Design changes, as does architecture. Trends don’t emerge as rapidly here as they do in say, food or fashion, but the economy, the environment, and demographics all spur shifts in the choices of materials, designs, layouts, and construction methods for single- and multifamily dwellings.
These 12 trends reflect ways to cope with environmental challenges, incorporate new building materials and methods, and alter the looks and functionality of our homes. Hear top designers and architects explain why these emerging trends are important and how they’ll influence real estate choices in the near future.
1. More Resilient, Sustainable Homes
Why it’s important: Mounting climate change pressures mean buildings need to better withstand natural disasters. Similarly, because our natural resources are dwindling, it’s increasingly important that structures be designed and built sustainably. Industry professionals are finding materials and construction techniques to meet both challenges. The Fortified Home Certification standard—created by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety and Architectural Testing Inc.—represents engineering and building levels that provide sturdier structural envelopes that are more resilient against the worst weather conditions than those found in most current building codes. And the trends of making better use of natural resources and generating energy on site—for a double win of more energy and less money spent—will continue into 2016.
How this will impact real estate: Increased durability means more lives and buildings will be saved, costs to rebuild will be pared, and insurance premiums will be lowered. The trend is happening nationwide, not just in hurricane-prone locales like Florida, says Jacqueline Nunez, founder of WonderGroup LLC in Boston. Her Allandale Residences project, designed by Merge Architects in Boston, will be among the first residential developments in New England to be receive Net-Zero and LEED Platinum certifications. It will include 16 townhomes and four condos on a two-acre site in West Roxbury, Mass. “It’s responsible to build environmentally correct,” Nunez says. Such projects have the potential to change real estate offerings as home buyers ask professionals not just about square footage and amenities but also about materials and methods, especially in areas where climate change is most destructive— “where sea levels are rising and strong hurricane winds are blowing,” Nunez says.
2. Classics, Made More Affordable
Why it’s important: More home owners want quality, luxurious materials, but the finest choices aren’t always in the budget, says architect Michael Prifti, principal with BLT Architects in Philadelphia. “Home owners seem to prefer stone, for example, over brick, over clapboard, and over vinyl, but not everyone can afford stone,” he says. With construction and material costs increasing, the need has emerged for less expensive options that still look luxe and hold up well. For example, instead of solid stone facades, architects may opt for stone veneer on studs and drywall instead of plaster inside. Or, rather than go with terra-cotta, a timeless but expensive material, they can select a handsome thin terra-cotta veneer applied to manufactured panels, Prifti says. Both examples are less costly and reflect modern building methods, particularly for constructing multiunit developments.
How this will impact real estate: Smart real estate professionals should explain to cost-conscious fixer-upper clients that there are new materials out there that might better fit a tight budget. After all, architects and builders are constantly being challenged to find value for clients in both residential and commercial development, says Prifti. “We research to find new products and new ways to use existing materials, so they’re durable, affordable, and offer more colors and textures,” he says. According to colleague and BLT Senior Project Architect Jennifer Burnside, “Many of the new products, materials, and methods lend themselves to fabrication in large modular configurations in weather-controlled factories, are shipped on trucks to a site, and are erected with a crane, which saves time and labor.” Working this way also saves your clients money.
3. Drought Awareness
Why it’s important: Droughts continue to affect large areas of the U.S., making water more expensive and decreasing its availability, especially in the Southwest and California. Water-saving fixtures such as low-flow toilets and showerheads have become standard—even mandated—in many areas, but architect Gita Nandan, with architectural firm thread collective in Brooklyn, N.Y., says buyers are looking for more. In the backyard and rooftop of a four-unit Brooklyn building her firm designed, there’s a rainwater harvesting system with modular vertical tanks connected to a drain from the rooftop. The rainwater is used to irrigate the roof gardens and the yard. The building also features low-flow fixtures. Since these features were added, the building has seen a 30 percent drop in water consumption.
How this will impact real estate: Water conservation will become as important as energy conservation, and homes that collect as much water as they consume will be as popular with buyers as Net-Zero–energy homes now are, Nandan predicts. She expects that real estate professionals will see more demand for water-saving measures such as water-smart irrigation sensors, composting toilets, gray-water recycling systems, and rainwater harvesting.
4. Digitized Manufacturing
Why it’s important: Sustainable materials such as glass, in conjunction with new manufacturing technologies, are expanding the choice of colors, textures, and sizes of materials available for home design. At the same time, 3-D manufacturing, what some call the third industrial revolution, has created a new panoply of readily available, prefabricated materials as an alternative to more expensive custom choices, says architect Cecil Baker, founding partner of Cecil Baker + Partners in Philadelphia. One example Baker cites is a new manufactured technology for glass, which makes it possible to incorporate patterns and etched surfaces directly into the glass. This new process means that glass can also be manufactured with LED lighting built in, which adds sophistication and also illumination, a double win, Baker says.
