Custom Sentral designer-furnished living room, complete with signature chair, local art, and modular furniture. Photo of Sentral Union Station by James Baigrie.

The Future of Flexible Living Depends on Great Design

If anyone understands how people interact with their environment, it’s Michael Williams. An architect who has worked for brands that range from retail (Levi’s, Peet’s Coffee) to co-working (WeWork), he’s now helping Sentral create spaces that accommodate a little bit of everything: residential, workspace, and community living. We spoke to Sentral’s Vice President of Development about how he and his team are creating new paradigms for the way people live now.
Sentral’s VP of Development Michael Williams. Photo courtesy of Michael Williams.

Blending Public and Private Spaces

My approach includes multiple elements: I started my career in residential, and I’ve done a lot of mixed-use work and custom homes, in addition to flagship retail. The thing I love about residential projects is that it’s so personal and private. Our buildings combine public and private spaces in a way that’s really engaging. Everyone is using them in a different way, looking for their own experience. So I look at our projects really holistically: What does the transition from public to private space feel like? How do we make it scalable but still warm, inviting, and imaginative?

Redefining Home with Intentional Design

Sentral’s furnished apartments have work-from-home solutions, like an adjustable desk and ergonomic chair and tech accessories, such as keyboard and monitor, that allow one to plug in easily. Photo of Sentral Michigan Avenue by James Baigrie.
The big question for us has always been, “How do you redefine home?” Everyone is living and working differently these days, so we want to make a space that’s modern but familiar, dynamic and customizable. In our designer-furnished units, it’s not like we set up an apartment and you can’t make any changes to your environment. The goal is to create a collection of objects the resident can interact with, customizing their space with our kit of parts designed for life. We’re creating an innovation lab that’s going to allow us to explore and test these ideas further. We’re talking to the tech team about how technology integrates with our design. And it all has to be scalable — we’ve got different size apartments and suites, indoor spaces, and outdoor spaces. Each location poses its own challenges. It’s really exciting!

Baking in a Feeling of Home

Signature details create familiar touchpoints that feel like home. Photo of Sentral Michigan Avenue by James Baigrie.
We’re creating some signature elements you can expect every time you walk into a Sentral, such as “welcome walls” by artist
Chris DeLorenzo
that will be in every location. It’s a gesture to coming home. We’ve also have physical touchpoints that people will associate with Sentral, like our signature robe, textiles, the chair they know to expect. Doing something simple, and doing it well, is actually really hard. We really want to capture the emotional note that makes people want to be somewhere — what makes them go from consumer to fanatic. 

Creating Custom, Flexible Furniture Elements

Sentral’s designer furnishings include modular pieces such as this 3-in-1 entertainment console that supports work, entertaining, and dining in a small space. Photo of Sentral Michigan Avenue by James Baigrie.
We intend to develop our own line of furniture that will be modular and adaptable. One object, many uses. This will allow us to maintain a clean, open environment adaptable for many life occasions. There is beauty in the efficiency. Technology, easily accessible charging for all devices, and connectivity are so important to us all. We are looking at how to integrate all of it, so it is easy, approachable tech. Welcome home.

Incorporating Local Character

Locally curated art is just one element that brings the warmth of the destination into Sentral apartments. Photo of Sentral Union Station by James Baigrie. 
There’s a local layer to Sentral, and that ratio changes as you go from public to private space. I learned this in my retail adventures — everybody had their favorite outlet of a brand, because the best ones are each a little bit different and offer a sense of place. That hyperlocality creates something special. You may enter the lobby in Seattle and it’s very specific to that space, but then it might become more familiar as you move into the private apartment spaces. I look at our portfolio of properties as a family, but there are no twins. We want our customer to feel that local influence — not only the artwork or the textiles, but how the local culture syncs up with staff training and communication with guests and residents.

The Ongoing Evolution of Sentral’s Design

Public projects can be scary because you can tell immediately if something is working or not, but that feedback is also a gift. I love a fast-fail pace because you learn from it. That’s the culture I’m trying to promote — let’s just try things! I think that approach is infectious. We also love data, and we want to take that in, learn from it, and push out to the next iteration. I’m really proud of how we’ve built a team and a process that didn’t exist ten months ago and gotten 150 units into the market. For our designer-furnished apartments 1.0, we teamed up with Highgate Hotels and Michaelis Boyd to craft the environment. We have learned a lot along the way and are now working on 2.0 for 2022 launch. We’re emphasizing design that’s modern and approachable, incorporating more plants, favoring larger art over small photography, simplifying our paint choices to create that feeling of consistency, and really looking towards those bigger punchy design moments.

Sentral’s guiding principal is that Home is when you belong, not where. Discover the walkable neighborhoods across the country where we are making that happen.
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