Homeowners’ Product Choices Seen Shifting

WASHINGTON, DC— Kitchens and bathrooms, traditionally key design areas within the American home, continue to increase in popularity, although homeowners are making certain concessions in design choices and product selection based on prevailing market conditions, a major new survey concludes.

According to the latest in a quarterly series of “Home Design Trends Survey” conducted by the American Institute of Architects, homeowners are adjusting their kitchen and bath purchase patterns in light of continued weakness in the housing sector, coupled with growing concerns over affordability (see related story in Barometers).

Specifically, there is a growing interest in accessibility and adaptability features in both the kitchen and bath “to make the home better meet the needs of an aging or less mobile population,” the AIA reported. In addition, the trade association reported, there is growing interest in environmentally friendly, sustainable products, such as renewable material countertops and flooring in kitchens, and water-saving toilets and LED lighting in bathrooms.

AIA Home Design Trend Surveys are conducted quarterly among a panel of 500 architecture firms that concentrate their practices in the residential sector. The association’s latest survey focuses on the fourth quarter of 2007.

Kitchens Remain a Focus

“Kitchens continue to be a key element in overall home design,” comments Kermit Baker, chief economist for the Washington, DC-based AIA, noting that almost one-third of the residential architects surveyed by the AIA reported that the number of separate kitchen facilities or secondary food storage or food preparation areas is increasing in homes.

“Very few report that these facilities are decreasing in the home,” Baker observes, adding that the size of kitchen areas is also increasing, according to a third of residential architects, only a small minority of whom report kitchen sizes to be declining.
As kitchen areas grow in importance, they are increasing their functions and features, according to the AIA. For example, a majority of residential architects report that a computer work area or a recharging area for cell phones or personal digital assistants is becoming more popular in kitchen design. Other popular features for kitchens include more pantry space, a wine refrigeration or storage area, and a recycling center.

Integrating the kitchen with adjacent family space and designing kitchens to be adaptable for an aging or less mobile population continue to be popular design options, residential architects also report. Architects similarly report a trend toward adding pet feeding or grooming areas in the kitchen.

As with other parts of the home, there is growing interest in “green” features in the kitchen, the AIA notes. Renewable flooring materials – for example, bamboo and cork – was seen as growing in popularity by a majority of residential architects, as was renewable material countertops such as concrete and bamboo.

However, a slumping housing market seems to have diminished homeowner interest in several traditional upper-end features and products, Baker says. Although upper-end and duplicate appliances – for example, dishwashers, refrigerators and microwaves – were seen to be increasing in popularity, the increase was by a smaller share of architects than a year ago, he observes.

Bath Trends Differ

Bathrooms also increased in number and size within homes, according to residential architects, but by a smaller share than a year ago, the AIA notes.

Overall, 34% of survey respondents reported that the number of bathrooms is increasing in homes, compared to 46% a year ago. Some 31% reported the size of bathrooms to be increasing, compared to 43% a year ago.

“In general, we’ve seen less emphasis on upper-end features in homes as the housing market has cooled, and bathroom characteristics may be a reflection of this trend,” Baker says.

Radiant-heat flooring continued to be a popular feature in bathrooms, as it was in the survey from a year ago. Ensuring that bathrooms are accessible to an aging population also continues to be a priority in bathroom design, even increasing in popularity from a year ago.

Many bathroom products that are designed for greater accessibility or sustainability are growing in popularity in homes, while other traditional upper-end products seem to be waning somewhat, the AIA says. Door-less and no-threshold showers were reported as growing in popularity, even more so than a year ago, as were hand-held showers. On the sustainable front, water-saving toilets were reported by a majority of respondents as growing in popularity, as was LED lighting.

Multi-head showers remain very popular, apparently at the expense of soaking tubs, steam showers and infrared saunas, each of which is reported to have limited popularity. Other traditional upper-end products, such as towel warming drawers and double-sink vanities, are reported to have limited popularity at present.