How this will impact real estate: The glass-and-LED combination is just one new technique that can result in a product that incorporates a sustainable material into a sturdy, practical, energy-efficient, and glamorous new surface for kitchen and bathroom countertops. Such choices greatly personalize rooms much more than another granite, laminate, or Corian top might do, and help to distinguish listings in a crowded market.
5. Reclaimed Wood Floors
Why they’re important: Many home owners crave authenticity, no matter how durable, affordable, and convincing the imitations may be. A case in point: the increased demand for reclaimed wood boards, which wear well, show the patina of age, and reveal visual character, says Jamie Hammel whose The Hudson Co. custom mills and finishes flooring, paneling, and beams at its mill in Pine Plains, N.Y. “People like knowing the history of their materials and products — the provenance — and these materials tell a story,” Hammel says. He adds that consumers are drawn to the sustainability of reuse as well as the health benefits of choosing older materials that don’t off-gas. “There’s a parallel with what’s happening in the food industry,” Hammel says.
How this will impact real estate: The type of wood flooring found in many homes will take on greater importance for many segments of the homebuying population, and it may be that soon not just any wood will do. The crème de la crème of wood flooring —reclaimed boards—may become the equivalent of once sought after granite and now quartz or marble. You may also see more home owners favor this option when they replace existing floors. Finally, be aware that the latest generation of reclaimed boards displays a lighter, Scandinavian matte finish that looks better with contemporary furnishings that are becoming more in vogue than traditional furniture.
6. Softening Modern Severity
Why it’s important: With so many home owners now favoring modern design, yet not wanting a harsh, laboratory look, designers search for alternatives. Architects Ada I. Corral and Camille Jobe, of Jobe Corral Architects in Austin, Texas, are among those with a solution: Select materials that offer a handcrafted, warmer style rather than an “off-the-shelf,” cold, mass-produced look for their modern settings. “We’re trying to bring craftsmanship back while maintaining a clean, crisp overall look,” Corral says. One favorite choice is burnt wood, a Japanese technique that works well with cypress and cedar and makes the wood look older, yet also strengthens its resilience against rot, pests, and fire. Another favorite is metal that’s shaped into thin, elegant veneers for shelving, beams, drawer handles, around doorframes.
How this will impact real estate: Keep this trend in mind while staging modern-styled properties or alerting buyers and sellers to new decor ideas. These types of materials and new applications add surprising touches and warmth in modern dwellings — a feeling of a more lived-in, loved setting. And their appeal will only grow, pundits predict. “So many people have tired of having their houses look like spare hotels. These choices differentiate — and warm — rooms and homes,” Jobe says.
7. The Tiny House Movement on Wheels
Why it’s important: Downsizing is big, reflected in part by the growth of the tiny house movement. But flexibility and mobility are also sought after, and many desire a hipper method of attaining this than RVs can offer. Enter the “Escape Sport”, an 8 1/2-foot-by-20-foot, 170-square-foot house on wheels that meets these challenges and more. It can comfortably sleep up to four people and can withstand bad weather with its steel frame, aluminum siding, and weather-resistant wood. It’s also environmentally friendly with a solar power system, composting feature, incinerating toilet, gray water irrigation hook-up, rainwater integration, advanced electric fireplace, and energy-efficient induction cooktop. And its toilet and sink are full sized, which is not always the case with RVs. Developer Dan Dobrowolski says this option will appeal to home owners who want to travel in smaller spaces, but don’t want to feel claustrophobic or give up the comforts of a bigger home.
How this will impact real estate: The design profession keeps looking for options beyond traditional, stick-built houses, hence the uptick in prefabricated, manufactured housing. This brand-new example offers shelter to those who are keen on smaller houses, but don’t like the idea of always staying put, Dobrowolski says. It also offers other possibilities for the real estate industry. It allows some home owners to “test drive” small-scale living. And if the trend continues to expand, landowners may find empty lots in vacation areas to be the perfect spot to rent out to these home owners on wheels.
8. Walk-In, Universal Design Pantries
Why it’s important: Currently there are 78 million baby boomers and the aging population is increasing — in fact, it’s expected to rise by 50 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to Aging in Place, a state survey of livability policies and practices. A deep, wide walk-in pantry allows a walker or wheelchair to maneuver through easily. If the pantry also has a flexible shelving system that can be lowered through special hardware that’s another boon for home owners seeking to remain independent, says Rosemarie Rossetti, an expert in universal design who constructed a demonstration home and garden with her husband in Columbus, Ohio, after she had a spinal cord injury at age 44, 11 years ago. “A pantry with proper shelving has a lot of benefits for seniors lacking mobility and not able to open folding doors or reach high items,” she says.
