Meeting the neighbours in the public living room

Architects and developers of luxury apartment buildings enhance entrance areas with an array of amenities to keep residents happy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 April, 2015, 2:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 April, 2015, 2:00am

At Soori High Line, a condominium project in New York designed by Singaporean architect Soo Chan, a wine tasting room will be tucked into a section of the lobby. In Los Angeles, the trendy Eighth & Grand development will boast a cafe and reading lounge at the entrance. And at the ultra-exclusive Palazzo Del Sol, on Florida's Fisher Island, residents can avail themselves of the fur storage and massage room before they leave or enter the building.

Until the past few years, lobbies in even the grand apartment buildings around the world served little purpose beyond being a place where packages were delivered or residents could wait for a taxi. But in a trend picking up in high-end residential circles, developers and architects are reimagining this space, adding amenities and services and having them act as de facto living rooms for residents.

"The whole notion of lobby design is changing," said Alison Antrobus, a co-founder of Miami design firm Antrobus + Ramirez. "They tend to be cold and impersonal places that people walk through. We are looking at making the residential experience begin when you arrive at the building."

At Ocean House on South Beach, the absence of a reception desk in the lobby gives it the look of a large, private lounge.

"By moving the security and reception desk, you don't have that immediate feeling somebody is looking at you when you enter the building," Antrobus said. "It's not a hotel lobby."

Antrobus is taking a similar approach at Palazzo Del Sol, a 47-unit, 10-storey building that will be completed early next year.

"We want everybody who lives in the building to feel an affinity with the space they enter, but they all have multiple tastes so we can't be too fixated on one style or another," she said.

Aesthetically, designers are going for neutral palettes, natural materials and, where possible, indoor-outdoor spaces.

Soori High Line, Chan's first US project, is due to open next spring. An Asian-inspired aesthetic featuring water, stone and wood elements will run through the lobby, which will be outfitted with furniture from Poliform, known for its modern, streamlined styles. The building's developers are hoping to attract buyers by adding a wine cellar and tasting room as part of the lobby.

Designer Phyllis Hartman says the topic of lobby design is increasingly being discussed within international design circles and at conferences and seminars. She says one reason for their redesign is that luxury flats are being occupied by people who expect the same degree of personalisation in the space. Also, as unit sizes shrink, lobbies are becoming increasingly important.

"Spaces have to be designed to have the residents feel as though they are part of a community, to bring their laptop, have a cup of coffee, enjoy the lobby."

Accordingly, Hartman is designing lobby spaces with multiple seating options - intimate nooks allow individuals to read or work alone while larger clusters are for meetings and gatherings.

At the recently opened Meridian at Mount Vernon Triangle Apartments in Washington, Hartman oversaw the design of a lobby that includes a chic coffee area, fireplace and zones where laptops can be plugged into the furniture.

Other projects under way will include "quiet, contemplative areas", she said, as well as communal dining tables and a sports bar with 14 screens.

Antrobus said a challenge was in not making the building feel like a hotel. At Palazzo Del Sol, the space for the concierge is tucked into one of the walls in a corridor. Because many residents are seasoned art collectors, the developers thought hard about what to put on walls.

"We made the decision to stick with historical photographs of Fisher Island or Miami," said Antrobus. "There's more romance to it."

Given the location, the lobby features indoor-outdoor spaces: there is an aperitif bar and afternoon-tea lounge. Materials associated with the outdoors - such as teak planking - are used inside.

In Melbourne, a development under construction, Nest at the Hill, will also play off natural themes, with thick tree-like braided ropes hanging from the ceiling. A concierge will be on hand to assist residents with restaurant reservations and travel plans.

Perhaps showing how serious developers are about keeping their residents happy is 500 Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. There the lobby has been designed to include a spa - for pets.