uForis SouthPark Interiors We Are Stellar Designs Real Estate Blog Header

SouthPark Interiors is an undisputed leader in student housing, multi-family and hospitality interior design. The company’s e-commerce division, We Are Steller Designs, focuses on refreshing existing spaces, seeking to bring carefully curated products to developers who understand that successful interior design correlates to leasing success.

SPI has partnered with uForis to breathe life into uForis 3D renderings and virtual reality tours through bold textures and eye-catching designs. “When we’re rendering plain furniture and upholstery, it’s easy to see they aren’t pictures,” says David LI, VP of sales and customer success for uForis. “The designs provided by SPI make it easier to create a photorealistic effect and make it harder for people to differentiate our renderings from photos.”

uForis also produces renderings for SPI clients, enabling developers to visualize the designs before completion. “Renderings help convey to the client what our design intentions are by allowing them to see, approve, and get excited about our fully designed, furnished, and accessorized spaces. Renderings help give SPI clients a sense of security and trust in our design partnership and can dramatically help in pre-leasing efforts,” says Emily Hiott, SPI lead interior designer.

The uForis team recently sat down with some of the leaders in this all-woman interior design firm to discuss the growth of SPI and trends in student housing and multifamily development.

The SouthPark Interiors Team:

  • Martha Thomley, President
  • Lisa Pulsinelli, Principle and Head of Sales
  • Emily Hiott, Lead Interior Designer
  • Lori Ann Dinkins, Director of Marketing (and all things Stellar)

You’ve been in business 15 years now. Can you tell us how SPI first started?

Martha: We started as, literally, a small mom-and-pop. My mom was doing my workroom, my dad was doing installations for me, and I was doing the designs. We were a little residential firm in the back room of my house.

Then I met Lisa and she came on board as my best friend and business partner. Through her sales efforts, she landed a large commercial sales job for us. We delivered about 50 models and clubhouses with them throughout the next two or three years, and our designs set the trends for the student housing industry. Additional developers and operators started calling us.

Canyon Flats Reno NV Student Housing Bedroom 3D Rendering
Figure 1: A student bedroom at Canyon Flats, Reno, NV designed by Southpark Interiors and rendered by uForis.

Now, 15 years later, we’ve delivered hundreds of projects for developers throughout the United States. We are a vertically integrated one-stop-shop and we handle all areas of design, construction, ID documents, procurement, and installation for developers in the student housing, multifamily, and hospitality marketplace.

Can you walk us through your process with your clients?

Martha: The first thing we do is have a conversation. It’s important that we’re listening to what their wants and needs are and what they think their budget restrictions might be. That’s going to set the stage as far as what we’re going to offer in our presentation back to them. Many times, the clients don’t know what they need, so we educate them.

Depending on the need, we’ll help them do space planning, budgeting, all the interior drawings for their building, and what makes it beautiful on the inside and the outside. We can help them with branding. We can help them with signage. Then the design team goes in and will do all the sourcing for the furniture, fixtures, and lighting that will go in the building itself.

Once that’s all decided and the budget is approved, we start the logistical part of it, which is the purchasing, delivery, and installation. When I say we are a one-stop shop, I do mean that.

Lisa: I’d like to add the role that renderings play in that. If done well, a rendering provides a snapshot of what clients and residents can expect. This process is important to begin long before temp leasing spaces arrive. This is why we love working with uForis; they understand the value of this partnership.

Why did SPI decide to open your e-commerce design boutique, We Are Stellar Designs?

Lisa: I would say the concept started when Martha and I started working together. Every time we’d finish a model or a clubhouse, we’d face students and parents asking, “Where can I buy this? Can I get this from you?” I was trying to help them, but it was before Internet sales were big.

We’re constantly going to trade shows and markets and seeking out the most unique products. It’s what we hear all the time about our designs. We decided we needed to give what we do to our clients and to our target audience – the students and parents.

Canyon Flats Reno NV Student Housing Living Room 3D Rendering
Figure 2: A close-up look at furniture pieces the SouthPark Interiors team sources and installs at the Canyon Flats property at Reno, NV.

