Study Sees Demand for Larger Kitchens, Baths

Kitchens and baths continue to emphasize size, amenities and upscale products, even as the current housing slowdown has resulted in many Americans scaling back on their overall housing investment.

At the same time, although homeowners continue to look for upper-end features in their kitchens and baths, there is an emerging interest in making these areas more accessible and adaptable for an aging population, and in using more “green” features in residential spaces.

Those are among the conclusions from a survey whose results were released last month by the American Institute of Architects. The Washington, DC-based AIA’s latest in a quarterly series of “Home Design Trends Surveys” – conducted among a panel of 500 architecture firms that concentrate their practice in the residential sector – focused on kitchen and bath trends in the fourth quarter of 2006.

Among the survey’s key findings is the conclusion that as kitchens have evolved into the most popular room in the home, consumers are increasingly looking for high-end appliances, additional pantry space, island work stations, wine storage areas and recycling centers. The survey also revealed that the number of bathrooms in both new and remodeled homes is increasing – with radiant floors, multi-head showers, dual sink vanities and towel-warming products emerging as the most popular features (see graphs).

“There is a strong desire to integrate the kitchen with living space that allows for a more open home environment, with the ability to converse and access entertainment options while in the kitchen,” commented AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker.

Baker noted that there has also been a sharp rise in demand for eco-friendly, renewable materials for countertops and flooring, as well as dedicated areas for recycling.

“Accessibility and Universal Design to accommodate an aging population are on the rise in bathrooms,” Baker added. “From the standpoint of amenities, heated floors lead the way, followed by multiple showers and towel warming racks, with the popularity of whirlpools dropping for the second consecutive year.”

According to the AIA, almost one-third of the residential architects surveyed see separate kitchen facilities, or secondary food preparation or food storage areas, as generally increasing in homes, while more than half see them as stable. Almost 40% report that the size of kitchens is growing – while, in contrast, fewer than 10% see kitchens getting smaller. These results are very similar to those of the fourth quarter of 2005, the last time that kitchen and bath trends were surveyed, the AIA pointed out.

“Kitchens remain popular because they house more activities,” Baker said. “Upper-end appliances are becoming more popular, even for homes that are not at the upper-end of the price range. Pantry space is increasing, as are wine storage areas and recycling centers. The integration of kitchens with informal living space (great rooms) also remains a popular design.”

In addition, he said, island work areas, duplicate appliances, computer work areas and warming drawers are also seen as growing in popularity, but by a smaller share of respondents.

With natural products becoming more common in kitchens, so are “green” products, the AIA noted. More than 60% of respondents see renewable material flooring (i.e. bamboo) as increasing in use, while fewer than 8% see it declining.

Natural stone counters are still seen as growing in popularity, while more than 41% of the residential architects surveyed reported concrete countertops – considered a renewable product – to be increasing in use. Drinking water filtration systems also are reported to be gaining compared to responses from a year ago.

Baths Retain Focus

More than 40% of the residential architects surveyed by the AIA see increases in the number of bathrooms in homes, with very few reporting declines, according to the association. Similar shares report that bathrooms continue to increase in size. Responses along both dimensions are comparable to 2005.

Radiant heated floors top the list of bath features that are growing in popularity, the AIA reported. Bathrooms designed for accessibility, containing features such as no-threshold showers, also continue to make significant inroads. Increased storage and make-up areas in baths also are reported to be seeing more interest.

“Among the bath products generating the most interest among consumers are upscale shower features, or features that make showers more accessible,” Baker said. “Multi-head showers are seen to be growing in popularity by a majority of residential architects, while separate showers are seen to be increasingly present in homes by a smaller number of respondents.

Doorless showers and hand-held showerheads are popular features that can make a bath easier to use.

Baker also pointed out that multiple vanity sinks, towel-warming drawers or bars and, to a lesser extent steam showers and double-sink vanities, are generating particular interest among consumers, according to the AIA survey.