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Company Seeks To Double Size Of Apartments By Storing Furniture On Ceiling

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As the space allocated to residential units has shrunk in an effort to create more affordable housing in expensive cities, the challenge has grown for how to fit life's necessities and some luxuries into those spaces.

One company has a novel solution: Store it in the ceiling.

A Bumblebee Spaces unit in Seattle
A Bumblebee Spaces unit in Seattle

This is not college-dorm lofts and ceiling-suspended shelves. Bumblebee Spaces creates units where furniture descends upon demand, leaving valuable floor space open and usable when the furniture is not needed.

"It's exciting to live in a smaller footprint, but have the luxury of space," founder Sankarshan Murthy said.

Bay Area-based Bumblebee Spaces has created partnerships to bring its approach into employee housing, co-living, luxury multifamily and a boutique hotel. The company has units in the Bay Area and Seattle and about to come online in New York and Los Angeles. Murthy said the lack of housing and space is a global problem and he anticipates that Bumblebee Spaces could offer a solution that could be used around the globe as well.

Murthy said he was inspired by the conflicting forces of his interest in having minimalist, open aesthetic in his home and the clutter that comes with children to find a solution to store the detritus of daily life in a space-efficient way.

With Bumblebee's system, a bed, a closet or a cabinet, only required at certain times of day, remains tucked away on the ceiling except when needed, and lowers down on military-grade webbing meant to hold thousands of pounds.

When he first started exploring the idea, Murthy was focused on storage, but as he started showing prototypes to architects, designers and property owners, he started to hear the need was for a modular way to apply the concept not only to storage, but also to furniture.

Murthy said the addition of Bumblebee products to a space effectively turns a one-bedroom apartment into something that can be used as a two-bedroom apartment. It creates flexibility in a smaller space that makes it feel like something bigger.

And a young parent in a one-bedroom apartment doesn't have to move out of the city center to a less-expensive area to gain extra space for a growing family, he said.

"You get two functional rooms without any compromises," he said. "It's so powerful that it creates a new product in the market. ... You're living where you want to live, closer to work, and still get all the space you want."

Murthy said initially in the multifamily setting, the Bumblebee units will be offered as an upgrade or alternative. Residents in a one-bedroom Bumblebee unit would pay more than they would for a traditional one-bedroom apartment, but not as much as for a two-bedroom apartment.

"It can save money for the resident and bring in more dollars per square foot for the developer," he said.

In San Francisco, Bumblebee Spaces has partnered with co-living developer and operator Starcity. Co-living is rapidly becoming a popular approach to affordable living in the pricey Bay Area, but a key component of co-living buildings is that, while they offer a variety of communal spaces, the individual rooms for occupants tend to be smaller. Technology that helps a resident best utilize that space can make sense.

"People are choosing to live with less space, so how do they get even more out of that space?" Starcity CEO Jon Dishotsky said. "The answer is Bumblebee or modular furniture."

The Bumblebee Spaces-equipped room at Starcity's Bryant Street location in San Francisco has been fully occupied since the project opened over the summer, Dishotsky said.

He said the goals of the company aligned with Starcity's objective: provide access to living in cities that are often too expensive for many people.

Dishotsky said the point at which it becomes interesting is when the cost of Bumblebee's product comes down to equal what a company like Starcity would have otherwise paid to furnish a unit.

"That's the Tesla challenge — can you get an electric car that's better than the alternative that's at or below the price of the alternatives," he said. "There's definitely a road map to get [Bumblebee Spaces] there."

A Bumblebee Spaces unit in Seattle
A Bumblebee Spaces unit in Seattle

Starcity has a revenue-sharing model to pay Bumblebee Spaces back for the equipment over a period of time. Bumblebee Spaces has a few different business models for different property owners. Some prefer to buy Bumblebee's products outright and have maintenance from the company over time, while others take a lower initial price point, paying for the installation and then a monthly service and care package. Either way, the Bumblebee products can replace usual furniture and equipment expenses.

Starcity is gathering data on how the Bumblebee-equipped room performs with an eye toward the future.

As the co-living company expands — the company has plans to build a 750- to 790-unit co-living project in San Jose that could be the world's largest — there could be opportunities to use Bumblebee again if the price is right, Dishotsky said.

"There's certainly a future where we roll this out and other modular components," he said. "There's no question that we would love to continue to roll this out to multiple communities."

The modules, which are engineered for a retrofit, can work in either a retrofit or a new-build project. Murthy said there are more opportunities in new projects, since there is no need to install cabinets or closet space if the Bumblebee fixture will be providing those things from the ceiling.

At the boutique hotel project now in the planning stages, the Bumblebee fixture will allow the creation of suites in every room and has the added benefit of making cleaning easier — even activating a vacuum to clean the open floor space once a customer checks out.

Residents also have the benefit of technology that inventories the items stored in a tucked away closet or bin, so they can pull up the item on their device and determine which storage shelf needs to descend. Murthy likens it to an AI butler.

Eventually, the technology will start to learn a resident's habits. So, for example, it knows to pull down the storage box for shoes in the morning without any prompting from the resident.

There is also the potential to create community networks through the AI features — so a resident who is looking for a board game may be able to find out if neighbors have a game they are willing to let them borrow. It is a new idea, but one that becomes possible once Bumblebee units are in a property on a larger scale. Early versions of the technology are being tested out now.

And having these items stored on the ceiling can be beautiful as well. Murthy said the company is working with some design teams on a showcase unit where the furniture can look like artwork in the ceiling when retracted.

"This will be such an upgrade, it will be a huge leap in the future," Murthy said of Bumblebee-equipped units. "When you walk into a Bumblebee home, that will be the way people want to live."