Maker Spaces Can Make the Difference 
handyman maker space

By Ed Finkel |

10 minute read

While not new to the industry, these hands-on spaces are becoming more prevalent and can improve leasing and resident satisfaction.

During the height of the pandemic, apartment dwellers who were working at home but felt like their walls were closing in on them relished the opportunity to avail themselves of shared co-working spaces elsewhere in their buildings, and builders and management companies obliged them. Some of those are still in use today as telecommuting remains—and seems likely to continue to remain—above pre-COVID levels. 

Since the waning of the pandemic, though, residents also have been wanting to reconnect socially with their neighbors while expressing themselves creatively or completing mechanical tasks like a bike repair that would be too messy or space-invading to do in their apartments. This has led to greater interest in “maker spaces,” not an entirely new idea but one that’s gained traction. 

What are maker spaces? 

“The maker’s room has definitely been transformed in the last five years or so,” says John Tarr, Area Manager at Garrett Residential in Indianapolis (the company also has offices in Denver). “I’ve seen a variety of different set-ups. It’s just nice to have that flexible additional amenity space.” 

Alissa McClard, Director of Asset Management at Bristol Development Group in Franklin, Tenn., says maker spaces have been an extension of the gift-wrap stations that have become one of the company’s more popular amenities in the past five years or so. 

“But maker spaces are a larger square footage than a gift-wrap room would be, and we have done that with the intention of groups being in there together,” she says. “Whether that’s us bringing in someone to teach you how to plant a succulent garden, or sew or knit—or we have TVs in all those spaces so you can cast YouTube videos to the screen.… COVID kind of forced us to find hobbies, and I don’t think people have let that go.” 

Typically, residents are expected to sign-up to use the spaces, and Bristol Development Group likes to offer instructor-led classes in the spaces and supplies the materials needed for the event, McClard says. “Anybody who wants to join can come do so,” she says. “A lot of communities have done fitness classes for a long time. Which is great; it helps you meet your neighbors. But let’s be honest, we’re not all into fitness. This is another opportunity for people to connect.” 

Bristol’s first maker space was in a 273-unit community called the Lyric at Norton Commons in Prospect, Ky., that began move-ins in late 2021. The company supplied tools and craft supplies, but it’s ended up being used more for artsy activities, McClard says. “People bring their children or grandchildren down, and they do art activities,” she says. “You can make a mess, and it’s not in your apartment. People feel like they can enjoy the experience more. Around the holidays, people are making wreaths or putting together mason jar gifts.” 

A second project, Church + Henley in Knoxville, Tenn., also will have a mix of tools and craft items but with an emphasis on the latter, based on how residents at Lyric have used it, McClard says. “The spaces tend to be similar to our lending libraries,” she says. “Something as simple as having a picture-hanging toolkit, or kits for putting furniture together—people use those all the time. Or, who wants to keep a 36-inch level in your apartment? But you sure need it when you’re hanging a 36-inch picture. Those things become a borrow-and-bring-back item.” 

Bristol plans to do more instructor-led events at Church + Henley. “The opportunity to see and develop that program is there,” McClard says. “Everybody has a talent. Finding those people and bringing them in, so residents can engage and learn something new, it’s going to be great.” 

Tarr says Garrett Residential has put into place two maker spaces in Indiana. “It’s a great opportunity to have some flexible space in the community,” he says. “We can use it for resident events, and for lots of different activities that we can keep in there, but yet not have to be there monitoring.” 

The two projects in Plainfield, Ind., that Tarr has overseen have or will include maker spaces. One 274-unit building that came online in 2019 provides countertops and table space in a smaller “standing-room situation” where residents wrap gifts during the holidays, work on flowerpot plantings during the spring and summer and use a variety of tools at various times of the year to, among other activities, repair their bicycles. 

The second project, still under construction, is a 296-unit community with four out of 16 buildings rented to date. It includes a larger, party-room-style maker space with space for table seating and more people overall, Tarr says. “We know the room has a lot of potential and made sure that our new product included that additional space for more opportunities,” he says. “The most important part is really how we sell it and utilize the space. A lot of properties have it, and they just kind of forget about it. We definitely make it part of the tour path, otherwise they will never know where it’s at.” 

Jon Cordell, Development Director for Lendlease in Chicago, says the company frequently solicits  feedback from the residents of its long-term developments across its global portfolio. “We hear from residents how important it is to support their lifestyles and the pursuit of their passions where they live,” he says. “We’ve found being able to offer a space outside of the unit, like they might find in a single-family home, is a great differentiator for [residents].”

At the 29-story, 452-unit The Cooper, a luxury rental in Chicago’s South Loop that’s part of the seven-acre Southbank community, Lendlease put in a space that allows residents to pursue passions like painting, drawing or woodworking, Cordell says. “We see people painting, crafting, and we also see people building a picture frame, building a toy, building something that is much more easily done in a workshop-type space rather than in their unit,” he says. “We’re seeing regular use but not too heavy, so it’s available when residents need it, and we’re happy with the utilization. We’re happy seeing the spaces used in different ways than we anticipated.” 