How this will impact real estate: Walk-in pantries and pocket doors, which are easier to open and close than traditional doors and save 10 square feet of floor space, are just two of many universal design features becoming more desired and even edging into the mainstream. “Children and those who are shorter also will be able to reach shelves easier, and when outfitted with better lighting, pantries are safer,” Rossetti says. Homes that have universal design features will be in greater demand by both the senior market and younger informed home buyers, says Joseph Mezera, a Seniors Real Estate Specialist who focuses on this niche through his Seniors First Realty in Columbus, Ohio. “Some may not want big doorways and high toilets that they associate with nursing homes, but those who are smart will listen to trained salespeople explain that it’s better to take preventive measures.”
9. Better Integration of Indoors and Outdoors
Why it’s important: Screened porches once were the prime quasi-outdoor space in a home that could protect occupants from bad weather yet offer a feeling of the outdoors. But many porches block daylight and views, and they can only be used part of the year in some climates. Now, well-designed, large-scale door panels that fold up like garage doors or open into a home’s walls via big pocket doors are becoming more readily available at affordable prices, says architect Elizabeth Demetriades of Demetriades + Walker in Lakeville, Conn. Some have highly functional, retractable insect screens, too.
How this will impact real estate: These new bigger openings permit better views of the outdoors, greater enjoyment, and easier access between indoors and outdoors. “Blurring the distinction seems to be a leitmotif for many of our clients these days,” says Demetriades. And the trend may further increase interest in landscape design since the greater connection will make yards more a part of homes rather than separate entities, only to be enjoyed in prime weather.
10. Softer, Layered Color Palettes
Why they’re important: Color trendsetter Pantone typically debuts only one superstar color of the year. But in 2016, two are taking center stage: “rose quartz” and “serenity.” Both reflect the rise of softer colors, along with the continued use of whites and creams. Some designers think this color direction and its layered palettes lead to a more personalized, sophisticated design. Cheryl Kees Clendenon of In Detail Interiors in Pensacola, Fla., is a fan. “I like the layered approach since it evokes a more emotional response and doesn’t read as a single, stark color,” she says. Clendenon attributes the situation to current affairs as much as to design. “When people get more nervous, which many are because of what’s happening in the world and [it being] an election year, they want colors that aren’t wild and crazy but calming, which these are,” she says. Time will tell if a non-election year and fewer terrorism threats may inspire a return to bolder hues.
How this will impact real estate: These new colors are already turning up inside homes in countertops and backsplashes, as seen by Prexury by Cosentino’s “rose quartz,” a durable, easy-maintenance manmade aggregate of semi-precious stones. Elsewhere in homes, the more complex color palettes will inspire buyers and sellers when making selections for everything from paint to fabrics and furnishings. But pairings are key. Clendenon suggests using Prexury’s rose quartz with off-white or cream cabinets. Along with this approach will come more textures and patterns, but again in subtle combinations, she says.
11. Copper Chic Surges (Even More)
Why it’s important: The old standby of copper—think of those pots your parents, grandparents, or Julia Child used—started its re-emergence last year. And the reason that it’s becoming a more widespread alternative to stainless steel, wood, and other materials isn’t all surface. Yes, copper can add sheen, sparkle, and a 1940s Hollywood glamour. But an equally big impetus is that it reduces more than 99.9 percent of bacteria in between routine cleanings, important because antibiotic-resistant superbugs are on the rise, according to The Copper Development Association, based in New York.
How this will impact real estate: This shiny, goldlike hue will become more prevalent in homes as concern grows about buying healthy houses without mold, toxins, and bacteria. To help, U.S. manufacturers are producing more options in copper than just refrigerator, oven, and other appliance fronts, the developments that initially helped revive the trend. Throughout homes, buyers can add copper sinks, door handles, light switches, and trim. To enhance its appeal, manufacturers are also expanding the types of hues available. Already, there’s a copper-penny color, brushed nickel, yellow brassiness, and bronze on the market.
12. Enhancing Entertainment Space With Niches and “Back Kitchens”
Why it’s important: Living keeps getting more casual, and this is certainly the case in the kitchen. “Everything happens in the kitchen, and people don’t want to be closed away from interaction with their families,” says Chicago kitchen designer Mick De Giulio of de Giulio Kitchen Design, author of Kitchen (Pointed Leaf Press, 2015). Consequently, they’re willing to put more into their kitchens — more space (500 square feet is not uncommon, he says), bigger budgets, better design, more windows and light, and the types of detailing, like moldings and beams, once reserved for more formal spaces.
How this will impact real estate: As open plans that incorporate more important kitchen space become commonplace, finding ways to keep the workspace neat becomes key, too. This may mean more niches and elements that hide small appliances built into the main kitchen. Home owners with more room and a bigger budget might consider adding a “back kitchen,” where preparations take place and small appliances like toasters and coffee makers are stored. To maintain the interflowing social feel, the spaces remain open to one another. A growing number of home buyers may be willing to forgo a dining room, says De Giulio.
Be on the lookout for these trends in 2016. You’ll be in better tune with buyers who are searching for these features in their new homes or want to add them as space and budgets permit. And staying aware of the latest trends can help you guide sellers to differentiate their listings beyond location, size, and amenities.
Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space. Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman