Defying the trend of increasingly compact urban apartments, a new generation of super-sized apartments is challenging conventional thinking that apartment living means compromising on space and comfort.
Sapphire Residences, Colombo’s new luxury development on the city’s iconic Galle Face oceanfront, includes some of the largest apartments ever seen in South Asia. “These mega-apartments are designed specifically to enable families – and their staff – to live in unrestricted comfort, enjoying the space that they would have in a standalone home or villa,” comments the project’s Managing Director Arun Pathak.
“We recognised a shift in the market whereby more wealthy families desire all the premium facilities, service and security that are associated with modern condominium living, but they certainly do not wish to compromise on space as they have had to in the past. This is why we have introduced the concept of Sky Mansions, which provide them with the best of all worlds.”
He adds that with better capital appreciation prospects than Dubai and other popular Middle East destinations, Sri Lanka is rapidly emerging as one of the most attractive real estate investment destinations in South Asia, which is further fuelling this trend.
“We are certainly seeing more supersized apartments,” says Mark Davison at YOO, the world’s leading branded real estate developer, who is working with legendary designer Philippe Starck on the interiors at Sapphire Residences. “These appeal to wealthy clients that like the convenience and security of spacious, lateral living – especially with the added benefit of in-house concierge and housekeeping services on hand so they do not need to keep large numbers of staff, such as would be required in a stand-alone home.”
“This is a very much a niche segment for the super-wealthy, but it is by no means a new trend,” comments residential property marketing expert Chris Graham. “A few years ago, Knight Frank reported that the typical size of a large flat in a luxury London development had increased from 3,000 square feet in 2000 to 5,000 square feet in 2007, and in 2012 increasing numbers of wealthy buyers were seeking 6,000+ square feet properties.” Today the largest apartment in London at One Hyde Park is a staggering 30,000 square feet, which Graham describes as “a mansion in the sky.”
In terms of global geography, the ‘super-size’ trend is seeing more traction in Asia and the Far East. Veteran real estate expert Bill Barnett of Thailand based C9Hotelworks comments, “In Asia the trend for ultra-large sky villas is quite niche. It is an urban trend, where aging high net worth families are moving out of their traditional large houses and into apartments. And yes, they like lots of space, which is where we see places like St Regis in Bangkok capitalise. Conversely, from a sales perspective smaller and cheaper remains where the action is. As such these trends are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Call it the Yin and the Yang.”
Jeff Tisdall, SVP Development, Residential and Extended Stay at Accor, agrees: “On the one hand we see growing demand from UHNW buyers for ultra-luxe apartments that feature extremely generously sized floor plans and ceiling heights. On the other hand, in markets which have seen strong capital appreciation over the last decade, and as millennial buyers become an increasingly important residential market force, we are seeing innovative schemes that combine smaller apartment sizes with more dynamic facilities and amenities, which cater to community and create compelling social spaces.”
He explains that these two divergent trends continue to shape the company’s branded residential business. “Accor has carefully positioned its luxury brands like Raffles, Sofitel, Delano and Fairmont to address the emerging trend for supersize homes, whereas our lifestyle brands like SO/, Hyde and Mondrian are well placed to satisfy the growing demand for more compact units.”
Tisdall cites Raffles Residences Jakarta as an example of the growing trend for supersize accommodation: “With apartments measuring over 450 sq. m, 4/5-bedrooms, 4m ceiling heights, private elevator access and discreet service entrances, the project is best described as a collection of penthouses,” adding that some buyers have combined units to create even more dramatic and impressively scaled floorplates.
Interestingly, Australia has chosen to embrace the UHNWI demand for super-size apartments for the country’s first-ever branded residences. “The demand for larger apartments is a fast-growing trend in Australia,” comments Erin van Tuil, Partner at Knight Frank responsible for sales at Crown’s One Barangaroo in downtown Sydney, where all the residences offer vast lateral living areas with everything one would expect in a family home.
“Two buyer groups are predominantly driving this demand. Typically, we would call the first group ‘Downsizers’; however, it’s clear that this group may want to downsize on the hassle and cost of large family homes but certainly not on lifestyle – they still want space to entertain and have family and friends to stay,” explains van Tuil. “The second group is people that have lived in apartments elsewhere around the world and are moving back or to Australia; they appreciate all the conveniences of urban living but don’t want to compromise on space.”
Sydney’s One Australia Avenue is also bucking the trend for compact urban apartments, where the developer Ecove is targeting families with super-sized apartments. “It’s a perfect alternative to the family home,” observes Marketing Director Sue Ballesty. “There is little difference in space and creature comforts, but these apartments free the family from external maintenance chores, allowing more quality time together.”
Although not quite on the same scale, another example of rising demand for larger units is The Harper in Philadelphia where, in response to strong demand from families, Pearl Properties actually increased the planned unit sizes. “We’re finding a lot of demand for larger units in this development,” said developer James Pearlstein. “We started with 200 units, but we’re now down to 170 with the same total square footage because we’re building larger units.”
Erin van Tuil concludes, “The demand we are seeing for these residences confirms a growing trend for people wanting to live in spacious condominiums; they aren’t transient, they are invested in the building and are predominantly owner occupiers.”