It’s tricky to forecast what’s on the horizon for home layouts. While trends come and go with the seasons in fashion and other areas of design, a home is more permanent, which means floor plans are a little slower to reflect changes in style and function. Designers and architects must strike a balance between creating versions of tried-and-true plans and pushing the envelope with a design that might not immediately resonate with consumers.
Albeit slowly, design tweaks to better meet buyers’ needs do eventually take hold of the plans market. Formal dining rooms have become less popular in new homes over the past decade, while home offices are still sought after as telecommuting continues to flourish (2.9% of the total U.S. workforce work from home at least half of the time, a 115% increase since 2005, according to FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics).
Sometimes trends emerge in response to economic realities. Land scarcity can make smaller footprints more desirable in many markets, and the changing makeup of families has made flexible layouts more relevant than ever. Plans increasingly are geared toward multigenerational households, offering main-level bedroom suites or in-law units that provide privacy to relatives.
The overall movement toward informality and relaxed living reveals itself in the ubiquitous open plan—a longtime trend that doesn’t seem to be waning—but also in exterior home design as well. Ornate styles such as European (a broad category that typically involves a lot of stone arches and stucco) and New American (aka McMansion) have largely fallen out of favor, and rugged-yet-elegant Craftsman designs continue to be top sellers. The streamlined modern farmhouse style is stealing some of the spotlight, however, as it has become the plan du jour.
It’s anyone’s guess what the coming years will bring in terms of home layouts. On the following pages, we reveal the five hottest home design trends impacting floor plans in 2018.
The Modern Farmhouse
To understand the immense popularity of this architectural style, look no further than how much American consumers love home renovation shows like those on HGTV, one of cable’s top-rated networks. It’s hard to overstate the impact of Chip and Joanna Gaines and their farmhouse aesthetic on what’s popular in both interior and exterior designs. A relaxed yet streamlined, modern look now reigns supreme among new-home designs. White farmhouses in particular sell at a steady clip. Accordingly, many designers are taking advantage of this trend by creating their own take on it.
Why now? “The modern farmhouse aesthetic seems to have struck a chord with the American home buyer because it relates back to a more bucolic era while also embracing all the needs of modern life,” says Jonathan Hyman, architectural department manager at Greenville, S.C.–based Donald A. Gardner Architects. “The simplicity and clean lines, along with a little nostalgia, help the modern farmhouse create a relaxing environment in our chaotic contemporary lives.”
The defining characteristics of this exterior style include lap siding, large windows, and simple rooflines (typically with one or more gables). Bright white siding usually is paired with dark windows.
In an effort to have their farmhouse plans stand out in a market flooded with them, some designers are adding color. Not classic, expected hues like red or brown, but rather soft pastels that feel fresh and new. House Plan Zone, a fast-growing design firm based in Hattiesburg, Miss., has begun to introduce color into its incredibly popular portfolio of farmhouses.
Donald A. Gardner recently released new renderings for a number of its farmhouses, some of which feature light green tones and soft tan colors. And while gray seems to be fading in kitchen design, it looks chic when applied to a simple farmhouse exterior.
A key element of the modern farmhouse has been dark windows, which work well with a white exterior. But with pastel siding, red or warm brown better suit the overall scheme while still providing contrast. In fact, a new yellow-siding-and-brick plan from House Plan Zone features red windows.
In a departure from historic farmhouse layouts, some of today’s hottest designs feature only one level of finished space, which is appealing to those who intend to age in place.
Just how long will the farmhouse trend go before something else takes its place, and what will that something else look like? There’s no definitive answer. Craftsman styles dominated for many years and still account for more than one-quarter of all plan sales from Houseplans.com (owned by Hanley Wood, BUILDER’s parent company). Meanwhile, farmhouses jumped from 9% of total sales in 2016 to 14% in 2017. Given how it can take years for a trend in home plans to really take hold of the market, we may be looking at modern farmhouses for a long time to come.
Open floor plans have for years been the standard among layouts, but now they’re being taken one step further by combining the formal dining room with the breakfast nook. While a luxury plan may still include a set-apart dining room (perhaps with a decorative ceiling treatment), mid-size plans increasingly include only one dedicated eating space: an enlarged breakfast nook adjacent to the kitchen.
This change reflects not only Americans’ growing informality at mealtime, but also the continued prominence of the kitchen as the center of the home. Even when square footage is tight, the social kitchen concept has taken hold so thoroughly that even modest apartments typically feature a large island with seating.
