A Radically New Market in 2021

"There’s mounting evidence that the once-in-a-lifetime COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered both household dynamics and the relationship people have with their home.”

authors Eliot Sefrin | February 4, 2021

The economic and public-health tsunami wrought by COVID-19 continues to sweep across the nation, as 2021 opens with high hopes despite a global pandemic that has cost lives, ravaged businesses and radically transformed the housing and remodeling markets.

The kitchen and bath industry has always been fluid, its transformation fueled by cutting-edge design trends, emerging lifestyles, consumer buying patterns and homeowner demographics. The coronavirus pandemic, however, has dramatically accelerated the pace of that evolution, presenting unique challenges while resulting in nothing short of a tectonic market shift – a new normal – that’s tested the industry’s resolve and illustrated its hallmark ability to adapt.

Kitchen/bath design firms, adapting to health-related strictures, have implemented virus-mitigation strategies and entire new protocols for marketing, designing, selling and interacting with clients, prospects, subcontractors, suppliers and employees. Digital tools have been utilized in innovative new ways. Showrooms have been reimagined, supply chains reconfigured, factories operated in productive new ways. Major trade shows – including the upcoming Kitchen & Bath Industry Show and International Builders’ Show – have been converted into pioneering online initiatives. Dozens of other live events have been canceled or postponed.

And all of that, and more, has happened in the span of less than a year.

The emergence of COVID-19, just as significantly, has had a profound impact on housing and remodeling, amidst mounting evidence that the once-in-a-lifetime pandemic has fundamentally altered both household dynamics and the relationship people have with their home.

Indeed, what’s clear by now is that millions of Americans, spending substantial time sheltering in place, are rethinking residential spaces, making accommodations to fast-changing lifestyles, and shifting expenditures from items like entertainment and travel to homes that are being increasingly viewed as sanctuaries from a chaotic, menacing world.

More people than ever are telecommuting. More are learning, exercising, cooking, playing and relaxing at home. More are sharing household chores. More are seeking biophilic elements, products and features that enhance relaxation, wellness, sustainability, security, energy efficiency and aging-in-place. More are seeking residences – increasingly in affordable, low-density markets – that incorporate home offices and gyms, indoor/outdoor living spaces, multi-generational suites, children’s learning centers and other specialty areas. More are undertaking home-improvement projects within the first year of purchase, creating a “longer tail” – and expanded market – for DIY and professional remodeling.

All these trendlines augur favorably for 2021, as long as industry professionals learn from them, leverage them and continue adapting to the so-called “new normal.”

While the impact of COVID-19 surely lingers, signs point to a bullish outlook for the new year, as consumers grow increasingly confident, the economy improves with the deployment of a coronavirus vaccine, supply chain disruption diminishes and manufacturers ramp up production. Underlying fundamentals remain positive: demand high, interest rates low, builder and remodeler sentiment solid, housing starts and home sales poised for growth. Most dealers and designers tell KBDN that showrooms, by and large, will remain open, many employees who were furloughed or laid off in 2020 will be rehired, new business practices will remain intact, and 2021 revenue should post gains.

It’s time to pick up the pieces, learn from what has happened, and gain ground in a radically new market that poses at least as many opportunities as it once did challenges.

Editor’s Note: Kitchen & Bath Design News welcomes a new columnist with this month’s issue – Diane Plesset, CMKBD, CAPS, NCIDQ, who’ll be writing our popular “Planning & Design” column going forward.

Plesset, the principal of D.P. Design in Oregon City, OR, has more than 35 years of experience as a kitchen/bath designer. The author of the award-winning book, THE Survival Guide: Home Remodeling, Diane has been the recipient of numerous design awards. Named a 2019 KBDN “Innovator,” she has taught Western design at the Machida Academy in Japan, was the co-host of a radio talk show about remodeling, and hosts a podcast, “Today’s Home.”

KBDN readers, it is expected, will find Diane’s columns timely and informative. We look forward to sharing her insights. ▪

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