The Boom was a good period for home builders. Most builders saw huge financial gains, but that success made many of them less than attentive. Back then, houses sold so quickly there was little need for worrying over design, floor plans, or materials.

That way of doing business is gone. Builders now have to construct houses with extraordinary features and work hard to sell them for less money than they would have five years ago.

A new paradigm is in place, requiring a whole new strategy, and builders want to know what they should be doing. Smaller houses with efficient floor plans? Yes. Energy efficiency? Definitely. Quality finishes? You bet. In the kitchen, alternate countertop surfacing is in, and warm, contemporary design is seriously in.

“I’ve seen this contemporary look more in remodeling than in new construction, but I think builders will be looking at this not only as a reflection of the economy, but also to attract younger, hip buyers when the market comes back,” says Connie Edwards, a certified kitchen designer and design director for Timberlake Cabinetry in Winchester, Va. Says Edwards, “It’s interesting to note that a similar look was popular in the downturn of the ’80s, although it was created with harder surfaces. Today’s look is warmer, more natural.”

Here then are five tips for creating kitchens and baths that can attract buyers in a slow economy.

Tip 1: The Kitchen is Still King

Just because there is a recession doesn’t mean buyers want bland, soulless kitchens with little appeal. It matters now more than ever. “Even in a down economy, the kitchen remains one of the most important features buyers look at when it comes to making a housing purchase,” says kitchen designer Connie Edwards. “Therefore, be careful where you cut.” For dollar stretching, Edwards recommends a strong focal point such as a finer material used sparingly, a clever cabinet arrangement, a dramatic range hood, or funky light fixtures. “Having something breathtaking to catch a buyer’s eye when they first enter the room makes it memorable, even if the rest of the room has been simplified,” she says.

Door Store: Cabinets aren’t just about the doors and the finish. Home buyers want to put things in them—lots of things. This manufacturer offers a variety of storage options with its Elements line. The collection incorporates storage for cutting boards, small appliances, and cleaning implements. Shown: the ChefCenter in Calibra plantation hardwood. Armstrong World Industries. 800-527-5903.

Jeffrey A. Davis Photography

Warm Fronts: Sonoma cherry Bordeaux satisfies the trend for clean, contemporary design but does so in a warm, Shaker-style look that fits a transitional space. The line features adjustable concealed hinges, full-depth drawers, and 3/4-inch-thick plywood veneer boxes and shelves. Drawers are made with dovetail joints. Timberlake Cabinetry. 800-967-9674.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Winchester, VA.