Home Design Trends: Beyond the Usual

April 1, 2004

Beyond curb appeal

What buyers love when they cross the threshold

Curb appeal has always been a powerful draw for buyers. But just as important is what lies beyond the front door. Builders and architects say their buyers today are looking for some degree of wow—rooms that go beyond the tried-and-true and offer sizzle both in design and function.

Take the laundry room. After being purely utilitarian and stuck in a basement’s dark reaches, it’s gained its own space upstairs. The latest incarnations have been spiffed up with more and fancier cabinetry, additional counters for folding and craftwork, new washers and dryers that whir quietly, and even showers to clean the family pet.

Two contenders are closing in on the laundry room’s status as the home’s most coveted space: a mud room with places for individual family members to stash clothing and athletic gear, and a home theater with giant TV, surround sound, stadium seating, and even a popcorn machine.

These new rooms have come fast on the heels of bigger, better-equipped kitchens; spa-like master bathrooms; and larger studies, libraries, or family rooms, the latter designed to replace the disappearing formal living room.

What’s spurring such rapid-fire changes in homes, traditionally a venue for evolutionary change? J. Walker Smith, president of Yankelovich Partners Inc., a forecasting and market consultancy firm based in Chapel Hill, N.C., attributes it to hiving, a cousin to cocooning, the desire of homeowners for a safe, coddling refuge.

We still want security, Smith says, but we also want our homes abuzz with activity and linked to the surrounding environment. In this way, we mimic bees, which make their hive a home base but venture forth and connect by pollinating plants and making honey. “Hiving is about living in a way that’s engaging rather than isolating,” says Smith, who cites a host of products—such as cellular phones, other wireless technology, DVD players, and outdoor kitchens—that have sold well in the sluggish economy because they provided services for hiving.

Although not everyone can afford an immense laundry room or well-equipped home gym, anyone can afford to dream. And eventually the rooms that create the greatest buzz will become available at lower prices for a larger segment of the population, says Stella Koop, a Chicago architect with RTKL Associates Inc., an architecture and design firm based in Baltimore. Following is a smorgasbord of rooms and features captivating high-end homeowners today.

Beyond Utility

Once an afterthought, laundry rooms and mudrooms today are big, attractive, and viewed by some as essential to keep a family’s life humming smoothly.

Busier lives mean more clothing, sports gear, and paraphernalia that need to be put on, taken off, stored, and cleaned. Today’s larger houses are ready to tackle these needs with separate laundry rooms and mudrooms. But they’re now designed as showplaces, incorporating the same level of finish in materials as a home’s less utilitarian rooms, says Evanston, Ill., architect Stuart Cohen. These spaces include energy-efficient front-loading washers and dryers, a counter to fold clothes, wall-mounted ironing board, sink, specialty equipment to clean delicates, and individual bins for family members’ dirty and clean clothing, says Gabe Pasquale with Spectrum Communities, homebuilders in Valhalla, N.Y. He pegs a quality package with equipment at $10,000 to $12,000.

Less common features are a crafts table, gift wrap cabinet, and corner to hose down Fido. In some houses, one laundry won’t do. A second one is placed near bedrooms. Mudrooms, too, have been expanded to accommodate cubbies and a bench. The most posh designs include a grill for wet boots and a radiant-heated floor, the latter costing $20 to $23 per square foot. All that’s needed is hot chocolate and s’mores.

Beyond the Kitchen

Buyers continue to seek big kitchens where everyone can congregate, but some also favor auxiliary kitchens by a family room or on a deck.

Too many chefs no longer spoil the broth. Today’s bigger, better-equipped kitchens have multiple cooking zones, even if just to heat frozen or prepared meals from a supermarket. The focus is to make leisure time easier and more pleasurable. That may also mean having refrigerated or freezer drawers, apart from the main refrigerator, to stock cold drinks and ice cream ($2,659 for two drawers); an extra dish drawer, the latest generation of dishwasher ($1,349 for a double drawer); and being able to prepare a frothy latte at home ($1,949 to $2,049) instead of heading out to Starbucks.

Other home chefs want to be able to relax within view of the cooking zone or have family members do so. That’s why many of the designs that are most popular continue to merge the kitchen with an informal dining and sitting area.

