House Review: Multifamily Designs

The House Review design team presents four small-scale projects for home builders considering entry into the multifamily market.

By Larry W. Garnett, FAIBD, House Review Lead Designer | October 1, 2014

With high occupancies and rising rental rates, multifamily housing continues to enjoy tremendous success in many parts of the country. The best opportunity for a single-family builder to enter this market is probably a small project with flexible configurations. With that in mind, we asked our House Review design team to create concepts that can easily be scaled to fit a variety of building sites and market conditions. Ranging from economical footprints for entry-level apartments to luxurious townhomes with attached garages and private courtyards, each offers attractive exteriors along with functional and efficient floor plans.

Smaller, well-conceived designs such as these are often welcomed with open arms by a growing number of communities that have become less than enthusiastic about approving massive garden apartment projects. For a single-family builder with a reputation for building quality homes, a small multifamily project could provide additional diversification.


Active Adult Fourplex Townhomes

GMD Design Group
Scott Gardner, AIA
Donnie McGrath
The active adult buyer requires that the majority of living spaces be on the ground floor. Such layouts can be difficult to achieve in multifamily housing due to the large footprint each unit demands.
This fourplex townhome configuration provides all living spaces on the ground floor (the only exception is an optional bonus room on the second floor). In addition, all plans have a private yard for indoor-outdoor living and a two-car garage.
Another interesting feature of this fourplex is the ability to step the heights of the individual units to best integrate with the site, a feature that typically is not possible with large footprints. The key to this flexibility is the common driveway, which allows for the driveway to slope if required.
A. Unit 1 garage
B. Unit 2 garage
C. Unit 3 garage
D. Unit 4 garage
E. Private outdoor yard for each unit
F. Common driveway for unit 1 and unit 4. Driveway can slope to allow for site topography.
G. Driveway for unit 2
H. Driveway for unit 3
I. Frontage road
J. 3-foot side-yard setback 
K. 5-foot rear-yard setback
L. Optional stairs to optional second-floor bonus room


Varying Footprints

Victor Mirontschuk, AIA
EDI International Inc.
Plan Size
Width: 100 feet
Depth: 60 feet
Units: 1,500 to 2,500 sf
The original design for this community consisted of a number of fourplex buildings, in which all the units were 25-feet-wide with living areas downstairs and three bedrooms upstairs. The plan’s appeal, though, was limited to the starter market looking for three bedrooms and up.
The goal of this study was to retool the project for broader market saturation within the same building footprint. To achieve this, the unit widths were varied. The 18-foot-wide A unit has two bedrooms and a single-car garage for the young professional. The B and C units, at 26 feet by 24 feet, hit the starter-family hot button with a two-car garage and three bedrooms. The 32-foot wide D unit has the master downstairs plus two bedrooms and a junior master for move-down and bounce-back buyers.
The new elevation takes advantage of the varied unit widths to give the building more variety while avoiding the monotony of a repetitive townhouse. The end units have side entrances, utilizing what would otherwise be wasted exterior space. One end unit has the option of a side-load garage depending on the site constraints. These adjustments free up space for first-floor windows and break up the run of garage and front doors to give the building some eyes on the street. The original front-facing gables are repeated and, in one case, extend down to the first floor to change the scale and rhythm of the facade. The opposite end with the side-load garage has a two-story element raising straight up from the grade.
These features help to undulate the streetscape both vertically and horizontally. The existing architectural vocabulary is maintained in the new elevations to allow the old and new buildings to coexist side by side as market demands fluctuate.


Morningbrook Apartments

Todd Hallett, AIA, CAPS
TK Design and Associates
Plan Size
Width: Varies
Depth: 52 feet (double stacked)
Units: 832 sf to 1,300 sf
Three key elements were considered to establish an appropriate design for this development. The first consideration was to make sure the buildings were designed Lean for affordable construction. The structure itself had to build inexpensively and be easily repeatable. Planning the units using Lean design and capturing all the current planning trends was the key to making the project financially viable.
The second item was flexibility. The units had to be of the plug-and-play variety. Many different building types make up this development so we had to be able to marry all six of the designed units together in any given combination. Finally the location of the development is an established high-end residential area, so the exterior had to pick up historical clues from neighboring homes to ensure a compatibility of context. Clear, concise goals at the beginning of this project were the drivers used to create a successful design.


Neighborhood Townhomes

Donald F. Evans, AIA
The Evans Group
Creating a sense of neighborhood with condominium projects has long been the goal, but achieving it is difficult. This featured concept of smaller neighborhood pools that serve 20 individual homes rather than a large central pool and clubhouse is an integral part of the solution. The neighborhoods within the overall community are broken down into smaller clusters of homes or families, no different than where and how many of us grew up. Each of the gated and private courtyards has a 20-foot-by-50-foot pool, heated spa, and fire pit with lush landscaping, creating a breathtaking and secure retreat.
Another concept we utilized in the site plan was the separation of guests’ and residents’ cars. Guests use the streets that run side-to-side to access the on-street guest parking, which has 1.5 cars per home. Residents use the lanes that run up and down to access their private garages. To appeal to all markets there is a diverse range of homes, from 1,168 to 1,660 square feet, as well as one-story and two-story homes, within the building configuration:
A. Unit A is a 2 bedroom, 2 bath flat with a one-car garage at 1,168 square feet. 
B. Unit B is a 2 bedroom, 2 bath flat with a two-car garage at 1,381 square feet. 
C. Unit C is a 2 bedroom, 2.5 bath, two-story townhome with a two-car garage at 1,526 square feet. 
D. Unit D is a 2 bedroom, 2 bath, two-story townhome with a two-car garage at 1,553 square feet.  
E. Unit E is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, two-story townhome with a two-car garage at 1,660 square feet.
Every home boasts a large screened porch overlooking the lush courtyard and pool environment. Each home has direct access into the house from a one- or two-car garage, and all units have a foyer on the first floor, plus a fireplace, indoor laundry room, spacious kitchen, and a luxurious master bathroom. PB


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