Hot Home Remodeling Ideas
Staying abreast of design trends can keep a renovation fresh for years to come.
December 1, 2002
Cost is a major consideration during any home renovation, but so is design. Good design adds value to a home, making it more enjoyable for current owners and more attractive to eventual buyers. And when it comes to today's hottest design looks, builder Terry Wardell says, intimate, colorful spaces are definitely in.
"For so long the world was beige," explains Wardell, owner of Solona Beach, Calif.-based Wardell Builders, a high-end residential homebuilder. "But color is back in a big way. People want to make individual statements with their houses." Dynamic color also lets buyers personalize a home inexpensively. Wallpaper is being replaced by warm, luminous paint colors (China reds, deep greens, bright yellows and cobalt blues) and aged, swirled, textured walls.
If a whole room of bright color seems overwhelming, ease into the idea more gradually, suggests H. Don Bowden, president of the Washington-D.C. based American Society of Interior Designers. "We do a lot in neutral or white and pop an accent color against it. In one case, we did all the walls white and then [painted] one wall cherry red. So we had a modernist look but a lot of warmth,"
The Warmth of Natural Materials
The informality of bright palettes is echoed in designers’ use of hard surface materials. Teri Herrera, a salesperson with John L. Scott Real Estate in Bellevue, Wash., sees designers moving away from marble and polished granite in entryways and baths. Instead, preferred choices are more natural, textured looks such as etched granite, soapstone, limestone and travertine slates.
"People are looking for an honest expression of materials. You don't see a lot of faux anymore," says Bowden. "People want the real thing."
Growing interest in natural-looking materials also means more designer interest in warmer metal finishes. Chrome and brass are out and unusual metals (antique gold, oil-rubbed bronze, copper, pewter and hammered or brushed nickel) are in for kitchens, baths, and home accessories.
Hard-edged pieces--from stainless steel countertops, metal backsplashes, to polished accent strips--are also being softened by combining them with brightly colored Italian tiles, warm woods (cypress, walnut, teak and cherry), and dull stone in kitchens, baths, and flooring.
Herrera says homeowners and buyers are embracing mahogany, wenge (a dense African hardwood), Brazilian cherry, bamboo--which resembles natural cherry--for flooring and cabinetry. Often these woods are used in combination, for striking effect.
"The [kitchen] island may be a beautiful hickory piece, and the cabinets around it may be painted with a special finish or done in a contrasting wood such as ash or cherry,” says Bowden.
Designers are translating these warmer wood choices into European-style contemporary cabinetry dressed with ornate moldings to look like an assemblage of furnishings is increasingly common. Even appliances can be disguised with molding to blend in with the overall look.
Of course, paint and tile will add color to a kitchen. But now, so will a refrigerator. Traditional beige, white, black, and stainless steel appliances are giving way to cool colors as manufacturers offer a stunning selection of appliances, some with countertop accessories to match. Whether a homeowner fancies cobalt blue, mint julep, or eggplant, appliances can now be part of the personal statement.
But behind the polished façade, highly functional “smart” cabinets with pullout and pop-up shelving; built-in trashcans, Lazy Susans and drawer organizers; and “magic” corners that slide once-buried necessities forward.
“People want their homes to be warm and inviting, but they’re also getting smarter about how they use the space,” Bowden says.
Homeowners’ preference for open kitchens continues, but with a few new twists. The kitchen island has become a place to entertain--outfitted with large seating areas and a secondary prep sink, but no cook top. "People realize how messy it was to have a cooking surface in the middle of the island," says Juliana Catlin, president of Catlin Interiors Inc., a Jacksonville, Fla.-based design firm.
The proximity between kitchen and family living area has also made quieter appliances a must. "In the old days, you left the kitchen and didn't really care how much noise the dishwasher made, but now that the kitchen-family room is such an open plan, it becomes an issue," Catlin explains.
The practical needs of a busy life is also raising interest in multiple appliances--a secondary washer and dryer in the master bedroom, for example, and a dishwasher in both kitchen and den wet bar. "Instead of doing one large laundry room, we are doing multiples of small, stacking apartment-sized washers and dryers," says Catlin, who recently finished work on a home with three laundry centers. "The multiple laundry room started at the high end, but now I see it in all types of houses."
Serenity in the Bath
The trend toward the bathroom as an oasis of calm continues. Designers say that soaker tubs and spa showers are replacing the water-guzzling Jacuzzi tub in bathroom renovations. Features include mini-waterfalls, in-unit steam, built-in sound systems and TVs, storage niches for bath products, seating, and, of course, multiple showerheads with separate controls.