With the emphasis on outdoor living, the patio has morphed into a full kitchen, with grill, pizza oven, refrigerator, wine cooler, icemaker, warming drawers, and anything else that can be plugged in. The cost may run between $25,000 and $40,000, including equipment. Some lucky owners have small, secondary kitchens, as the owners of this suburban Chicago home do. They built a kitchen next to an upstairs family room in a 5-by-9-foot space as part of a larger home remodeling. For about $50,000, they bought countertops, appliances, glass-fronted cabinets, a sink, flooring, and installation.

Beyond the Bath

Buyers used to the joy of steam showers with powerful jets and sprays at health clubs, spas, and resorts are incorporating them into spiffier home bathrooms.

They may not have time to get away to a spa, but homeowners still want to pamper themselves daily. Today’s high-end buyers favor large showers with a glass-fronted door and minimal frames, generous-sized showerheads, multiple body sprays and jets, temperature control mechanisms, and built-in benches. Cost: about $7,000. Extra bonus: a mirror that can be defogged.

Today’s upscale bathrooms also look more luxurious, less functional. Components include cabinetry that resembles built-in furniture and is constructed from high-grade woods and laminates; better lighting in the form of recessed ceiling spots on dimmers, sconces, and a chandelier; snazzier drawer pulls; handsome countertop materials with two lavatories dropped in when space permits or better yet—separate his-and-hers areas; large wall mirrors; a wall-mounted TV; heated towel bar; and visually interesting, practical flooring, perhaps in the form of mosaic tiles to rival a Roman bath. The largest bathrooms may also include a separate toilet room, stacked laundry equipment, and an area to do yoga or meditate. Who needs to get away? Close the door and turn off the phone.

Beyond Beige

Paint personalizes a room faster, more dramatically, and less expensively than any other design treatment.

After years of favoring beige and white, buyers are becoming more adventurous and creative in the colors they choose for floors, walls, furnishings, and home accessories, says Barbara Richardson, director of color marketing for ICI Paints in Cleveland, maker of the Glidden paint brand, available in 800 hues. Richardson attributes this confidence to the prevalence of color in popular culture. “Look at the sets of TV shows like ‘Friends.’ Color is everywhere,” she says. Other color experts like G. Clotaire Rapaille, founder of Archetype Discoveries Worldwide, a consumer research firm in Boca Raton, Fla., which advises the Big Three automakers on color choices, agrees that color is being used more boldly on cars and throughout houses, even showing up in ceilings, floors, and household products like kitchen ranges, light switches, and vacuum cleaners. What are today’s hottest colors? The standouts, Richardson says, are reds, greens, and warm neutrals.

Some buyers find it daunting to think about paint colors at the time of purchase; others may seek your input. Sellers may question how their choices affect resale. Conventional wisdom says to keep it neutral, but color experts say that’s no longer critical. Experts suggest these tips:

  • Decide how you want the room to feel when it’s finished. Cozy, calm, relaxing, or energetic? “If you want it to feel calm, you might prefer a cooler blue, gray, or green,” says Richardson. “If you want it more vibrant, consider a warmer bright red.”
  • Take color chip samples from a paint store, glue them to a white poster board, and put the board against a wall you plan to paint, Richardson says. Eliminate samples that don’t work. Purchase a quart of paint in the remaining colors. Paint boards in the colors being considered, and view them during the day and at night, since light affects results.
  • Many companies, Glidden included, offer software that allows buyers to “repaint” a digital photo of their rooms, in the same way that the living room is shown in green, neutral, and red.
  • Consider painting trim in different rooms the same off-white or neutral to create a good transition from room to room.

Beyond the Ordinary

Luxury-home buyers today are looking to their homes as a place to live out their personal fantasies.

No longer are Hollywood moguls the only ones with screening rooms. Buyers can have a fully automated home cinema installed with front projection and a large screen, plus surround sound, subwoofers, reclining or stadium seating, soundproofed walls, concession stand, and furnishings that resemble a Moroccan casbah or any other decor. To seat 10 comfortably and offer good sound and sight, one expert puts the price at a minimum of $75,000.

Other rooms in high-end homes are given over to game rooms with pinball machines and jukeboxes that turn adults into children; humidity-controlled wine cellars, starting at $50,000, that properly keep vintages and have room for tastings; F.R.O.G. rooms (finished rooms over garages), which can serve any function; and functional nooks and crannies, sometimes a result of complicated architectural designs, for reading, working, or daydreaming.

