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Designing for the Future: An Interview With Grand Rapids Based Company, Urbaneer

An image of the first single family home designed by Urbaneer.

It’s no secret that I love tiny houses. But there’s more lurking behind this trend then an affinity for cute spaces and simple living. You can see it in the drawn faces of friends and relatives as they attempt to navigate the current housing market.

We’re running out of space and, consequently, affordable housing. Homes are selling the day they’re listed and often at astronomical prices. In the Grand Rapids housing market alone, there’s less than a day’s worth of inventory.

Tiny living is no longer just a trendy way to live, it’s an attempt to solve the space craze. But as much as I love tiny houses, I also believe a home should be functional, beautiful, and comfortable. A home is a place that should inspire joy and be as unique as the individuals that reside there. So how do we move towards smaller living without giving up the luxury and individuality of larger homes?

Meet Urbaneer

We reached out to our friends over at Urbaneer Spaces with this same question. Urbaneer works with clients to “design and build spaces for the 21st century.” The company was founded in 2012 by Bruce Thompson and Michael VanGessel (co-founder of Rockford Construction, Michigan’s largest real estate development company). Urbaneer was their response to what they saw as an outdated way of living.

Urbaneer's logo image.

“Our market is the millennials,” said Lydia Hatton, COO at Urbaneer. “They want to live simply, leave a smart footprint, spend more money on experience. We also have an enormous market of baby boomers that are looking to downsize.”

A study of 32 families supports the notion that people’s modern-day needs don’t always include large houses. The below heat map shows each person’s whereabouts in the home over the course of two weekday afternoons and evenings.

The vast majority of each family’s time was spent in the kitchen and family room, with little to no use of the dining room, living room, and porch. Yet houses are still getting bigger while land and labor costs rise.

A layout of a house with a family's foot traffic marked in red dots.

The Solution: Smaller, More Functional Living

Urbaneer’s response is to make small-space living more functional and luxurious so that families can comfortably live with less space. They offer a variety of space-saving solutions: Murphy Beds, moveable walls, and adjustable counters to name a few. This allows them to create rooms that can be transformed in a matter of minutes to meet their clients' varying needs.

“If you can make a dining room and bedroom come and go, if you can add extra storage, then you can potentially take a room that’s 500 sq. ft. and make it live like it’s 700 sq. ft.,” said Hatton.

With this flexibility, a small home can live as large as a much bigger one (just take a look at this video for a peek).

Urbaneer is also concerned with reducing costs and the time spent on development. By utilizing technology and by handling all aspects of their projects from design to installation themselves, Urbaneer creates a smoother, more cost-effective process.

A space enhanced with Urbaneer products.

An image showing one of Urbaneer's moveable walls.

Introducing Compact Luxury

But do these small and functional spaces offer the same luxury and self-expression as a larger home? The answer is two-fold and starts with Bruce Thompson’s own home that features many of Urbaneer’s ideas and products.

“We call it compact luxury,” said Hatton. “[In Bruce’s Home] there are very high-end Bosch appliances in a beautiful kitchen that has been exquisitely designed. So compact luxury all the way.”Urbaneer also offers mass customization of their products. Each space that they create can look drastically different depending upon the selections of their clients.

“We have the developer and/or homeowner pick out the color and the finish,” said Hatton. “We look to them to take on the finishing of their own.” Essentially, Urbaneer does the groundwork, while still allowing for all the individuality and creative expression that a homeowner may desire.

Inside the Bungalow, a single family home designed by Urbaneer.

A wall bed designed by Urbaneer.

The Heart Of Urbaneer

Smaller, more affordable living. Flexible spaces, multi-purpose products. Luxury in a compact design. A simpler way of life that results in more freedom. This is the heart of Urbaneer and the motivation behind their designs.

“[Urbaneer] is breaking open a new marketplace that is the future of smart living across the globe,” said Hatton. “It’s very challenging as all start-ups are; it has unknowns. But it is known that the future of smart living is now, it’s today.

To learn more about Urbaneer, visit their website at Urbaneer Spaces. For further reading on the subject, take a look at Bruce Thompson’s LinkedIn profile.


Work with Lauren Figueroa Interior Design

LFID is a full-service interior design firm serving West and Southeast Michigan. We work with clients across West and Southeast Michigan (Detroit metro, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Holland) and anywhere in between, and we pride ourselves on creating bespoke, people-centered spaces—because after all, people are what this life is all about!

If you have a project on the horizon, get started by telling us a little about your vision here.

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