Hot Trends in Home Remodeling

Hot Trends in Home Remodeling

BY ROBYN A. FRIEDMAN, as originally published in Realtor® Online Magazine

Comfort Colors Are In
Kitchens Are Expanding
Baths Are Getting More Luxurious
How Big Is Your Laundry Room?
Specialty Rooms to Fit Every Need
Green Living
What Does the Future Hold?

Nancy Shafiroff has spent the last two years remodeling her Chappaqua, N.Y., home, doubling its size and transforming its previously drab exterior into a stunning new facade. The renovation—still a work in progress—has cost Shafiroff $600,000 so far and has netted her two awards for design, one from a branch of the American Institute of Architects and the other from the Society of American Registered Architects.

“We wanted to improve our lifestyle,” says Shafiroff, a salesperson with Siderow Kennedy Real Estate in Chappaqua. “Our rooms were outdated, and there was no family room, so it was hard to entertain. We found we weren’t really using the house like we wanted to.”

Shafiroff isn’t the only one whose changing lifestyle motivated a renovation.

The remodeling industry is booming and it, along with the residential real estate market, has been a boon to our struggling economy over the past year. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, in the 12 months ending in September, homeowners spent $125.2 billion to remodel their homes, an increase of 6.6 percent over the $122.4 billion spent in the previous 12-month period. Rising home values, a strong housing market, and a spate of cash-out refinances have all contributed to remodeling’s strong showing.

But lifestyle changes have played a part as well. “There is still an effect from Sept. 11,” says Michelle Snyder, a spokesperson for the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). “People are spending more money on their home because they see it as a refuge from an unsafe world. They want the home to be comfortable and a place where they want to spend more time.”

While homeowners once concerned themselves with home improvements that would add value to their homes or make them more marketable, there’s less concern today with recouping one’s investment than there is with making the home a comfortable and functional place to live. People are cocooning—spending more time at home—so they want larger entertainment areas, such as kitchens and family rooms. Those in search of serenity and a safe haven from the outside world are opting for plush bathrooms as well. And an increasing number of Baby Boomers are planning to age in place, so they’re seeking homes with bedrooms on the ground floor, wide hallways, and accessible countertops.

Here’s a preview of some of the latest trends in remodeling and new-home design options:

Comfort Colors Are In

As homeowners seek solace in their homes, natural shades have become more popular. Muted earth tones are being used throughout the home, on walls, floors, and even cabinetry. Green, particularly a soft sage color, has become a popular choice, especially as an accent color on kitchen cabinets.

Flooring and countertop choices also are muted; the days of highly polished granite or porcelain tile are over. Instead, honed granite and soapstone, as well as quartz countertops with matte finishes, are becoming de rigueur.

Kitchens Are Expanding

The kitchen has evolved over time from a place to prepare and eat meals to the focal point of a home. Today, kitchens are used as gathering places and a place for doing homework and crafts, paying bills, and surfing the Internet—and kitchen design is now reflecting that usage. Computer desks, huge islands, fireplaces, and comfortable seating areas are frequent choices in kitchen remodels.

“The kitchen has really become the Grand Central Station of the home,” says Snyder. “It’s a place where people spend a lot of time, so there are a lot of renovations occurring within the kitchen area.”

Homeowner preferences in kitchens these days include commercial-look stainless steel appliances, most often in a brushed finish. Viking stoves and Sub-Zero refrigerators, which used to be found only in high-end homes, have moved into mid-priced homes as well. “More manufacturers are making the professional look available in a residential line, without having to go to the high-end,” says Amy Brown, marketing director for DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen by Worldwide, a remodeler based in Waco, Texas.

Homeowners also are opting for the look of freestanding furniture in the kitchen—adding cabinetry with a different finish or at a different height than the rest so that it doesn’t appear to be built in. “The furniture look is strong,” Brown says.

Maple and hickory cabinets are catching up to cherry wood in popularity, and the simple, sleek lines of Shaker, Mission, and Asian design can be seen throughout the kitchen. Darker finishes are a frequent choice for cabinets. Merlot—a deep burgundy color—has become quite popular, as has black.

While homeowners still prefer a sleek, clean look in the kitchen, elegant touches, such as farmhouse sinks or Victorian faucets, add class and individuality.