Activities that require all types of attire—athletic, casual, business casual, and formal, as well as the necessary accessories—have spurred a plethora of closet organization systems. In larger homes, closets are more akin to rooms in size and elaborateness. Systems typically combine a mix of open, closed, and hanging storage constructed from oak, walnut, cherry, or more exotic woods. The cost may run $800 per linear foot without doors and $1,200 with doors, according to Poliform USA Inc. Extras may include an island for folding, steamer, and safe to stash jewelry and important documents.

Buyers don’t need an entire room to create a home gym. Many find space in a large bathroom, screened porch, or TV room. Post-workout? A home spa with massage table.

The pièce de résistance—a feature that’s becoming more common in both new and existing homes—is an integrated home automation system that controls the HVAC, lighting, home security, music, video, and sprinkler system. Many such systems today can be accessed remotely via an Internet connection, allowing buyers to keep an eye on their new features—even when they’re at work or halfway around the globe. “Anything they can do inside the house can be accomplished from outside, even 3,000 miles away. If they’re at a hotel in Milan with an Internet connection, they can plug in their laptop to see if they left their lights on at home in Chicago,” says Jason Lehnhardt, systems consultant with Paul Heath Ltd., a home automation architecture firm in Chicago. Not surprisingly, the cost is steep—between 7 percent and 20 percent of the cost of the home.


Airoom Architects & Builders (www.airoom.com), Lincolnwood, Ill.; Antonella Cremonesi, marketing manager, Poliform USA Inc. (www.poliformusa.com), New York; Better Homes and Gardens (www.bhg.com), Meredith Corp., Des Moines, Iowa; Stuart Cohen, architect and principal, Stuart Cohen & Julie Hacker Architects (www.cohen-hacker.com), Evanston, Ill.; Fisher & Paykel Appliances Inc. (www.fisherpaykel.com), Auckland, New Zealand; Joyce L. Gioia, president, The Herman Group (www.herman.net), Greensboro, N.C.; Mick De Giulio, owner, de Giulio Kitchen Design Inc. (www.degiulio.org), Chicago and Wilmette, Ill.; Julie Greenwood, owner and co-principal, Greenwood King Properties Inc., Houston; Nancy Hamel, corporate marketing administrator, Cachet Homes Inc., Scottsdale, Ariz.; Douglas Hoerr Landscape Architecture (www.dhoerr.com), Evanston, Ill.; David Kaufman and Tom Segal, partners, Kaufman Segal Design, Chicago; Stella Koop, architect, RTKL Associates Inc. (www.rtkl.com), Chicago; Jason Lehnhardt, systems consultant, Paul Heath Ltd., Chicago; Beth McGehee, vice president of operations, Anderson Homes and Design, Scottsdale, Ariz.; McVaugh Custom Homes Inc. (www.mcvaugh.com), Houston; Miele Inc. (www.miele.com), Princeton, N.J.; Mountain Lumber Co. (www.mountainlumber.com), Ruckersville, Va.; Gabe Pasquale, vice president and chief marketing officer, Spectrum Communities (www.spectrumcommunities.com), Valhalla, N.Y.; Orren Pickell Designers & Builders Inc. (www.pickellbuilders.com), Bannockburn, Ill.; Scott A. Rappe, principal, Kuklinski + Rappe Architects (www.kplusr.com), Chicago; G. Clotaire Rapaille, chairman and founder, Archetype Discoveries Worldwide (www.archetypediscoveriesworldwide.com ), Boca Raton, Fla.; Barbara Richardson, director of color marketing, ICI Paints, Glidden Paint Co. (www.glidden.com), Cleveland; J. Walker Smith, president, Yankelovich Partners Inc., forecasting and market consultancy, Atlanta and Chapel Hill, N.C.; Street of Dreams Inc. (streetofdreams.com), Woodinville, Wash.; Sub-Zero Freezer Co. (www.subzero.com) and Wolf Appliance Co. LLC, Madison, Wis.; Charles von Weise, principal, 42/40 Architecture Inc. (www.4240architecture.com), Chicago; Keith Willis, partner, Innovative Theatres (www.innovativetheatres.com), Santa Monica, Calif.

Barbara Ballinger

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 (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).

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