We could pessimistically assert that there are no design trends for 2011 because nothing is getting built, but that would be exaggerating. New homes are still popping up in markets that have stabilized – just in more modest numbers, and not with the flamboyance and status-minded consumerism we saw during the housing boom. Today’s value set is more cerebral, focusing on simplicity, resourcefulness, health, community, and practicality. Here are some design themes we expect to see more of in the year ahead as America continues its search for a new normal.
Glitz is gone, at least for now. Honest architecture is the order of the day as homeowners look to simplify their lives – and, by association, their houses. This mantra of zen is playing out in interior spaces with natural finishes, clean lines, and few frivolous embellishments. On the outside the philosophy is being parlayed into elevations with uncomplicated massing. The plain box is enjoying a renaissance at a time when budgets are meager and value engineering is an exercise in survival. This basic geometry is easier and cheaper to frame, plumb, wire, clad, heat, cool, and maintain. And its pure form makes it less prone to crimes of bad proportion.
Medium-sized house? No, wait. Make that a small, please. The average house lost a few pounds in the recession and is still managing to keep the weight off as buyers (and banks) avoid biting off more debt than they can chew. “Demand for very large houses over 4,000 square feet remains, but there is a diminishing demand for middle-sized homes,” observes architect Don Taylor of D.W. Taylor Associates in Ellicott City, Md. “Instead of the previously common request for a home in the 2,800- to 3,200-square-foot range, we are now seeing more requests for homes of 2,400 to 2,800 square feet. Cost obviously has helped precipitate this change, but I also think many buyers are coming to their senses and looking for homes that meet their practical needs rather than satisfying their egos.”
Your vegetables are organic, but what about your cabinets? Health-conscious homeowners are starting to see their homes as part of the wellness equation, right in stride with exercise and eating right. “The farm-to-table movement has now entered the design sphere,” kitchen designers Mick De Giulio, Jamie Drake, and Matthew Quinn proclaimed in a recent kitchen trends report released by Sub-Zero and Wolf. Buyers will soon be paying more attention to healthy details such as low-VOC paints, stains, and sealants, they say, along with cabinets and furniture made with natural products such as hay, wheat, eucalyptus, bamboo, and aspen; HVAC systems that improve indoor air quality; and appliances that filter water. Tomorrow’s kitchens could also end up trading freezer space for larger refrigeration units to keep locally grown foods fresh.
The suburbs are starting to feel more like little cities as planners and developers find ways to weave density and walkability into existing hot spots. “Fewer large-scale development opportunities have shifted the emphasis to smaller infill projects,” AIA chief economist Kermit Baker wrote in a recent design trends report. But these new nodes of “light urbanism” aren’t replacing existing subdivisions; they are popping up between them and connecting the dots. Prime targets for infill redevelopment include big box parking lots, dead shopping centers, strip malls, and transit stations. “People who want an urban lifestyle but either do not want to live in a ‘big city’ or cannot afford to will look to live in the many suburban town centers that have been emerging,” Urban Land Institute senior resident fellow John McIlwain wrote in a recent white paper.
Yes, we say it every year, but it’s true: green building is going mainstream. The latest anecdotal evidence comes by way of California’s CalGreen building code, which takes effect January 1, mandating many green building practices that were previously only voluntary. “I expect we’ll see an uptick in simple, low-cost approaches such as rainwater catchment, drought-tolerant landscaping, permeable hardscapes, passive solar design, and more recycling and landfill diversion,” says Mike McDonald, a green builder in Oakland, Calif. Watch also for more flat roofs with parapet walls hiding unsightly solar panels, predicts Costa Mesa, Calif.-based design consultant Miriam Tate.