10 Design Trends for 2011


We could pessimistically assert that there are no design trends for 2011 because nothing is getting built, but that would be exaggerating. New homes are still popping up in markets that have stabilized – just in more modest numbers, and not with the flamboyance and status-minded consumerism we saw during the housing boom. Today’s value set is more cerebral, focusing on simplicity, resourcefulness, health, community, and practicality. Here are some design themes we expect to see more of in the year ahead as America continues its search for a new normal.

No Faux

Glitz is gone, at least for now. Honest architecture is the order of the day as homeowners look to simplify their lives – and, by association, their houses. This mantra of zen is playing out in interior spaces with natural finishes, clean lines, and few frivolous embellishments. On the outside the philosophy is being parlayed into elevations with uncomplicated massing. The plain box is enjoying a renaissance at a time when budgets are meager and value engineering is an exercise in survival. This basic geometry is easier and cheaper to frame, plumb, wire, clad, heat, cool, and maintain. And its pure form makes it less prone to crimes of bad proportion.

Portion Control

Medium-sized house? No, wait. Make that a small, please. The average house lost a few pounds in the recession and is still managing to keep the weight off as buyers (and banks) avoid biting off more debt than they can chew. “Demand for very large houses over 4,000 square feet remains, but there is a diminishing demand for middle-sized homes,” observes architect Don Taylor of D.W. Taylor Associates in Ellicott City, Md. “Instead of the previously common request for a home in the 2,800- to 3,200-square-foot range, we are now seeing more requests for homes of 2,400 to 2,800 square feet. Cost obviously has helped precipitate this change, but I also think many buyers are coming to their senses and looking for homes that meet their practical needs rather than satisfying their egos.”

Fresh Ideas

Your vegetables are organic, but what about your cabinets? Health-conscious homeowners are starting to see their homes as part of the wellness equation, right in stride with exercise and eating right. “The farm-to-table movement has now entered the design sphere,” kitchen designers Mick De Giulio, Jamie Drake, and Matthew Quinn proclaimed in a recent kitchen trends report released by Sub-Zero and Wolf. Buyers will soon be paying more attention to healthy details such as low-VOC paints, stains, and sealants, they say, along with cabinets and furniture made with natural products such as hay, wheat, eucalyptus, bamboo, and aspen; HVAC systems that improve indoor air quality; and appliances that filter water. Tomorrow’s kitchens could also end up trading freezer space for larger refrigeration units to keep locally grown foods fresh.

Village Vibe

The suburbs are starting to feel more like little cities as planners and developers find ways to weave density and walkability into existing hot spots. “Fewer large-scale development opportunities have shifted the emphasis to smaller infill projects,” AIA chief economist Kermit Baker wrote in a recent design trends report. But these new nodes of “light urbanism” aren’t replacing existing subdivisions; they are popping up between them and connecting the dots. Prime targets for infill redevelopment include big box parking lots, dead shopping centers, strip malls, and transit stations. “People who want an urban lifestyle but either do not want to live in a ‘big city’ or cannot afford to will look to live in the many suburban town centers that have been emerging,” Urban Land Institute senior resident fellow John McIlwain wrote in a recent white paper.

Green Grows

Yes, we say it every year, but it’s true: green building is going mainstream. The latest anecdotal evidence comes by way of California’s CalGreen building code, which takes effect January 1, mandating many green building practices that were previously only voluntary. “I expect we’ll see an uptick in simple, low-cost approaches such as rainwater catchment, drought-tolerant landscaping, permeable hardscapes, passive solar design, and more recycling and landfill diversion,” says Mike McDonald, a green builder in Oakland, Calif. Watch also for more flat roofs with parapet walls hiding unsightly solar panels, predicts Costa Mesa, Calif.-based design consultant Miriam Tate.

Accessorize Me

Now, back to our fixation on small homes. Here’s another development that may be coming to a suburb near you: detached accessory units that share lot space with larger houses. No longer a luxury reserved for the well-to-do (fancied as yoga studios or casitas for weekend guests) these stand-alone structures are coming in handy as granny flats for elderly parents, studios for home-based businesses, or rental units for homeowners wishing to supplement their income. As rentals, the tidy dwellings offer an enticing alternative for singles who want to live a suburban lifestyle but can’t afford a big house. What’s making these residences possible is that zoning tides are turning. Many neighborhood covenants that once prohibited accessory units are beginning to ease, as illustrated by Seattle’s exemplary “backyard cottage” ordinance, which passed roughly one year ago. This housing type could prove especially popular with single women craving small, stylish homes in close-knit neighborhoods that feel safe.

Mix and Don’t Match

There was a time in the fashion world when your socks had to match your shirt, your belt had to match your shoes, and your kitchen had to be goldenrod or avocado green. But the age of homogeneity has passed and we’ve entered an era of mass personalization. Nowadays it’s cooler to mix different cabinet styles, wood species, and paint finishes, and to accent new stock with an antique here or there. Although the “granite standard” still lingers, many consumers are starting to explore other options for self-expression, such as terrazzo and concrete countertops that can be inlaid with sea glass or pebbles from that recent beach trip. Or the builder-grade drawer pulls that can be swapped out for antique knobs from your grandmother’s armoire. Little things make a difference if they make buyers feel like their home was built just for them.

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