Although traditionally popular in north and eastern states, Wardell says 35 percent of the coastal San Diego homes he builds have floor-based heated systems in the kitchen or bathroom. "If you have a high-volume space with hard-surface flooring--stone, concrete or tile--hydronic heating (where concealed electrical wires or water-warmed plastic pipes provide warmth to the floor surface) is almost essential for comfort," he says.
But like kitchens, the luxury in baths must be balanced with highly practical options, says Catlin. Bathroom vanities now feature concealed electrical outlets for blow dryers and shavers and warning drawers to keep towels cozy. The once-narrow medicine cabinet is being replaced by sliding glass doors that reveal large storage areas for toiletries and towels.
In addition, renovators are seeing a demand for custom features such as cabinets built to match the homeowner's proportions. "We are not just seeing 30-inch or 36-inch vanities," Catlin explains. "We are finding people want 42-inch vanities because the husband is very tall."
The desire of seniors and aging Boomers to remain in their homes is giving rise to accessible bathrooms with grab bars and showers with low steps or even wheelchair access.
Tech and Tone in Home Offices
In addition to design elements that make a home easier to live in, buyers and owners want features that make a home easier to work in. High-speed cable and DSL, multiple computer networks, and wireless phone systems are fast becoming must-haves for buyers on the move. Joe Sledge, owner of Fairhope, Ala.-based Sledge's Custom Building, says many homeowners update the older child's room with high-speed Internet access so the space can be easily converted into a home office once the young family member moves away.
Move your home to the head of the class with integrated smart-house technology. "This is definitely the wave of the future," says Wardell. Smart house home-management systems let users preset audio-video and security features with the touch of a button; control heating, cooling and lighting; close or open drapes and door locks; activate sprinklers; and set a little mood music and start the casserole while you're on your way home from work.
Dual offices are also become a renovation focus for many homeowners. "In the past, you would have the home office and then maybe a second little desk in the kitchen. Those days are gone," Herrera says. Ninety percent of the homes Catlin remodels have his and her offices--and, in some cases, a third computer room for the children.
His and her offices usually reflect the owner’s taste. “One is very masculine with full wood paneling in mahogany or dark cherry. The other usually has lighter woods, carpeting, and lots of windows or French doors opening onto a patio or deck,” Herrera explains.
Exteriors Count, Too
Nor does renovation stop at the walls of the house these days. Designers say the exterior of a home is equally as important as the interior when considering a renovation. "Too many times it looks like a house was dropped from a helicopter, like a Monopoly piece. But so much of the impression of a home comes from the transition from the house to the great outdoors. It is a much overlooked feature and an important selling point," says Bowden.
As a result, buyers and owners, especially those in warmer climates, have a renewed interest in cozy, furniture-laden patio areas with fireplaces; exterior sound systems; and built-in grills, cook tops, refrigerators, sinks. and serving areas.
In addition to outdoor areas for family and entertainment, more homeowners want small, private courtyards or patios just off the master bath to have a cup of coffee and peruse the daily newspaper in peace. "For the husband and wife of an active family, that may be their only time alone," Bowden explains.
Balancing Design Cost and Value
While most renovations pay back all or a substantial part of their costs when owners sell, it’s important that a renovation fits with the overall look of the home, Bowden says. "Don't just concentrate on one area. Try to keep the entire house at the same design level. It's important--especially when selling.”
Nor do all renovations have to be expensive, notes Herrera. A coat of paint, accent rugs, decorative pillows, cozy linens, and pre-framed artwork can make almost any room look stunning.
Herrera advises owners who want a hot look with minimal expense to paint dark wood cabinets a lighter color, change cabinet hardware, add new Formica countertops, replace chipped sinks, cover worn hardwood floors with decorative rugs and dress up windows with curtain rods and pleasing fabrics.
Combining several rooms to make larger, flowing space, and adding skylights can breath new life into a dark study or den. "Sometimes the smallest change can make a huge impact. It might be something as simple as adding windows or replacing windows with doors," Bowden says.
But whether a homeowner’s renovation tends toward traditional to modern, it’s often hard to know which of today’s cool design features will look hot in five years. Still, if homeowners follow the advice of our design experts, blending these emerging trends with personal taste, their homes will be ready for the spotlight now, as well as later when they decide it’s time to sell.
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