Meg White is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.
For years, the kitchen and great room have fought for prominence in the minds of house hunters, designers, and home builders. But 2013 is the year when both spaces are pulling their punches.
New home construction is shifting away from the once-ubiquitous great room design. And that shift can make it a challenge to update or show a home that was originally focused around a large, open living space, says Heather McCune, director of marketing for the Newport Beach, Calif.–based architecture firm Bassenian Lagoni.
Finding the right house is just the beginning. These articles help you tune into what’s trending so that you can help sellers set the stage and buyers transform the house into their perfect home.
“The downside to the great room house has always been that you walk right into the living space,” says McCune. Her company is on a mission, she says, to remake the great room by helping owners figure out “how to create a sense of entry.” Some techniques for this include expanding the entry space vertically and creating a more classic foyer to better welcome visitors. Not in your sellers’ budget? A rug, small table, and wall mirror can serve as an entryway focal point.
Besides often being an abrupt welcome to the house, great rooms tend to act as a centrifuge for all items associated with living. Lita Dirks, founder and owner of Denver-based design firm Lita Dirks & Co., says she sees a growing desire among home owners to reduce this tendency. “They want to eliminate all that clutter,” she says. “They just want to clean up their lives and simplify everything.” Builders and designers are trying to meet those needs by integrating so-called “drop zones” into entryway design. They’re adding nooks and tucking away storage where home owners can stow keys, mail, and all the other items that so easily fill up the living space when occupants come home for the day. “A drop zone is a requirement in every one of our designs,” says Mark Patterson, co-owner of PATCO Construction in Sanford, Maine.
Even in a small corner of a listing, you could put this idea to action. When staging the entryway space, use a small table with a drawer, a mail organizer, key hooks, and a charging station.
Still, not everything can be left in the drop zone. Instead of allowing the great room to become a place for everything, designers are trying to put each thing in its place. They’re carving out small spaces such as homework nooks for kids, food prep stations in the pantry, and other spots that allow a delineated area for common household activities. McCune says these “lifestyle spaces” help home owners break up larger great rooms into usable, well-defined areas.
There’s nothing like an impressive kitchen to help sell a house. Jerry Gloss, senior partner of KGA Studio Architects in Louisville, Colo., says his company’s designs integrate concentric circles of spaces that cluster around the kitchen, which is placed at the heart of the house. “All those rooms radiate from it,” he says.
Architects and designers call the integration of living and dining space a “living triangle.” The triangle helps home owners connect living space in the front of the home to the “family service area” in the back, says Dominick Tringali, founder and president of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.–based Dominick Tringali Architects. “The kitchen is still the heart of the home,” he says. “That’s where we start designing,” he says. “It’s all integrated in the back of the house. This is what we see nowadays.”
Dirks agrees that the living triangle pulls all of the central living spaces together. “What backs up the great room but the kitchen?” she asks. “I think of it as ‘prep, eat, and play.’ ”
You can borrow some design shortcuts in your staging, so home owners can achieve the look of integrated spaces without extensive remodeling. Common finishes across rooms can help tie them together. Dirks notes that the use of soft grays, metal backsplash tiles, and furniture-matching wood stains create a “transitional” space in the kitchen. And don’t forget to look down. “We don’t like flooring breaks,” says Jerry Collin of Kay Green Design in Orlando, Fla. “You can make a small home look bigger by not breaking it up.”
Taking kitchen elements beyond their traditional scope can help expand the space while at the same time integrating it into the living triangle. “Extend the backsplash over the cabinets,” advises Mary DeWalt of Mary DeWalt Design Group in Austin, Texas. “It makes it feel so much richer and more complete.”
Beyond integration, Tringali cites horizontal lines, flamed granite, and beamed ceilings as examples of kitchen design trends for 2013. But perhaps the most universally agreed upon change for 2013 kitchens is in the heart of the heart of the home: the kitchen island.
Center island shapes are gaining variety, from retro, kidney-shaped workspaces to triangles that gesture toward other centers of activity. And material choices are opening up too, with new Formica options, solid stone, and recycled beer bottles gracing work surfaces.
What’s out of fashion? “Those elevated bars that are trying to hide a sink. The sinks are beautiful today!” says Dirks. Besides, she adds, it’s all about functionality: “You can’t work at an elevated bar.” The result: kitchen islands everywhere are flattening out. DeWalt says this choice is trending everywhere from Pinterest to Restoration Hardware. Meanwhile, builders are responding to universal design by differentiating countertop heights to accommodate all.
The eclectic nature of this trend means that room integration solutions are aesthetically forgiving and available at many price points. For example, elements from a kitchen backsplash can be brought out of the space without spending a fortune. “If you can’t do tile all the way to the ceiling,” DeWalt says, “use paint above the cabinets that’s as close to the tile color as you can get.”
And don’t assume the living triangle is only for mansions. Even a kitchen situated in a hallway can be inviting and feel integrated. “The galley kitchen is a personal favorite of mine,” Dirks says. “It’s so efficient. It’s sort of fun to see these kitchens coming back.” He cites the embrace of new urban living environments as a reason for the comeback and again advocates the use of those metals and soft grays to create “a softened industrial look.” That can tie together such spaces and “the galley kitchen becomes memorable,” he says.
So whether you’re melding the cramped confines of an urban loft or the amorphous shapes of a dated minimansion, you can find countless ways to help each living area relate to the next to display the true greatness of the space.