According to the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the design and construction business recovery has spread from region to region and building sector to building sector, and is one of the first tangible expressions that the long-awaited economic turnaround is arriving.
The recent Home Design Trends Survey (HDTS) conducted by the AIA suggests that homeowners, and their architects, are looking to add more value and function to two vital and specialized rooms that are often the last to be downsized when a recession strikes: kitchens and baths.
During the housing downturn, less attention was paid to these areas as households were looking to control costs for new homes, and to limit home improvement expenditures on existing homes.
The study shows that as housing markets have begun to recover, households are concentrating more on these areas. More activities are taking place in kitchens, as they are regaining their role as “control center” of the home. While they haven’t significantly increased in size, they generally are utilizing more technology.
Likewise, bathrooms are getting more attention. Along with kitchens, baths tend to garner a lot of attention for new homebuyers, and are among the first spaces to be upgraded in existing homes. Accessibility into and around the bathroom is a growing concern for homeowners, particularly those who may be planning to remain in their current home as they age in place.
These are the major findings from the survey for the fourth quarter of 2012, which focused on kitchen and bath design trends. Through comprehensive surveys of residential architects nationally, this effort explores emerging design trends by examining the space devoted to these rooms for both new homes as well as for improvements to existing homes.
Highlights from the survey:
- The number and size of kitchen/food preparation/food storage areas has been flat or trending down since 2009. However, many residential architects are indicating increased emphasis on these areas of the home.
- Almost a quarter of respondents indicated that the number of separate kitchen facilities or secondary food storage or food preparation areas is generally increasing in popularity, while only 11% point to a decrease in popularity.
- For the size of kitchen facilities, 22% point to an increase, and 11% report a decrease.
- More than half of residential architects point to an increase in space for a computer station or recharging area for cell phones, tablets, and other personal digital devices within the kitchen.
- More than 40% of respondents indicated an increase in space for recycling activities or pantry space, with few respondents indicating a decrease in these activities.
- Sustainable products remain popular in kitchens, but recently there has also been a revival in upper-end kitchen products. Countertops and flooring from renewal/sustainable materials, as well as drinking-water-filtration systems remain popular kitchen products.
- As with kitchens, residential architects are also reporting modest increases in the number and size of bathrooms in homes. One in five respondents report that the number of bathrooms in homes has been increasing, while 22% report that the size of baths has been growing over the past year.
- Well over half (57%) of respondents reported that adaptability/universal design features were increasing in popularity, while only 3% responded that this concern was decreasing.
- Designing bathrooms with only a stall shower and no bathtub is becoming a more common practice. Half of respondents indicated that this trend was gaining in popularity, while hardly any pointed to a decline in popularity for this option.
- Over 60% of respondents reported that doorless/no-threshold showers were growing in popularity, compared to fewer than 5% reporting waning interest. Hand showers, often with universal design applications, are also continuing to become more popular.
- Most bath products that top the popularity list promote sustainability. At the top is LED lighting, with nearly 70% of respondents indicating that it is increasing in use. Water-saving toilets and dual-flush toilets are both highly rated in terms of growing popularity. While upscale bathroom products generally are not high on this list, specialty upscale showers were seeing some increase.
- Residential architects are reporting a clear upturn in business conditions at their firms. In the fourth quarter, the billings score at these firms was 54.2, where any score above 50 indicates growing revenue. The billings score for the fourth quarter of 2011 was 48.3, signifying a modest decline. However, billings increased in subsequent quarters, so growth has now been reported for a full year.
- Inquiries for new project activity have also been strong, reaching a score of 63.5 in the fourth quarter.
- With continued growth in residential design activity, firms are starting to build up some project backlogs. Project backlogs, an indicator of the amount of work currently in-house and under contract, are measured in terms of the amount of time that these projects would keep current staff fully employed. At the peak of the market last decade, project backlogs were running close to five months.
- Currently, firms in the South and West are reporting the healthiest business conditions, with billings scores of 56.2 and 58.6, respectively, in the fourth quarter.