The Democratization of Design

April 19, 2022

Transforming Multi-Family Housing

Portland, Oregon

By Carson Halley

Westland has been in the real estate investment industry for almost a half a century, and we continue to thrive largely because we continue to innovate. Every few years, we shift in a slightly new direction – taking our past experience into account, but also pushing ourselves to think outside of the box. Our latest innovation involves going against the grain of standard multi-family housing design – and taking calculated risks in order to stand out from the pack.

We believe that multi-family housing – long neglected from a design and community standpoint – is poised for a revolution. We see similarities to the boutique hotel movement of the 80’s and 90’s. Before this, there was a time when hotels all looked a lot alike. You could hardly distinguish a Hilton from a Hyatt from a Marriott, and there weren’t many options that felt unique or reflective of their local culture. Then Bill Kimpton launched the Clarion Bedford hotel in San Francisco in 1981, followed by Ian Schrager with Morgans in New York in 1984 – each with a vision for a new kind of boutique hotel experience. They (and others that followed) ended up transforming the hotel industry forever – setting new standards for hotels big and small, budget and luxury. We look to the lessons from the boutique hotel movement, as described by Deanna Ting in Complete Oral History of Boutique Hotels:

“While the boutique hotel pioneers and players took many different threads and approaches to how they envisioned boutique hotels, there were a lot of common elements among them, too. They all had that desire for their hotels to be a part of the local community, or scene. They all had a deeply ingrained love of design. They all shared a commitment to hospitality unfettered by old, staid, or stuffy traditions. Most of all, they wanted you to remember your stay, or your visit. They wanted to be different from everyone else. These are the universal threads shared by all of the early boutique hotels, and these core elements remain to this day.”

Similarly, at Westland, we want to do multi-family housing differently, and we’re leading the way in democratizing design – one property at a time – in our corner of the world in the Pacific Northwest. This starts with how we make design decisions, and we have a design team that selects paint colors, flooring, light fixtures and hardware that raise the bar. According to our Managing Partner, Alex Audie, “It’s time to break through the sea of brushed nickel and wall-to-wall carpet! Why shouldn’t everyone live with more inspired design?” 

Each time a unit turns over, we upgrade it thoughtfully with a unique and modern feel. A few examples of the kinds of choices we’re making:

  • For hardware, we’re installing all black cabinet and door hardware. This high contrast look is bold and cutting edge and feels more like a choice a homeowner would make. 
  • For lighting, we’re installing recessed LED lights with yellow, rather than blue, undertones – which makes ceilings feel higher and makes rooms feel warm, rather than sterile. 
  • For flooring, we’re installing a luxury vinyl plank that has the look of real hardwood, with extra layers of insulation to prevent sound from carrying between units. This flooring gives a more upscale look and allows residents to customize their unit with area rugs in colors and patterns they choose.  
  • For paint, we’ve developed two different palette options (one cool and one warm) that each include something a little different – like on-trend dark blue cabinetry. Again, a choice a homeowner might make that’s less “safe” but far more interesting. 
  • For fixtures, we have invested in attractive floating vent hoods in the kitchen. People tend to congregate in kitchens, and we want to make that space as open and welcoming as possible.

By making design decisions in advance, we’re able to purchase materials in bulk. This allows us to create beautiful indoor living spaces without breaking the bank. And it means that we’re ready to execute a fast, yet thoughtful, remodel when apartments turnover. 

When we look to the outside of our properties’ exteriors, we design our renovations to match the look and feel of the local neighborhood. We want to both enhance and blend in, while creating that sense of community we know residents crave. One example of this is at Vose Apartments. The surrounding neighborhood has many ethnic restaurants and we redesigned a communal outdoor sitting area to feel like a town plaza, with string lights draping from one side to the other, offering a welcome, festive atmosphere that encourages residents to gather together.  

At each of our properties, we create space for art because we fundamentally believe that creativity has a positive impact on daily wellness. We hire local muralists to work their magic– like Aranta Colindre’s creation at J3 Apartments and SubcultureArt’s incredible front doors at 735 SE Morrison. These unexpected additions make our properties stand out and feel more special for our residents. Our team is currently working on a NFT model which we hope to roll out in the coming months, stay tuned for more information on this initiative.  

In addition to design, we also want to offer ways for residents to gather and connect.  Just like boutique hotels re-invented the hotel lobby bar, we want to re-invent community gathering spaces at our properties. Additions like community gardens and dog parks speak to current interests and needs and offer ways for residents to get to know each other casually. Feeling connected to your neighbors is fun – and tends to lead to happier residents who want to renew their lease for another year. 

The above decisions help us to create the best plan for our budget.  In Part 2 of our “Anatomy of an Upgrade” - we’re excited to show you some before and after photos so you can see first hand how we are taking a cutting edge approach to design across the board in each of our properties.  Like the boutique hotel transformation, we want to start a trend of democratizing good design and bringing innovation to multi-family housing. The safest design is not always the best and we think our residents deserve something a little more interesting!  


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