“Born at the junction of form and function” is in fact a shameless lift from the King of Dieselbilly Bill Kirchen’s twangy homage to his Fender Telecaster guitar. But hey, why not bend the strings a little, especially since this turn of phrase from “The Hammer of the Honky-tonk gods” so perfectly nails the challenge for home building’s big players at this moment?

Like it or not, the rising-tide-lifts-all-boats surge-in-sales-volume leg of housing’s recovery was a fleeting few-month period that straddled the end of last year and the beginning of this one. Now that’s done, and we can talk and theorize more about why and what we think happened, or we can move on and look ahead.

And when you do look ahead, it’s critical to recognize that given that your land position for 2014 is most likely what it is at this point, one of the single most important choices to make as the year 2013 draws to a close may have to do with some slight, evolutionary alterations you can make to your design program for each of those new communities to ensure that what you’ve got there is “born at the junction of form and function.”

In other words, design and your results for 2014 are directly tied.

Here’s the way Michael Woodley, who works with many production home builders describes today’s design environment challenge: “The good news is that [even in the relatively torrid California market] mediocre stuff is not selling; the good stuff is selling.” In other words, Woodley says, in equal or the same locations, sometimes even within the same masterplanned community, some homes are selling well, while others are barely moving.

“People need a reason to move,” Woodley says. “Good locations are the given. A good design may not get you the sale; but a bad—or boring—design can certainly lose you a sale.”

lennar house

In broad strokes, it’s bolder, less classic, more distinctive architecture that’s appealing to the discretionary buyers who disproportionately populate the buyer pool in today’s market. More of them fork out more cash, have less contingency, have more discrimination, more means, and assume they’ll be living there rather than staying for a bit before re-selling.

“One of the innovations you’re seeing in this market has to do with the usable lot size,” says Woodley. He notes that private space, both indoor and outdoor, seems to be one of the needs his firm is responding to in their assignments for builders.

So, the way that design needs to work in highly choppy, discriminating home buyer environment is that it must be powerful enough to give someone a reason to move. On the one hand, design’s power must close the perceived [mental] distance between your new-home community and the price and locational advantages that resales may offer a home buyer. On the other hand, design may be your lever to open up the perceived [mental] distance between your offerings and resales on every other dimension, particularly the “junction of form and function.”

What most of the architects we talk to discuss when they focus on trends for 2014 are evolutionary trends rather than revolutionary ones. Still, the real departure in form from what’s worked in the past looks to be paired up with function, i.e. the fact that purchases this time around seem to concentrate among people who view their homes as primary residences rather than pure investment vehicles.

Manny Gonzalez, a principal at KTGY tells us:

“The most interesting thing I am seeing is the number of production home builders who seem to be moving to try to capture the huge number of baby boomers. The builders who have been in the Active Adult space for years are retooling their product lines and are finally building homes that embrace Universal Design in a real way. I am also seeing many builders who have never been in that market (almost all of them falling in the top 20 of your Builder 100) starting to enter it with their first product lines about to hit the market, some of them buying dirt in age qualified master plans and others just building homes in markets favored by retirees like Arizona and Florida. At the same time there are developers like Rancho Mission Viejo who are creating mixed master planned communities where age qualified neighborhoods like Gavilan share the overall amenities like trails, parks and gardens with the family neighborhoods, although they do have their own exclusive amenity."

Here's a whole passel of helpful trend directions from KTGY executive director Nick Lehnert:

Housing Trends continue to evolve. The following list is the compilation of various lifestyle trends based not only on market acceptance but also on consumer preference. Each of these trends have different creation points, some older than others; all are becoming a prevailing tendency. All should be accepted as a basis for designing to contemporary lifestyle.
• Smaller Homes – The AIA Design Trends Survey say that, ‘smaller home size and volumes have a growing interest in going smaller due to an effort to contain energy costs, that the era of the McMansion could be over and that a significant higher number of architects have reported demand for smaller homes’. The key is to create scale and function over size, while creating more ‘attainable’ homes financially.
• Higher degree of “privatized” space - Boomers, empty nesters and Gen Y cohort groups have expressed a higher percentage of buyer mentality desiring less maintenance and more privatized outdoor space, breaking away from the traditional ‘public’ backyard space. This design trend can be achieved by creating spaces that are private from the neighboring house; positioning architecture around the outdoor space or by allowing the outdoor space to pierce architecture, affording more living spaces in the house to be exposed to the outdoor area.
• Better Indoor to Outdoor Connectivity - Bring the outdoors into the home experience. These thresholds to the outdoors offer more light, exciting access to ‘private’ outdoor space and it results in the interior feeling like it extends beyond walls.
• Covered Outdoor Rooms - These outdoor rooms expand the utility of the adjoining interior rooms….these rooms become outdoor ‘retreats’ providing for intimate relaxing spaces, still covered and protected but open to the outdoors.
• Personalization - The personalization of the home has become popular and necessary with the home buying consumer. Whether it is a re-sale or a new home, the consumer is looking for not only finding and purchasing feature elements, from kitchen products to bath fixtures to custom flooring all reflecting their ‘personal’ lifestyle and esthetic preferences. Now take this trend to the architecture/structure of the house. Each consumer will ’live’ the interior space of a home differently….allow them to ‘live’ rooms to their individual vision magnifying their lifestyle.
• Super Kitchens – Super Islands – “Costco” Pantry - The kitchen can now be defined as the “hub” of the house. While providing the preparation process of eating, the kitchen also serves as an entertainment area when guests are present or a conversation area amongst family members. Kitchens are now open to other rooms, visible and exposed. The island has become more than preparation with growing seating capacity. Pantries need to be able to store more packaged foods which are now purchased via large box supplies like Costco in ‘super’ quantity. As the ‘hub’ of the house it becomes a consumers’ dream to design these three elements together with function, practicality and flair.
• Larger Media areas require larger seating - The home TV has now become a large flat screen TV capable of everything from computer games to 3-D movies to hundreds of cable channels. The new sizes of flat screen TV’s creates a design need for more wall space and larger seating capability. The TV niche is gone….seat more people …..design scale and function to the new technology.
• “Spa” like master baths - The bathtub is not dead! It is just an afterthought in most designs. Women predominately take baths…..it takes time to go through the pre-bath process of filling the tub. A woman must dedicate time to the event of ‘taking a bath’. It is an ‘experience’, an ‘escape’ opportunity…..’her private’ time. Why not design the setting to magnify the experience?! The master bath is her “retreat” …..it will be the second place she will critique in the purchase of the home.
• Larger garages for various utility - The garage is becoming something more than ‘housing’ for a car. The garage is one of the only places within a ‘programmed’ house that will offer the consumer “Idea Space”. Rarely are the garages used to park a full compliment of cars. After the sale, garages become a myriad of uses from additional bedrooms, extra storage, hobby, crafts, man cave, to workshops, etc. Creating a larger garage to accommodate more utility becomes a value to the consumer.
• Storage continues to increase in importance - Always, an important factor, it rarely gets designed into a home leaving the consumer to create their own space.
• Office - The office and den is trending to a higher need and the ‘want’ issue dictates the best location within the home. Who uses it and where it is located becomes critical to the consumer and how they value the space. As a ‘utilized’ office space, the front of the home off the entry is not considered (especially by women) an intelligent and practical location. After all, if used consistently, it will not be neat and organized. It usually is a drop zone and a mess. With the advent of personal computers, mom and dad would each use the space; even the kids with their technology homework needs. The better location will be closer to the ‘living’ area of the house, the kitchen hub and family room.
• Entry and Exits – Buyers are looking for entry drama and home announcement when greeting guests. The entry and exits become important for impact. Over the last 10 to 15 years, we have stacked living over the entries. To be able to create some level of volume creates demand.
• ‘Dual Use’ homes - Multi-generational living has become part of the ‘next’ culture. Families are staying together longer and the ‘coupling’ of families become economic as well as cultural.
• Technology - New technology products create a need for a new lifestyle which revolves the constant use hand held electronic devices. How can a family room support 2 laptops an I Pad notebook and each have a smart phone? Are we designing more electric plug capability to accommodate recharging and use. Are master bedrooms able to accommodate flat screen TV’s. We will be designing small “server” rooms as the smart technology enters into the home. The innovation in lighting will command attention as new homes are designed.

Gonzalez adds, "Only few builders were embracing sustainable construction a decade ago and now it has not only become a major part of marketing for many, but actually part of our building codes. I believe you will see Universal Design following this same pattern. Builders are starting to see the benefit of incorporating it into their homes and some cities like Irvine have actually included some UD into their building codes."

And from KTGY's David Senden: "We're working on some 'downtown family' R&D stuff. Whether for-sale or rental, all those Hipster Gen Ys are going to need a place to go when they out grow the funky nightclubbish places everybody is building now in urban areas. We think a portion of those millennials will want to stay where they've created their lives....downtown."

What are the results-driving trends you're seeing that will help you both close up and put more distance between what you're offering and your competition, be it resales or rivals?

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Denver, CO.