Specialty Rooms Seen Moving From Luxury to Functionality

WASHINGTON, DC — The troubled housing market has homeowners concerned about affordability, with an increasing preference for functionality over extravagance in special-function rooms and home features. At the same time, there continues to be
a strong willingness to invest in home features, systems and products that promote greater energy efficiency and accessibility throughout the home – even as overall home sizes decline.

Those are among the key findings from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) “Home Design Trends Survey” for the second quarter of 2010, a research effort that involved some 300 residential architects, covering all facets of the residential design profession.

According to the Washington, DC-based AIA, the precipitous decline in house prices over the past five years and the resulting growth in the number of homeowners with delinquent mortgages or mortgages in foreclosure “has dramatically changed the way households are making decisions, as well as using the space within their homes.”

For example, said the AIA, with the downsizing of homes, special-function rooms have been disappearing – including media rooms/home theaters, exercise/fitness rooms, hobby/game rooms, home workshops, kid’s wings/guest wings, interior kennels and interior greenhouses. On the other hand, residential architects are reporting growing interest in outside living spaces, home offices and mud rooms – despite the overall trend toward a downsizing of homes, as well as kitchens and baths, the AIA said.

“As the overall economy has slowed in recent years, home offices have become the new home theaters,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. “Homeowners are placing a far greater priority on specialty rooms that get the most use, as well as incorporating outdoor living elements within their lifestyles.”

Home offices appeal to telecommuting workers, as well as to the growing number of individuals who work exclusively out of their home, according to Baker. Outdoor living areas and outdoor rooms reflect the growing interest in expanding the household’s living space into the outdoors, while interest in mud rooms reflects the need for additional closets and other storage space, as well as the increasing informality of space in the home, Baker noted.

Featuring Declining

As with special-function rooms, household interest in special features has been moderating, according to the AIA. Exceptions to this trend include features that promote accessibility, the association added.

The systems and technologies in homes that are growing in popularity increasingly have an energy focus, according to the AIA. Systems with the greatest increase in interest include energy management systems, solar panels/collectors/photovoltaics, and geothermal heating and cooling heat pumps. At the other extreme, systems and technologies where interest has not yet caught on, or where it has begun to wane, include electric docking stations for cars, automated lighting controls and security systems.

Home products that are growing in popularity “share many of the same characteristics as special features and systems/technologies,” according to the AIA.

“Energy efficiency in particular and environmental stewardship in general is growing in popularity,” the association said, pointing to such products and materials as double- and triple-glazed windows and tankless water heaters.

“In addition to energy conservation and management, home products that are increasing in popularity often promote other environmental concerns,” the AIA commented, citing such examples as water-conserving devices, use of reclaimed and salvaged materials, products aimed at improving indoor air quality, renewable flooring products such as bamboo and cork, and moisture control systems to reduce mold.