What percentage of your projects is new home construction, rather than remodels or additions? For many designers, the answer is almost none. For a few, though, it’s most or all. For those who work with national, high-end builders, the opportunity to spot major kitchen and bath trends as they spread across the country is extraordinary – and instructive to the rest of the market. Here is what they’re seeing, designing, supplying and building.
Demographic and economic trends
Before looking at what’s going into these new homes, it’s useful to look at who’s buying them and what market trends are influencing them. Jessica Lautz, director of demographics and behavioral insights research for the National Association of Realtors notes, “Home building is not keeping pace with the demand of all generations for smaller starter homes and homes that are common for retirees who are downsizing. Regionally, the most construction is in the South, but there are still suppressed shares of new properties.”
This supply-side shortage is causing rapid price increases, she notes, adding that, in some markets, “Supply has kept pace with demand of new jobs, but in areas like Portland, OR and Denver, the supply constraints are a concern.” They’re especially concerning for first-time homeowners saddled with student debt and high rents, making down payments difficult, she observes. While much has been said and written about millennials deferring home ownership, both Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal point out that their home-buying rates are trending upward faster than all others.
Older downsizing home buyers are another big category impacted by home prices. Lautz says, “Baby Boomers who are retiring are more likely to purchase new construction and are able to customize their homes to fit their needs.” What they have in common, she says: “All generations desire a place they can call their own, a kitchen to make the perfect meal in and a bathroom to get ready in.” That’s where you come in.
The National Association of Home Builders shared in its most recent (2017) Home Buyer study that, “the majority of buyers in the three higher income brackets [$75,000-plus] prefer a new home: Roughly 40 percent prefer a brand new home offered by a builder and 22 to 29 percent prefer a custom home built on their land.”
Mary DeWalt of Austin-based Mary DeWalt Design Group has been helping regional and national builders dazzle home buyers since 1983 as a model home design consultant. “One interesting trend is the lifestyle desires of the Active Adult [aged 50 and older] buyers are very similar to a large portion of the millennial market. Both seem to want to live close to entertainment, restaurants, shopping, and like the ‘lock and leave’ lifestyle that many communities offer.” This points to low- and no-maintenance home features and home security that snow birds and affluent owners prefer so they can be left vacant for weeks or months at a time.
Overall design trends
“New home builders understand the importance of design much more than they did when I started my firm,” DeWalt recalls. “They understand that, with the popularity of Pinterest, HGTV and Houzz, consumers are much more design savvy than ever before.”
The NAHB study agrees that “home buyers overwhelmingly favor kitchen designs that are either completely open or partially open” to living spaces. Laundry rooms topped the most wanted list and Energy Star ratings also rank in the top five features. Also high on buyers’ want lists are hardwood floors, ceiling fans and garage storage.
Technology trended strongly in the NAHB study, too: “Findings show that even among the most income-constrained subset of buyers, there is significant appeal for home technologies.” They’re not talking about fancy appliances and fixtures, though: “The three most wanted by buyers earning less than $100,000 are a wireless home security system, a programmable thermostat and security cameras. For those earning $100,000 to $149,999, security cameras are replaced by an energy management system in the top three, while for those in the highest-income group they are replaced by a multi-zone HVAC system.”
One of the companies playing in the home technology space is Control4. For the past five years, the Salt Lake City-based company has partnered with luxury home builder Toll Brothers in offering smart home features. It’s also part of CEDIA, the home technology association and expo. In appreciating technology’s growing role in kitchen and bath design, the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show has incorporated a CEDIA technology solutions pavilion and CEDIA will have an NKBA presence and special features for designers at its San Diego expo this month.
“Control4 provides Toll Brothers’ homeowners technology with a focus on the home’s most used spaces such as kitchens, family rooms and baths. Features like smart lighting, multi-room audio, security integration and more are programmed to work together from a single app, so the homeowner can use a smart device or universal remote to create an entire lifestyle scene with just the touch of a button or tap of a keypad,” shares Chris Ivie, director of sales programs.
