of the business model for real estate developers and designers. But it’s never too soon to start predicting the preferences and habits of the next crop of consumers. Builders Design—an award-winning interior design firm specializing in model home, multifamily, active 55+ and senior living interiors—is known for fusing research, design and marketing to maximize the ROI of its developer clients. Britney Gilley is Vice President of Design at Builders Design. She leads both the Model Homes and Multifamily Interiors Divisions including a staff of over 20 designers. I recently caught up with Britney for the latest insights into the Millennial consumer, a powerful demographic that’s been changing how we design apartment models, floorplans and amenity spaces, as well as emerging research into Gen Z.
Are multifamily designers and developers still spending a lot of time trying to figure out what Millennials want in their housing? What have you learned?
Britney Gilley: Yes. Millennials continue to keep us on our toes when it comes to what they want, but a lot of that has to do with our constantly evolving society, technology and other factors. One of the biggest things they’ve learned is that you must think ahead. You can’t just implement current trends and expect to remain competitive in the marketplace—you have to think two to three steps ahead and try to predict upcoming trends in both design and lifestyles. The other important thing that we’ve learned is that flexibility and customization are key. Millennials want a space that works for them and their needs at any given moment in time.
You are yourself a Millennial. Are there common misconceptions about Millennials that are not necessarily true.
Gilley: That’s a funny question for me because I am a typical Millennial in many ways and relate to a lot of the assumptions that exist regarding my generation, such as lack of commitment when it comes to buying a home or desire for customization and flexibility. Instead, I’ll share one thing that I believe is increasingly true with Millennials. We have experienced quality products and high level design spaces in rental communities, and we have constant exposure to great design through our social experiences, TV shows and social media. So when we do buy our first home and leave the rental market, our expectations for quality and design are even higher. We aren’t looking for the starter home, we want something where we can settle in. So, home ownership is on the horizon for many of us—the multifamily developers are just creating an interesting new challenge for home builders.
What should multifamily developers be focusing on in their quest to attract Millennials?
Gilley: Amenities and design are constantly evolving, but one of the biggest new trends and keys to attracting Millennials is through service driven amenities. Some communities are now filling tenants’ social calendars with activities for a yearly fee, so now you don’t even have to plan your beer or wine tasting, it’s planned and coordinated for you to keep your social calendar full. For Millennials, it is truly about the experiences—and as they are getting older and some are considering starting families or buying homes, making the most of this time where they have more freedom and flexibility is key.
What about Gen Z? Why (and how) is your team actively doing research on Gen Z?
Gilley: Our team has spent a significant amount of time researching Gen Z, because like Millennials, they will hugely upset the marketplace in so many ways. One of the most exciting things about this generation is their connection to technology. It’s difficult for other generations to comprehend how connected they are to it until you read the stats! We have also found that this generation is being classified as innovative realists—which is an interesting pairing. They will be much more connected to materials in a meaningful way, and the throw-away culture that we’ve seen develop will likely diminish as this generation gets older. From a design perspective, we are doing a lot of research on student housing and what they are currently experiencing—and that’s the key—it’s all about experiential design. You can’t just incorporate great design elements without considering the use, function and overall experience of the space.
How will multifamily developers going forward accommodate Gen Z; what will we see showing up in the design of apartment units and amenity spaces?
Gilley: Technology. Technology. Technology. As single family home automation becomes more affordable, we’ll see it enter the multifamily market and apartment units as well. Also, co-living (community living) has been an interesting concept that entered the market a few years ago, but has only really taken root in some areas—however, with its similarities to student housing and often its affordability component—this is something we are watching as Gen Z begins to enter the market.
Has anyone started researching what’s next after Gen Z?
Gilley: Yes. We have! Coming right behind Generation Z is Generation Global. We aren’t doing a lot of research, but rather staying aware of information that will slowly develop. With technology connecting us so easily, this generation will likely have a more global-connected experience than previous generations and I’m excited to see how they will transform design as they change the way we live, work and play.