The U.S. housing market is starting to gain traction. Still, households have remained hesitant to add space to their homes through special function rooms, with a few exceptions such as home offices and mud rooms for the storage of everyday items. The home features and products attracting attention are generally focused on energy efficiency or accessibility around the home, as well as wireless systems and low-maintenance, sustainable products.
These are some of the key findings from the AIA’s Home Design Trends Survey, covering activity during the second quarter of 2012. Business conditions continue to trend up for residential architects, as design billings increased for the second consecutive month, the first two-quarter increase since 2007. Even though growth slowed somewhat in the second quarter, inquiries for new projects remained strong. Project backlogs—the amount of design work in-house and under contract—have been increasing very slowly but are currently at their highest level since early 2008. And while design work for improvements to existing homes remains very strong, there are signs that key construction sectors—including entry-level homes, trade-up homes, and custom and luxury homes—are beginning to stabilize and may soon move back to an expansion mode.
Optional special function rooms clustered in a few categories
Even though home sizes appear to be slowly increasing in most markets and in most housing segments, optional special function rooms are limited to just a few key uses. Over a third of residential architects participating in the Home Design Trends Survey identified home offices as the most popular special function room. With the continued popularity of telecommuting—and with many workers catching up on work at night and on weekends, and a growing share of the labor force working on a self-employed or contract basis—home offices remain a priority.
Two other areas were reported to be popular special functions areas of the home. Over one in five residential architects selected mud rooms/drop zones (for backpacks, outerwear, or even personal electronics) as the most popular special function room, while almost as many selected outdoor living areas/outdoor rooms. Both selections reflect the growing lifestyle informality of typical households (figure 1).
Even these areas of the home are not increasing in popularity as much as they were a year ago. Likewise, the popularity score for home offices also declined a bit. Scores for mud rooms/drop zones increased slightly over the past year.
Many special function rooms popular during the housing boom all but left the scene during this past downturn. For example, almost 40 percent of residential architects reported that media rooms/home theaters are declining in popularity, while only 12 percent reported them to be increasing. Likewise, 28 percent of respondents reported exercise/fitness/sauna spaces to be declining in popularity, with only 13 percent reporting increases. Even interior greenhouses, which might be expected to gain popularity with the renewed interest in gardening and eating locally grown foods, are declining (figure 2).
Home features promote sustainability and accessibility
As with trends toward simplicity in special function rooms, household interest in special features in the home tends to focus on two key pragmatic objectives: energy efficiency, and making homes more accessible for an aging population. Merely adding some insulation in the attic remains a hugely popular home feature, as over two-thirds of respondents report it as increasing in popularity and hardly any see it decreasing. Most of the other popular special features deal with improved accessibility: first-floor master bedrooms, ramps/elevators (including adding a shaft for a future elevator), easy-to-use features for handles and faucets, and non-slip floor surfaces.