Toll Brothers builds luxury homes in 22 states and the District of Columbia. The Philadelphia area company offers single-family detached residences, attached homes, master planned communities and urban condos and apartments. “Major trends that are impacting the homes Toll Brothers build today are smart home technology, multi-generational design and designing for millennials,” shares Tim Gehman, v.p. of design and innovation. “Designing for millennials is a big focus for Toll Brothers through the development of contemporary townhome plans and single-family homes with smaller square footages (under 1,500 square feet). We are streamlining the design and materials selections process to best appeal to this rapidly growing population.”
The American Institute of Architects publishes quarterly studies of what its architect members are working on. In its most recent with a kitchen and bath focus, published late last year, it said: “In the Q4 2017 Home Design Trends Survey the [trending kitchen] features that were reported as increasing were outdoor kitchens, kitchens open to household living space, computer work/recharge areas and butler’s pantry/increased pantry space,” recalls Kermit Baker, the AIA’s chief economist. What’s going into these spaces? Let’s take a look.
The NAHB’s study shows that “a significant share of high-income buyers want a central island, granite/stone countertops, recessed lighting and customized backsplash.” While that’s not surprising, this one might be: “A majority of buyers in all income groups would prefer a typical kitchen and living area spaces than the alternative of a larger-than-average kitchen and smaller living areas.”
“We are designing oversized islands, double islands and back kitchen/super pantry areas,” shares Gehman. There is a trend emerging toward the messy or prep kitchen to hide the mess while entertaining, DeWalt agrees. “Many oversized islands also have integrated table extensions in the same or contrasting quartz or granite to maximize entertainment space,” Gehman adds.
Quartz is eclipsing granite in many Toll Brothers markets, he notes. Gehman points out another cabinet trend: “We’re seeing an increase in windows and a decrease in wall cabinets to accommodate them. Open upper shelving is more popular than ever now, too.”
DeWalt is seeing island countertops that drop down from 36 inches to 30 inches for more of a dining table experience. (These are especially advantageous for active adult and multi-generational homes.) “Also, waterfall islands where the countertop is taken to the floor on the side” are still popular.
Gehman and DeWalt both see white flat- and recessed-panel door kitchens continuing to trend, but color is coming on, too, they observe. “Mixing cabinet colors is very interesting – you might have white uppers and a color on the lowers or a color on the island,” DeWalt says. “Navy blue is definitely the new black. It works well with almost every color and even luxury cars are coming out of the black into the navy.” Black continues to be a very popular choice, though, she adds, “particularly combined with stained wood tones.”
“Stainless steel is still the number one sink choice and it seems to be a toss-up between one large sink vs. two sides,” she adds. “The farmhouse or apron sink in stainless and porcelain is a popular upgrade. Modern farmhouse sinks with contemporary faucets are trending at Toll Brothers, Gehman reports. Brushed bronze and matte black stainless are new and popular color choices, he says.
“Modern kitchen faucets in stainless or bright chrome are what we most often specify,” says DeWalt. “Brass and gold plumbing, lighting and hardware are starting to show up and some are being mixed with other metals,” she notes.
As far as appliances go, DeWalt sees black stainless and matte black trending strongly in the mainstream market. Gehman adds, “We are designing for refrigerator drawers in lower cabinets or in the island. Steam ovens are replacing microwaves in some cases, and microwaves are being placed within lower drawers.”
Lighting is always an important factor in kitchen spaces. “It’s best to work with three levels of light in a kitchen,” DeWalt suggests. These include recessed lights, under- and over-cabinet strip lighting and pendant lighting. LEDs are showing up strongly, in part because of their improved quality and pricing, in part because of sustainability codes in states like California. “Many of our builders are making hanging fixtures an option and replacing them with recessed cans.” Those, too, might be LED-powered.
Gehman says, “Large scale pendants in feature areas, industrial modern fixtures with Edison bulbs and the incorporation of LED lighting are what’s most popular in lighting now.”
As designer Mary DeWalt points out, “Kitchens are where we gather these days.” Their large islands and openness to surrounding living spaces “are bringing family and friends into the heart of the home.” This is an exciting space to work in, isn’t it? ▪