KEEPING UP WITH WHAT BUYERS want is like trying to hit a moving target: You may score every now and then, but you'll probably miss more than you'll hit—unless you're really good, of course.
We here at BUILDER found out from our sources in the field what's hot and what's not. And we have the skinny on what kinds of products consumers are asking their builders, architects, and kitchen designers for.
According to the industry sources we talked to, people are continually searching for things that are new and unusual, whether it's a wall-mount faucet, a three-door refrigerator, or high-concept toilets.
Wall-mount faucets free up space on the countertop. But the it appliance of the moment is the bottom-mount refrigerator. It makes it easier for people to see fresh-food items. Makers have made it even more versatile by giving it double doors on top. And TOTO has made real the futuristic toilet. The product is all automatic—opening, flushing, and closing without any help.
You don't have to include all of these trends in your homes, but take a look and see if one tickles your fancy.
Trend 1: On The Wall
You can identify trendsetters by the products they buy, and hip buyers today are flocking to wall-mount faucets. Bolingbrook, Ill.–based Danze, maker of high-quality, mid-priced faucets, says the popularity of wall-mount faucets coincides with the rise in use of vessel sinks—those that sit above the counter. Offered by most major faucet companies, including Danze, Kohler, Chicago Faucets, and California Faucets, the units have a spigot on the wall that frees up counter space and adds a clean look to a bath. They can also be used to the same effect in the kitchen. Wall-mounts are priced a little higher than conventional faucets and require a different rough-in, but manufacturers say this can easily be done during construction.
Trend 2: Beyond the Bottom-Mount
Perhaps the fastest-growing product in the refrigerator category is the bottom-mount—units with the freezer on the bottom. These fridges get major style points, but they serve a practical purpose, as well: They provide easier access to the oft-used nonfreezer area of the refrigerator.
Manufacturers have expanded on the bottom-mount concept, giving the nonfreezer portion armoire-style double doors. “Everything is up high so it is easier to get to,” says Robert Rogers, marketing manager for refrigeration at GE. Unlike a side-by-side unit, says Maytag/Jenn-Air, armoire-style doors give buyers more shelf space to store large items such as pizza boxes. Armoire-style doors are available from most major manufacturers, including LG Electronics, Samsung, Maytag, Jenn-Air, Kenmore, and GE.
Trend 3:Water Savers
Once upon a time (when we didn't know better), our toilets were gigantic water wasters. They worked fine but typically used a whop-ping 3 to 4 gallons per flush. In response, Congress in 1992 passed a law reducing the maximum gallons allowed per flush to 1.6. But manufacturers' first 1.6-gpf units just led to multiple flushes and more water waste. Now, a new generation of high-performance toilets, from manufacturers such as American Standard, TOTO USA, Kohler, and Jacuzzi, truly perform as intended—to save water. Some units even offer conventional flushing along with a second option that uses less water to remove liquid waste.
Trend 4: Disappearing Acts
Long ago, if you wanted a major appliance that was a fraction of the size of its larger cousins, you had limited options. But then Fisher & Paykel introduced its dishwasher-in-a-drawer, and buyers took notice, snapping up the units in droves. Other manufacturers took notice, too. Today, GE, U-Line, Sub-Zero, and KitchenAid offer appliances in drawers; and Viking, Bosch, Miele, and FiveStar all have high-design dishwashers, wine coolers, ranges, and refrigerators that offer the same good looks and high performance as their full-size counterparts but in much smaller sizes. Bosch, which recently introduced an 18-inch stainless steel dishwasher, says the products are hot because homeowners can use them to augment larger units in a kitchen or to fit small vacation homes.
Trend 5: Personal Touches
Home buyers have always wanted to personalize their spaces; that's not news. What is new today is how they're doing it. Bath customization—from complex showering systems to products that replicate a spa—is currently the preferred choice of buyers. Call it cocooning or whatever else trend-watchers call it, the bottom line is that consumers have realized they can just as well stay home and relieve the stresses of daily life. And manufacturers now offer everything buyers need to do it. Jacuzzi, for example, says more people are opting for two-person showers with multiple showerheads, sprays, and jets.