Monday, January 5, 2015

Housing Trends for 2015: Practicality and nostalgia meet technology

With the U.S. economic rebound gaining strength and the housing market slowly returning to normal, now is a great time to peer ahead at what kind of design trends and amenities new home buyers are likely to prefer in 2015.  Whether related to technology, easy maintenance, a more practical use of space or even better materials, with consumer confidence rising and unemployment falling, this time look for a return to nostalgia versus living large.

Given the importance of access to information in today’s world, one key unstoppable trend covers technology.  With lower prices for web-controlled cameras, motion sensors for pets, more battery-operated devices, and software which allow smart devices to communicate with each other, the concept of a relatively inexpensive, scalable whole-home system is getting closer to reality.

As smart phones and tablets get smaller, the demand for large built-in desks and separate home offices is declining in favor of charging stations strewn throughout the home.  The most popular spaces are common areas such as corners of kitchens, entrances from the garage and even stairway landings.  For extra security, more builders are beginning to offer various types of keyless entry systems, some of which track who entered the home and when.  Given the rise of the sharing economy, vacation home owners will also benefit from the ability to change entry codes remotely in between guests.

Other technologies targeting the environment and health issues are also gaining ground, including heat recovery systems which constantly filter out particulates, lighting systems which work in concert with natural sunlight, and gardens featuring edible items.  For pool owners, a new method to filter the water simply borrows from the earth with the use of a second pool filled with plants and gravel which cleanse without the use of chlorine or salt.

With water use increasingly on our minds given long-term climate change, more owners are also looking for tanks and cisterns to collect and store rain, gray water systems to re-use on outdoor areas, sprinkler systems which are sync with weather conditions, permeable pavement which resupply groundwater inventories, grass which requires little or no mowing, and more drought-tolerant plants.

Also prepare to say goodbye to the McMansion, at least in most communities. Since the Great Recession, many new homes have also been returning to more practical plans, with a return to smaller kitchens and family rooms which surround residents on a more human scale.  We’ll start seeing less of what I like to call the two-story, “impress the in-laws” foyers.

Instead, look for larger, temperature-controlled garages with nooks for hobbies as well as specialized storage areas throughout the home where everything has its place to minimize clutter.  In addition, given advances in portable fireplaces which don’t require traditional venting, look for more indoor and outdoor fire pits and even painting-sized options which can be hung on walls.

In terms of design cues, don’t be surprised to see some updated relics from the past which have been re-purposed for 2015, such as free-standing bathtubs accompanied by open wall niches for storage.  The durability of porcelain is now competing with other materials as imitation wood for flooring options, which not only saves money (and the environment) versus the real thing, but is more resistant to moisture and actually stands up better to high-traffic areas over time.  Similarly, the durability of naturally occurring quartzite is starting to edge out man-made quartz due to its closer appearance to marble as well as being nearly indestructible.

For fixtures, tiles or even pots dangling from a kitchen ceiling, copper is making a big comeback, allowing designers to introduce a warm yet industrial look to any type of floor plan.  In the kitchen, look for variations of all white to re-emerge, which not only stands the test of time (sadly, the same could not be said of avocado green), but also allows the choice of more striking hardware to stand out.  In other rooms, a growing optimism in the country is being revealed in more Miami-like coral shades, which can add color to a room without being too flashy.

Finally, the trend towards up-selling outdoor living spaces will continue to gain ground this year.  Whether it’s a rooftop deck with pool and spa atop a high-rise urban condo building, a suburban townhome community with pet washing facilities located next to a dog park, or an executive single-family home with backyard amenities usually reserved for resorts, this is one area in which builders of new homes can really excel with their most creative instincts.  Happy 2015!

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