Wellness: The New Design Frontier

"It’s imperative that kitchen and bath design pros increase their expertise, their qualifications and their marketing efforts when it comes to wellness design.”

authors Eliot Sefrin | June 16, 2020

Paula Kennedy has an enlightened approach when it comes to designing for a sophisticated client base starving for cutting-edge technology, natural lighting and aging-in-place features.

Kennedy, an accomplished, Seattle-based kitchen/bath designer and KBDN Innovator, says that she generally broadens her client conversations to include such concepts as water and energy savings, state-of-the-art ventilation, improved outdoor living, enhanced acoustics and supportive color palettes. The results, she says, are trendy, value-added projects that almost always include design elements that address the manifest, and growing, desire for wellness in the home.

Kennedy’s approach is one that’s likely to resonate throughout a design-and-construction market being seriously impacted by a COVID-19 pandemic that’s simultaneously elevating the issue of wellness to top-of-mind status for millions of Americans.

The notion of wellness in the home, of course, is nothing new. For years, there’s been growing emphasis on how intelligent design and product specification can enhance homeowners’ sense of wellbeing – and how healthy homes can become the foundation for healthy lives.

But wellness has risen to a new level of prominence in the age of the novel coronavirus, a public health crisis that’s almost certain to reinforce the concept of “cocooning” – the notion that lifestyles will be increasingly reconfigured around homes that are designed as safe and healthy havens from a hostile, threatening world.

Wellness is clearly a growing trend, one that promises to become nothing shy of a global movement, according to economists, academics and design experts. Already, a growing number of kitchen and bath designers, like Kennedy, say they’re engaging clients in conversations focused on wellness. Already, a wave of new ideas is gaining momentum. Already, a burgeoning universe of design opportunities is emerging.

Indeed, according to the American Institute of Architects, the coronavirus pandemic has already spawned a palpable spike in requests for products and features related to wellness in the home. Remodeling contractors are also reporting a decided uptick in closing rates for projects that address health concerns, according to the Home Improvement Research Institute.

There is increased attention, for example, on how natural light, fresh air and specific color palettes can boost physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual wellbeing, and how incorporating living-in-place standards can assist in creating more comfortable, functional and healthy spaces. Designers tell Kitchen & Bath Design News that they’re enlarging windows and adding skylights, specifying areas for recycling and composting, and creating multi-functional home offices to accommodate people now working from home. They’re paying increased attention to air and water filtration systems and to natural, eco-friendly, non-toxic materials. They’re increasingly adding products and features like decontamination stations, low- and no-VOC paints, touchless faucets, alternative countertop materials, non-traditional heating elements, upgraded ventilation, workstation sinks and pantry-like areas for safely handling food storage.

Biophilic design, an effort to establish deeper connections with nature, is also at the heart of the trend toward healthier homes, with designers employing elemental accents like wood, stone and ceramics to create a sense of balance, harmony and connection to nature.

All this is likely to gain even more momentum in the post-coronavirus market that’s already emerging in tandem with a projected strong market rebound.

The design firms that seize the growing range of opportunities by focusing on in-demand specialties like wellness are far more likely than others to succeed.

It’s imperative that kitchen and bath design pros increase both their expertise and their qualifications when it comes to wellness design, and that they spend time researching the plethora of wellness-related products, concepts and construction methods. It’s equally important that design firms make their wellness expertise an essential component of their company’s future marketing strategy.

Like Paula Kennedy, if you’re going to walk the walk, you’ve first got to talk the talk. ▪

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