The most creative layouts go beyond the now-standard island configuration of three or four stools in a row. Some islands feature a squared-off shape, which facilitates conversation in a more natural way. A few innovative plans even incorporate tables into islands for a café-like vibe.
A good host makes his or her guests feel relaxed, and a well-thought-out kitchen can help create that easygoing vibe. It’s refreshing to see prep sinks and ranges on some kitchen islands as these features let whomever is cooking rinse, chop, and saute without constantly turning away from visitors.
Even with inevitable pushback against ultra-open layouts (some dissenters complain about food odors and no room to hide a mess), it seems unlikely that the trend will reverse anytime soon. Cooking now serves as an aspirational leisure activity with the rise of meal prep (often documented on social media) and a focus on wellness.
Current house plan trends reveal a growing movement toward flexibility. A layout that works for a variety of living arrangements means that it will appeal to a wider swath of the population. And that’s important as a growing number of households are expanding beyond the typical nuclear family. In 2014, 60.6 million Americans (including children) resided in multigenerational households, according to Pew Research Center.
Floor plans need to respond to and accommodate the shift toward multigenerational living, which means adaptability is key. A client might not need room for grandparents now, but in a couple of years that may change.
Alternatively, debt-saddled young adults who don’t establish independent households right after college might need some privacy while living with mom and dad. Flexible, adaptable spaces easily can help meet these needs.
While in-law suites have been around for a long time, the trend today makes them much more accessible by placing the bedroom (typically with an ensuite or adjacent full bathroom) on the first floor. That’s an important difference from the common placement of a guest room over the garage, since traversing stairs can present difficulties for an elderly relative. When not in use for guests or relatives, this room, which often is located in the front of the home, can be outfitted as an office or study.
Omaha, Neb.–based firm Design Basics incorporates an extra main-level suite into many of its designs. In one of the firm’s plans, a second master suite stands ready as a comfortable place to house an elderly relative.
In another nod to long-term livability, the master suite on the main floor has become nearly de rigueur. When combined with a first-floor guest suite, it makes for a layout that can be used by homeowners (especially baby boomers) to age in place without the need for installing an elevator.
A move toward practicality—not necessarily frugality, but making the most of what you do have—is evident when looking at the amenities in today’s newest home plans. Storage has become more than just a walk-in closet (though you’ll find plenty of them, increasingly in secondary bedrooms as well as in master suites). Greater emphasis is placed on the thoughtful placement of such features.
Mudrooms and laundry areas—often showing up in plans as separate spaces rather than combined—provide Pinterest-worthy spots to keep the clutter of everyday living organized. This is especially important in a home with an open layout, where there’s little room to hide footwear, backpacks, and coats. Mudrooms with hooks, lockers, and benches greet homeowners with a place to sit down, take off shoes, and store gym bags and schoolbooks. Meanwhile, smarter storage for laundry necessities—such as detergents and drying racks—is also sometimes accompanied by smarter placement in the home: many layouts by Jonesboro, Ark.–based Nelson Design Group feature master closets that open directly into the laundry room. This simple change makes it easy to throw in a load of laundry without lugging a basket throughout the house.
For furry members of the family, pet amenities have become more common in new plan designs. There are some creative solutions for the discreet placement of a pet’s food and water dishes or a cat’s litter box. Design Basics incorporates “pet centers” in its layouts, which include dog-washing stations and other storage.
A home office, too, can be viewed as a storage solution if it’s able to also serve as a guest suite, as that’s space well-spent. Says Jason Breland, a designer at House Plan Zone, “We receive so many requests to convert fourth bedrooms or formal dining rooms into home offices.”
A recent Houzz survey of homeowners renovating their master bathrooms found that 81% of respondents renovating their shower chose to make it bigger. Looking at current house plans, that rings true. Many layouts from recent years include a standalone shower in the master suite—if you haven’t already, kiss the tub/shower combo goodbye—two sinks, and a freestanding tub. In some smaller plans, the tub gets nixed, but the shower always remains.
Why? While a bath sounds relaxing, it can be hard to fit into a busy schedule. And forget those ornate tubs of yore, with their elaborate steps and big surrounds. When they are included, today’s tubs typically provide a spacious but simple place to unwind.
With showers, however, more is more. Walk-in showers, especially those without a curb, look elegant and also work well for aging in place—just add a well-anchored grab bar and a bench. A few particularly upscale floor plans even arrange the shower so that it can be entered from two sides—think of it as a walk-through shower.
But a massive amount of square footage is not required to have a chic, contemporary bathroom. Many plans keep it simple and streamlined with the must-haves: double sinks and a spacious shower.