Demand for simplicity grows

As I become more involved with the American Institute of Architects at the national level, I receive occasional calls from national media outlets for interviews regarding housing trends and their financial impact. While the questions typically relate to the mass markets, a call recently from a Wall Street Journal writer was about the architectural trend in luxury homes to move away from bigger McMansion styles toward simpler and unpretentious design. This was right up my alley.

I was ready with remarks since our firm is finishing up a home for a young 20-something couple, whose intuitive request was for an interior New York warehouse district look and nondescript transitional exterior. This translated architecturally to the use of an extensive array of reclaimed materials, including rough finishes such as raw concrete floors, reclaimed bricks, reclaimed siding, weathered tin ceilings, exposed weathered beams, masonry stone walls, a collection of different door styles, a variety of hardware finishes, raw metals and so on. This design exercise, which we all enjoyed immensely, could only result in an unpretentious architectural statement despite a multi-million dollar budget and an expensive lake frontage lot.

 

Architecturally, it’s clear we’re leaving the McMansions behind for smartly designed homes. I think this design movement actually started back with the Post Modern architectural designs of the ’70s and early ’80s. New York is as usual at the vanguard of this current trend, which is strongly reflected in many urban and downtown areas around the country. The media has done such a good job to bring this look to the broad populace that I see it beginning to take a stronger foothold in luxury homes and with our more mature and affluent clients.

This trend toward simpler living is reflected in most new design that envelopes us every day. As a full-service design firm, our company provides furnishings for most of our projects and we most often work with to-the-trade showrooms. However, on this project, we ended up specifying a large number of pieces from mass retailers such as Restoration Hardware and Anthropologie. While these stores have long targeted the younger crowds, they are now responding to the strong demand for the reclaimed look in their broad selection of furnishings and accessories lines.

 

We were surprised at how many manufacturers are mass producing products with this reclaimed or restored look. It used to be that there were very few such outlets around the country for these architectural treatments, but now a simple Google search provides a huge array of resources to meet this growing demand.

The impact of this “less is more” design trend is far-reaching, from the way we dress to the way we purchase products. We pay top dollar to get that worn-out, ripped-jeans look and it’s not just young people wearing them anymore.

It’s interesting to make the observation that sometimes clients want a simpler style mainly because it makes them look like they’re being gentle on Mother Nature. It’s a social statement that architects and interior designers must learn to interpret.

When you’re designing a sustainable home and trying to stay affordable, it will typically cost you more than the average Home Depot solution. When you’re designing luxury homes, the overall aesthetics can be more demanding, and the cost of achieving the right nonostentatious sustainable look will require a higher level of sophistication and dollars as the materials specified will need to be of greater durability, performance and style.

As the sustainability and green movement matures, we’ll continue to see more of these homes and even entire neighborhoods that will have this look in lieu of traditional styles.

It’s still about good design principles, good flow and aesthetics that speak to the soul. It’s about making the right statements that people will value and be willing to pay for, especially in luxury home design. I have faith that good architects will continue to delight us with their masterpieces even when the goal is to achieve simplicity and appear unpretentious.

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