High-end kitchens may feature top-of-the-line appliances, such as a $13,000 Aga stove with four ovens that require no preheating—available in 14 fashion colors—or a $1,900 built-in coffee system from Miele that automates every part of the coffee-brewing process, from grinding beans to frothing milk. Less expensive, but still very chic, is the pot filler, a faucet installed on the back of a stove that allows you to fill pots without the inconvenience of having to lug them from sink to cooktop. Pot fillers can be easily added during a kitchen remodel; prices start at about $125 (not including installation).

For the ultimate in high-end kitchens, however, imagine them in duplicate. DreamMaker’s Brown has seen his-and-her kitchens, where the man’s kitchen features items like a brick pizza oven complete with real fire. “They can cook their pizza and smoke their cigars in his kitchen,” she says.

Baths Are Getting More Luxurious

Like kitchens, bathrooms—particularly master bathrooms—are expanding. “Baths are becoming like a luxurious oasis where people can go and retreat,” says ASID’s Snyder.

Homeowners are replacing standard shower heads with oversized “rain” shower heads, and those doing more extensive remodels are adding showers with body sprays, steam showers, solid surface shower walls, and heated tile floors. Traditional-styled cabinetry, made to look like freestanding furniture with legs, is popular as well.

Homeowners are increasingly opting to use concrete in bathrooms—and not just on the floors—due to its reasonable cost. SkimStone Hybridized Portland Cement, for example, which is used for concrete flooring, costs less than $1 per square foot.

When Barbara Hagin recently decided to remodel her master bath, she chose stained concrete for the shower, counters, and floor. “It maximizes the in-floor radiant heat,” says Hagin, who lives in a $750,000 house in Palo Alto, Calif. “And choosing concrete allows us to refresh and update the entire look.”

Hagin chose a light eggplant color for the concrete flooring in her master bedroom and bath; the concrete will be scored with lines that will run in a diagonal to echo the diagonal lines of the cabinetry in her bathroom.

“Concrete flooring is a durable, easy-to-clean product that has a very long half-life,” says Christopher LeVally, a salesperson with Keller Williams Arizona Realtors in Scottsdale, Ariz., who also is a developer and remodeler. “I am really gung ho on commercial products used in a residential setting.”

In higher-end bathroom remodels—as well as for new homes—homeowners are investing in spa-like tubs, with whirlpools and waterfalls built in. Philip Spiegelman, a principal of Aventura, Fla.-based International Sales Group, a sales and marketing firm that represents 18 South Florida residential projects with units selling from $200,000 to $2 million, says that he’s had a number of buyers who have purchased Kohler infinity-edge tubs and waterfalls in their master baths. But other high-end choices abound.

“There’s a new whirlpool tub by Jacuzzi with a 42-inch flat screen TV built in,” says Bill Feinberg, the owner of Allied Kitchen & Bath, a remodeler based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “But one of my favorite features to add to a new bathroom is a hidden TV behind a two-way mirror.” Imagine shaving, or putting on makeup, while catching up on the morning news.

And for those who want the very latest in bath design, consider adding a urinal. (Yes, a urinal.) Much to the delight of men—and the confounding of women—urinals are going from train stations, ballparks, and other public restrooms and slowly creeping into the home. Perhaps they’ve found favor as a result of increased exposure on television. Singer Ozzy Osbourne, for example, showed off his urinal on the MTV show “The Osbournes,” as did Curtis Martin, a running back for the New York Jets, on “MTV Cribs.”

No statistics are available yet to track the home urinal trend, but maybe people are looking for more fixtures to fill their ever-growing bathrooms. Or maybe installing a home urinal is the ultimate way for men to avoid having to put the seat down.

How Big Is Your Laundry Room?

Laundry rooms are becoming a status symbol these days. No longer isolated in a dark corner of the basement, laundry rooms are now decked out with the best appliances and filled with color. That’s because families are spending more time in their ultra-large laundry rooms, doing messy chores, crafts, and gardening projects there in addition to washing, drying, and ironing.

