A variety of senior living and multifamily projects recently completed and on the boards have brought to our attention a growing trend in unit design – smaller apartments. For the senior population the decision to move to an Independent Living environment involves the willingness to part with their homes in exchange for a space that is more manageable in size, but in turn is connected to a variety of easily accessible amenities. The design of smaller units adds to the marketability of the community. The smaller unit design provides more options for seniors to consider as they evaluate their needs, while also creating a more cost effective apartment solution for some potential residents.

Likewise Millennials, who currently tend to dominate the focus of the multifamily market, are entering a new chapter of their lives – they are ready to live on their own. They are a distinct market group looking for specific features within unit plans but less concerned about overall size, while also voicing a strong desire to connect to a larger community through access to amenities. In the multifamily market these amenities are not just within the walls of the project, some of the space gained by the smaller unit design allows the design team to create stronger connections between the apartment complex and the surrounding neighborhood.

Interconnectivity, whether inside the communities or with amenities in the surrounding area, is an important marketing feature for both these distinct demographic groups.

While market factors as well as construction costs and rental rate options impact this trend towards smaller units, technology and lifestyle are also driving forces behind the shrinking unit plans.


  • A computer had to have an office space, a laptop needed at least a desk, and now tablet users simply want a comfy chair. The rapidly changing technology is impacting the need for designated spaces in unit design.
  • Wall mounted, slim profile televisions and speaker docking systems reduce the amount of space needed to accommodate entertainment centers and hide wires.
  • HVAC advancements have reduced floor plan requirements in individual units also supporting the efficient use of space.


  • Formal dining is no longer a norm, so casual dining spaces incorporated into an open plan allow for more flexibility and reduce square footage requirements.
  • Islands are replacing peninsulas in the kitchen. This design feature eliminates the need for a 5-foot turning radius thus reducing the size but not the appeal of this space.
  • Kitchen cabinets are being readdressed to maximize storage needs while minimizing the overall footprint.

Bigger doesn’t mean better in the current market. It is all about flexibility, efficiency and creating a greater sense of community. The evolving new standards for unit design allow a variety of user groups to adapt the plans to suit their individual lifestyles. Collectively, the smaller unit sizes provide developers the opportunity to construct additional space to integrate desired amenities into the project in order to foster a more dynamic and interconnected community of residents.

For both demographic groups, participating in a sense of community is an important aspect of their daily life. For this reason locations for many newer projects within or adjacent to walkable urban environments are most desirable. The direct connection to the vibrancy of surrounding neighborhoods is the perfect complement to the smaller personal environments they are attracted to.