It started out as a dream to just be able to reach students directly, but it’s turned in an incredibly amazing and wonderful direction to reach our clients and get their re-fresh business. Lori, who runs our e-commerce and marketing, has helped make this dream a reality.

Lori: When I was brought on the team, my initial task was to build a website and develop this dream of Martha and Lisa’s. I saw an opportunity, in addition to creating a direct-to-consumer market, to develop a program that works with the same clients that SPI does and serves them in a different way. We Are Stellar Designs provides them with a tool to do a refresh on a property within their budget. Because it’s e-commerce, it’s accessible to everyone.

Can you describe the relationship between the two divisions?

Lisa: SPI has the experience and the name recognition. They are the design firm that people go to. Stellar has been able to leverage that client base and they now work directly with our Stellar designers for all of their refresh needs. Properties all over call us because we can ship direct to them and they know they are getting the same great design quality they expect from SPI.

Lori: We are working directly with the properties, providing excellent design options for them. The process from start to finish can be as quick as two weeks or as long as six weeks, but no longer than that. Our Stellar Preferred Vendor Program offers a financial incentive for the company to work with us. Developers can get between 4 to 7 percent of their investment back in Stellar products and services. We want them to use that financial incentive on properties that may not have a budget for a refresh.

Emily: About 10 years ago, everything was beige. Then we moved onto gray, and that stayed around for a while. I think the next thing will be black and white. It’s a little less constricting, and it encourages more people to be able to broaden their grasp.

Martha: We’re pretty proud of the fact that we’re paying attention to our target audience and what they need. I think the black and white is a great idea. There’s so much visual stimulation out there now. I think you have to have something that’s bold and will catch people’s attention in order to stand out.

Everybody is so tired of the gray palette right now. And the new Pantone Color of the Year is Classic Blue. It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays into the designs. But we’re going in a different direction. Let’s see if our designs set the trend.

What is your most exciting project you’ve done recently?

Martha: Emily just delivered, this past year, a project we are most proud of. As we are trying to blaze a trail into the multifamily arena, it’s fun to speak with the developers who have a little better budget. Emily just delivered a beautiful local project, the Collective.

Emily: The exciting part of that project was gaining the trust of our developer and having the ability to fully design using local sources. We were able to do bolder finishes, some really fun tile, taking it to the next level. A lot of color was used, but it’s all cohesive.

Do you plan to do more multifamily moving forward?

Martha: Our current mix right now is about 60/40. We have a developer coming on board who is doing several mill renovation projects that are going to be exciting and fun for us to jump in on. We’ll be able to be on the ground floor with them through the renovation process. When you work with the historical societies, you have some limitations as to what you can do, but to take an old building like that and give it life is just going to be really fun.

Lisa: SPI has been doing renovations for hotels and boutique hotels and Stellar has been excited about some Airbnb concepts.

What do people often get wrong about designing for student housing? What are the myths and misconceptions?

Emily: A lot of people think design is just pretty interiors. You wouldn’t believe what goes into a development. It’s all about space-planning and using all our skills to provide not only a livable space, but a space people can be productive in.

You don’t know why it feels good, you just know it feels good. And that’s a compliment to the designers, because it means they’ve done their job well. Our theme this year is Design Matters. And it does matter.

What is the one thing you’d like developers to take away from this conversation?

Martha: Your target audience in multifamily and student housing is an educated and refined audience. They know where and how they want to live. The design matters because you need to make sure you’re listening to the audience and giving them exactly what they need, while satisfying the developer’s budget at the same time.

The bottom line is about creating leases. If the developers don’t have leases, they don’t have a successful project. The resident is the one who pays that lease. You have to cater to the resident to make sure they think your space is the best space because there’s one right around the corner they can go to that may be better.

SouthPark Interiors: https://www.southparkinteriors.com/

We Are Stellar Designs: https://wearestellardesigns.com/

Stellar Preferred Vendor Program: https://wearestellardesigns.com/pages/stellar-preferred-vendor