Whirlpool Corp. has introduced an innovative suite of products called the Whirlpool Family Studio, a multi-functional space that combines the latest in high-tech clothing care, such as the ImPress Ironing Station, SinkSpa Jetted Sink, DryAire Drying Cabinet, Duet Fabric Care System, and Personal Valet Clothes Revitalizing System. The full set of appliances will run you about $5,000, and they can be encased in custom cabinetry to enhance the look of the room.

Specialty Rooms to Fit Every Need

As families spend more time at home, homes are evolving to meet the specific needs of every family member. Rooms such as wine cellars, media rooms, libraries, sewing rooms, meditation rooms, and even personal beauty salons and ballet studios are increasing in popularity, according to ASID. These specialty rooms are being added to homes through remodeling or as options made by purchasers of new homes.

But family members aren’t the only ones being pampered with specialty rooms these days; pets are enjoying some pampering of their own. Arvida, a homebuilder based in Boca Raton, Fla., is offering a $30,000 “pet suite” option at SouthWood, a master-planned community in Tallahassee where prices run from $165,000 to over $280,000. Conveniently located by the back door, the pet suite includes an automatic pet feeder, doggie door, pet drinking fountain, and a shower for a quick rinse after a romp outdoors. Talk about creature comforts.

And for the ultimate in specialty rooms, how about an indoor pool? Matt Hatz, a salesperson for Cambridge Homes in Northville, Mich., says that the company is “doing quite a few indoor pools” at Bellagio, its 55-home estate community in Novi, Mich., where homes sell for between $1.2 million and $4 million. Indoor pools, usually decked out in cedar-lined rooms in basements or structures attached to the houses, sell for between $100,000 and $300,000.

For the mechanic members of the family, garages are becoming larger and more high-tech. Builders report that four-car garages are becoming a necessity at new-home developments throughout the United States. Some—such as Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Cachet Homes, are even building six-car garages in their new homes. After all, how can buyers possibly have enough room to store their big toys, such as boats, jet skis, recreational vehicles, and the largest SUVs?

Syosset, N.Y.-based GarageTek, a company that sells high-end garage organization and storage systems, expects sales to reach $18 million this year, up from $6 million last year. The company’s typical garage system costs nearly $6,000.

Green Living

Solar power has come a long way in the last 20 years. The clunky panels that used to turn off homeowners interested in aesthetics are long gone, and they’ve been replaced by sleek integrated solar systems capable of handling all the power needs of a house.

The demographics of solar technology have changed as well. Today, there is a new generation of solar aficionados who are passionate about technology and preserving the environment. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 also have created interest in solar homes, as people seek to lead a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Solar technology is being integrated into new-home design—there are even entire new-home communities springing up with solar power as an available upgrade—but those who are remodeling also can add it easily.

Linda Lenore, for example, is in the process of adding a solar photovoltaic system to her 2,000-square-foot Redwood City, Calif., home that will generate all the power her home needs—and then some. The cost of the system is $24,000, and she expects to benefit from California’s generous rebate program, which will cover 40 to 50 percent of her system’s cost. “We decided that if we were going to remodel, it would be wise for us to do something sustainable, something green,” says Lenore. “In a few years, it will more than pay for itself.”

What Does the Future Hold?

What remodeling trends are on the horizon? Industry experts say that they’re seeing the first signs that the 1970s may be returning. For example:

  • Wood paneling is coming back, even in high-end homes. Hatz, the salesperson for Cambridge Homes in Michigan, recently sold an 11,000-square-foot home with 20-foot ceilings in the foyer. “They were all paneled,” he says. “Everything was done in a walnut color.” Hatz says that the homeowners opted for paneling in the library as well.
  • Remodelers are reporting an increasing demand for shag carpet. “We’re seeing more people liking a dense shag, with a lot of texture—not quite like the shag of the ’70s,” says Lona Maloney, a design consultant at Guy’s Floor Service in Denver. “We’re selling mostly neutrals and earth tones, like greens and beiges.”
  • Linoleum has returned, but under a new name. “Linoleum is coming back huge,” says LeVally of Keller Williams Arizona Realtors. “There are environmentally friendlier linoleums now, and a lot of different cool vinyl products available for flooring. Armstrong is marketing linoleum sheet flooring under two brand names—Marmorette and Linoplan—and the color and pattern choices are fabulous.”