What the ‘new normal’ means for developers as buyer expectations shift: Interior designer Lorena Gaxiola

One factor hampering apartment living is the often the dull, generic, and limited design alternatives on offer
What the ‘new normal’ means for developers as buyer expectations shift: Interior designer Lorena Gaxiola
The Lennox in Parramatta, which Gaxiola designed. Image supplied
Joel Robinson August 13, 2021


COVID-19 has changed the world in ways that will never be undone, and just as we’ve adapted to the ‘new normal’, we’ve also acquired a new perspective on how we view our homes.

Up until recently, the notion of spending every hour of every day for months on end cooped up inside your home - with your entire family - would have seemed absurd, and a little terrifying. For many, our sanctuaries became stressful cesspools, as work, school, and play became compressed inside our four walls. It’s no wonder Australians are spending a record one billion dollars a month on renovations.

COVID lockdowns have magnified the niggling inadequacies of our homes and caused shortcomings we previously overlooked to become daily bugbears. The old desk shoved in the spare room doesn’t cut it as a functional space to work from home, the kitchen counter can’t double as a classroom for weeks on end, and the low maintenance yard, for those of us lucky enough to have one, doesn’t add much spice to a life that’s become infinitely more constrained. COVID’s forced us all to re-evaluate many aspects of our lives, and one big-ticket item is our home. Homeowners are realising the importance of having a space that’s far more functional and comfortable to inhabit.

Research by Stockland reveals almost three quarters of Australians are rethinking their living situation, while 80% say they’re more aware of how their home and environment affects their wellbeing, and 10% are currently planning to move to a new dwelling that better suits their needs. But what are these needs exactly?

What the ‘new normal’ means for developers as buyer expectations shift: Interior designer Lorena Gaxiola
The swimming pool in The Lennox in Parramatta. Image supplied

Health and wellbeing

Pre COVID-19, most of us had never given aerosols the slightest thought, but no doubt anyone living in an apartment this past year has wondered at some point what airborne intruders might be wafting under the door or through the vents. Air purifiers sold out during the Black Summer bushfires, and who can forget the Sydney water crisis in the late 90s, which forced millions of residents to boil their tap water due to parasite contamination.

Lockdown has increased the intimacy we have with our homes, and our reliance on them. A simple investment like a water purification system for a building project can pay dividends. Some reports suggest 70% of buyers would be willing to spend an extra US$1,000 for air and water filtration systems alone in a property. Developers shouldn’t underestimate the pull of such features when marketing their properties. Relatively small investments like these can have a big impact on how desirable the property is to buyers. Other ways to stand out when marketing your property include offering low VOC paint options, antimicrobial surfaces such as benchtops and handles, and even low allergy flooring.

Biophilic design is becoming a must too. It aims to integrate nature into the built environment and improve the wellbeing of occupants. Numerous studies have shown the stress and wellbeing benefits of indoor plants, and incorporating greenery and functional outside spaces into your design is another simple way to entice buyers. For those looking at the prospect of apartment living, simply having a space to take your child for a quick play without having to leave your address can be very valuable. But the space must be functional and appeal to the target demographic of your project. Communal spaces should not be a ‘cut and paste’ addition, they should be designed with the buyer in mind.

With the Waterbrook Retirement Lifestyle Resort, we created a sense of serenity and calm by incorporating floor to ceiling windows and skylights to flood shared amenities with natural light and sustain a variety of plants inside the building. Knowing the residents would rely heavily on the communal spaces for their leisure time, we wanted to create a serene and pleasant environment that feels like an extension of their private residences.

Bespoke design at an affordable price

One factor hampering apartment living is the often the dull, generic, and limited design alternatives on offer. You only have to look at the lacklustre performance of some developments in areas like Zetland, Waterloo in Sydney, or Docklands in Melbourne to see that poor standards or a glut of cookie-cutter options puts buyers off. But, by adding some smart features and options you can position your property as a preferable alternative to others on the market.

Increasing fitout and design options usually increases costs and complexity of the build, but it doesn’t have to. When designing The Lennox, we wanted to ensure buyers at every price point felt like they could make their space their home.

We were able to offer six variations of the two main themes offered: sleek and classic. We did this by selecting colours and materials that worked well together in a variety of combinations, which allowed us to turn the usual two- tone option into several alternatives for buyers. We also selected a different plank width and installation pattern for a more opulent feel in the larger apartments. We offered ceramic and marble alternatives in a single tile pattern and gave options for the benchtop stone to be wrapped around the island in place of wood to create a more luxurious effect for buyers who wanted it. By implementing clever design, we were able to maximise choice for buyers, while maintaining a streamlined process for the developer and builder.

Customisable design is another string in your marketing bow. Buyers conduct about 90% of their research for a new home online, so having customisable options to show in your sales collateral is a huge plus for your project. Creating a design that’s tailored to your project’s demographics doesn’t need to be difficult, you just need to select a good designer who can create a unique identity for your project that will catch the eye of the right buyers.

About Lorena

Lorena is an award-winning interior designer with more than 20 years’ experience designing for property developers, including several Fortune 500 companies, in the US, China, and Australia. 

Some of her most recent projects here include The Lennox in Parramatta for which she won a Gold Nugget Award, and the Waterbrook Retirement Lifestyle Resort in Bowral. She also has an extensive portfolio of work for individual homeowners. Lorena’s based in Sydney where she heads an all-female team of interior architects and designers. 

Joel Robinson

Joel Robinson is the Editor in Chief at Urban.com.au, managing Urban's editorial team and creating the largest news cycle for the off the plan property market in the country. Joel has been writing about residential real estate for nearly a decade, following a degree in Business Management with a major in Journalism at Leeds Beckett University in England. He specializes in off the plan apartments, and has a particular interest in the development application process for new projects.

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