At the more recently opened 37-story, 503-unit Cascade Lakeshore East Apartments, which came online in 2021, Lendlease is offering a professionally serviced space that includes events like “sip-and-paint classes.” There’s also a “jam room” with musical equipment like guitars, pianos and a drum set. “These maker spaces are an extension of the resort-type, lifestyle amenities we look to build in our developments,” he says. “What is even more special about having a space with tools is that activation.” 

Lendlease puts a great deal of thought into its buildings’ amenities, Cordell says. “We envision each offering providing a unique living experience,” he says. “We look at them holistically, and we will definitely consider the success of the maker spaces in the future.” 

Architects, Interior Designers See Bright Futures for Maker Spaces 

Architects and interior designers who have worked with management companies to develop maker spaces say they’ve seen an uptick in interest in recent years. 


“What if you need a little bit more elbow room to fulfill that lifelong dream of developing 
a hobby—building a remote-
control airplane, experimenting with some artwork—that creative outlet that a lot of people have,” says Tim Mustard, Principal with California-based TCA Architects. “We’ve created spaces that are a little bit more open, conducive to a louder environment, which allows people to experiment, have fun, get messy and do a craft or hobby.” 

TCA has created both what Mustard calls “clean” spaces that are enclosed within the building and lend themselves to people hanging out and sharing stories, which perhaps contain tools for bicycle repair but also couches and televisions. And then there are “dirty” spaces that are typically accessed through a roll-up door on the exterior and “more conducive to people making paintings or sculptures or things that require more messiness,” he says. “At the end of the day, you can close up the rollup door, and the dirtiness of the space is hidden from view.” 

Often times, the clean spaces are included on prospect tours, while the dirty ones are not. “I think that in five or 10 years, every community is going to have a maker space,” Mustard says. “It’s a new trend that’s going to be mainstream. The first thing [prospective residents] are going to ask is, ‘Do you have a maker space? Do you have an outlet where I can use my creative abilities?’” Gen Z renters seem especially intrigued, he adds. 

Brad Lutz, Managing Principal of the Chicago office of Orlando-
based Baker Barrios Architects, says his company has designed maker spaces for urban infill projects aimed at both younger demographics and active-adult communities alike. “You have spaces that are a little more vanilla box, as far as use,” he says. “They could host a number of creative activities, whether art- and painting-related, or furniture assembly. These spaces are pretty easy to incorporate. They just need space and simple, durable finishes; things like concrete flooring and pegboards can provide this flexibility for a maker space.” 

Baker Barrios also has developed more focused types of amenity spaces, such as a bike “kitchen” with repair tools, bike stands and comfortable lounging space, providing opportunity to socialize with others who have similar interests, Lutz says. He’s also seen media-
focused spaces with music studios and podcast rooms that feature audio and video equipment and other infrastructure like sound-
deadening components. These areas particularly appeal to the younger “influencer” generation, while “in the active-adult uses, the maker spaces have been a heavy part of the management and focused community programming,” he says. “They might do wine and painting, or other creative social events that reinforce and ultimately build a stronger sense of community.” 

Meghann Van Dorn, Associate and Director of Interior Design at Chelsea, Mass.-based The Architectural Team, Inc. (TAT), says her firm has been putting maker spaces in 25% to 30% of new builds and adaptive reuse projects. Some are fairly “bare bones,” while others include easels and drying racks for paintings, and even potters’ wheels. “There’s typically a sink, for the ability to clean up, and they keep it filled with things like paper towels in case the creativity gets out of control,” she says, adding that one of the firm’s projects included a 3-D printer. 

The ability for people to congregate post-COVID has been a motivating factor, Van Dorn says. “People have been keeping their distance for so long that everybody is looking for a way to connect,” she says. “Maker spaces are a wonderful way to promote the accidental connection. Somebody’s painting, another person is doing woodworking—it does foster that sense of connection.” Some spaces have hosted organized events, ranging from “paint nights” to bringing in a local beer-maker to explain how to do home brewing, she adds. 

San Diego-based DAHLIN first heard about maker spaces eight years ago and has designed a few of them in the last couple of years after undertaking market research to determine their most likely appeal, says Jennifer Bien, Director of Interior Design. One project has graphics on the wall that said “create” but doesn’t get too specific as to what should be created. Another is more focused as a woodshop space, complete with pull-down outlets to which residents can attach a power tool. Another one accommodates bike repairs and customization. 

“We always check back with the client a year or two years later to see how these spaces are working out,” Bien says. “The consensus is that when the design is too specific… they don’t get used as often. Because people feel like, ‘If I’m not working on a carpentry project, I shouldn’t be in that space.’” The bike-fix space actually was pretty heavily used, she adds, but it happened to be in an area where residents are very biking-oriented. 

Even some spaces originally designed during the pandemic as work-from-home pods are now being used for crafting, Bien says. “One time, we were actually on site touring one of our projects with a client, and there was a resident with her sewing machine making costumes for her daughter in a meeting space,” she says. “You do sometimes need space outside your unit for other activities.… We know it’s not only a space to be used, but it also has a marketing aspect to it, so our clients are successful with their properties.” —E.F.



Ed Finkel is a contributor to units.