Artisan crafted. Quality conscious. Earth friendly. Minimalist design.
All of these – as well as other – phrases have been associated with millennials, a generation that is reported to be the largest domestic group in recent history at 87 million strong. Also known as Generation Y, this group – born primarily between 1982 and 2000 – is just starting to make its mark on the world.
With regard to home design – and more specifically kitchen and bath design – many industry professionals would like to believe they have Gen Y all figured out. But the assumption that all millennials are drawn to uncluttered spaces and modern minimalism is a little off base. In fact, interest in traditional, transitional and contemporary styles remains consistent with this group, and is often dependent upon the location and style of the house, as well as the lifestyle and personality of the client.
While they do tend to lean toward clean lines, Janis Manacsa, director of marketing and a designer for Gilmans Kitchens and Baths in San Mateo, CA, reports that their design taste is actually “all over the place.”
MIXING IT UP
Instead of locking into one particular style, millennials are mixing design elements, as well as materials, to get the look they want, offers Manacsa. “Everything is becoming a little bit more eclectic,” she states.
Indeed, Chris Awadalla, principal, Sanctuary Kitchen Design in Denver, CO, concurs that his firm is trying to incorporate a variety of materials when creating spaces for this age group. “Combinations of rough vs. smooth and shiny vs. matte are always nice when seen in the same space. Layering these materials and patterns creates a visually interesting space, and I think that is what millennials are truly going for – something unique and interesting,” he says.
Manacsa also nods to an interest in more modern surfacing with this group. “Engineered quartz is the way to go, and we’re also using a lot of Dekton from Cosentino and Neolith surfacing,” she reports. While the ease of maintenance is important, Manacsa also notes that both Dekton and Neolith feature a different type of texture. “Millennials are really enjoying the difference,” she observes.
Most millennials value organization as well, she continues, so she is incorporating items such as the LeMans swing out storage from Häfele, half-moon susans, pull-out pantries and roll-out drawers under the sink. “It’s streamlined in every way,” she reports. “Everything is about efficiency.”
Sandra Brannock, AKBD, owner, Expert Kitchen Designs, LLC in Amissville, VA, agrees with the efficiency idea, but also notes that millennials seem to have accumulated a lot less than baby boomers. “They are the opposite ends of the spectrum,” she states. “With millennials, the cabinets aren’t packed full.”
Members of this generation are also, understandably, very in tune with current technology, likely more so than any generation before them. To that end, “we incorporate technology into their designs quite frequently,” reports Keith Vellequette, owner and lead designer at KBF Design Gallery, in Altamonte Springs, FL. “Outlets with USB ports for charging devices, Doug Mockett & Co. outlets integrated into countertops or outlets strips hidden under cabinets, and lighting that can be controlled by an iPad or iPhone are some of the technological elements that millennials want,” he offers.
“Docking drawers are so commonplace now – you see them all over the place,” adds Brannock. “When you ask a client if they want to specify a place as a charging station for their phone, tablets, laptops and whatever, they all say yes. Nobody says, ‘let me think about it.’”
Given their ages, the majority of millennials are only just coming into their own now as far as careers, earning potential and home ownership. Many are raising young children and still wrestling with college debt.
“They are keen on their budgets,” stresses Manacsa. “They know what their budget is, and they try to get what they want within that budget.”
And, since they are tech savvy, they do their homework online, comparing prices and researching what they can get for their money.
They also want transparency in pricing. “No longer can I present a bottom line price for a kitchen that includes countertops, cabinets, appliances, etc.,” states Awadalla. “They want to know what they are spending their money on.” He adds, however, that they are okay with paying a premium when the perceived value of the product or service is worth the contract price.
Brannock agrees, noting that millennials seem to be willing to massage the budget a little for certain items. “If they have a luxury item that they really want, they will spring for that,” she states.
Because they are well informed, millennials often have strong opinions about what they want. Brannock notes that, while they may see the designer as the expert, they don’t ask for recommendations. “Recently, a 60-year-old client of mine stated, ‘you’re the expert, what do you recommend?’ Millennials won’t ask that. They want to be the one to say, ‘I did this, I made this decision,’” she stresses.
In essence, the designer is there to help them realize the end result, rather than create it. While Brannock notes that she doesn’t mind this approach, it makes the project more challenging, “because you’re trying to figure out how much to listen to them since they might not be sure of what they want.”
“But, even if they don’t know exactly what it is they want, they have a clear idea of the outcome that they desire,” reflects Manacsa. “When you’re talking to millennials, you can’t just come right out and say that you think something is a good design. You have to explain the process to them – how it is meeting their needs and their lifestyle.”
This can be especially challenging because, according to Brannock, her millennial clients don’t talk a lot. “They don’t emote, or say things like ‘I love this’ or ‘I’m crazy about that,’” she remarks. “It’s a little bit more of an intellectual approach.”
Awadalla stresses that he tries to gather as much information as possible from millennial customers in the very beginning. “I want to listen twice as much as I talk in those first appointments,” he says. “I want them to know that their opinions are going to be heard and valued and that the design we end up with will ultimately be something that they had in their minds all along.”
This approach can make the client/designer relationship a tricky one. Indeed, Manacsa notes that millennials get frustrated if they sense the designer is not giving them the answers they need to hear right away.
“It’s more about service with this group. If they feel that they can just get the answer online, then you’re really not doing them a service,” she stresses. “But, if you’re giving them more information, things they didn’t consider, things they don’t find online, then they trust you more and they’re more open to your ideas and design suggestions.”
Manacsa notes that millennial clients tend to be more straightforward than other groups. “If they come in and they don’t know something, they’re quick to admit it,” she reports.
She believes that, when the designer takes that same direct approach, it helps the designer/client relationship. “With millennials, I think the more straightforward you are, the more open they are,” she stresses.
MAKING THE CONNECTION
Because they are more technologically savvy than the generations before them, millennials have posed new challenges to designers, especially ones who are more old school. For this group, everything is done on a drive, and communication is electronic.
“They hate paper,” stresses Manacsa. “They come in with spreadsheets and Excel documents, and will share their Google drives with me with photos of their space,” she notes.
In fact, Awadalla reports that he had to drastically readjust his design and sales process during the past three years in order to connect in a more effective manner with millennial clients. “Everything is digital now,” he stresses. “Our contracts are signed on an iPad, our plans are transmitted via PDF, our renderings of spaces are completely digital and we conduct virtual meetings through our laptops, where I can share my screen with customers.”
He adds that his firm’s first introduction to style programming is via Houzz or Pinterest. “I always ask upon signing a design retainer, ‘Would you mind sharing your Pinterest boards or Houzz idea books with me?’” he comments.
Vellequette observes that, during the initial design stage, millennials are more specific about the design elements they want to incorporate than other groups, and that is due to the web. “They often come to us after completing hours of research on sites like Houzz and Pinterest, and they typically have a definitive wish list for their space,” he states. “They will pull up pictures of ideas on their phones to share with us.”
“When making recommendations to our millennial clients, we keep in mind that they are visual and do their research, so we present our ideas so they can see (and feel, if that is a possibility) them and give them time to do their research, providing links to websites when available,” he adds.
Everything is visual with this group, Manacsa agrees. “You need to use a lot of pictures, Pinterest, Houzz, magazines. Visualization is key.” ▪