Rising costs have affected remodeling, though not in the way you might think. Homeowners are eager as ever to remodel, but their priorities have been transformed.
Investing in a large addition is not the automatic first step for most, according to remodelers and designers from coast to coast. Instead, homeowners first want to obtain maximum efficiency and comfort from existing space. Homeowners are planning for the future as well as now, making remodeling choices that will enable their homes to adapt to changing needs as they age.
The wealthier consumers who are driving the ever-growing remodeling market with big-ticket projects are shaping their homes around their own personalities and preferences, creating at-home environments that are as enjoyable as vacation destinations.
As Jeff Santerre, president of Prestige Custom Builders in Seattle, puts it: "People are not so worried about 'more is better' anymore." Instead they are putting the majority of their remodeling dollars into designs that yield the ultimate in comfort, practicality and personalization.
The brassy, look-at-me styles of a few years ago are out, replaced by more sophisticated and subtle approaches. At one end of the spectrum are sleek designs with strong rectilinear rhythms and bold angles. Peggy McGowen, ASID, CMKBD, owner of Kitchen & Bath Concepts in Houston, says the operative word is contemporary as opposed to high-tech. The look is simple and minimalist yet "soft, elegant, Asian in influence," she explains.
At the other end of the continuum is warm, rich styling that looks Old World — or just old and rustic. "It's the new old look," says architect Jim Rill, AIA, of Rill & Decker Architects in Bethesda, Md. Lately Rill has been using beams and textured ceilings to create a rustic ambiance. Santerre's Seattle remodeling and custom home clients are choosing rich, deep tones and muted finishes to create an Old World European feel.
Despite the contrast between contemporary and old, the newest versions of these trendy styles have materials and colors in common. Natural materials are top choices, with stone, especially granite, still leading the list. But wood is hot now, too. Materials such as glass, ceramic tile and metal are popular, says McGowen, in part because they fit an expanded definition of natural. They are being used in surfacing and cabinetry to give homes a personal signature.
Color, too, is being used with more flair and in more locations. "People are becoming more comfortable with color," explains Steven House, AIA, of House + House Architects in San Francisco, "and are using bold, intense colors —red, ochre, eggplant." Applying these on accent walls in the living room and bedroom, says House, provides "a lot of visual impact for no more money" than white or cream.
The kitchen is the center of design innovation in today's homes, and for good reason: It's both command central for the family and the place where guests gather to chat with their hosts or help chop vegetables for dinner.
To gain space and boost entertainment options, kitchens are being opened to the dining room and living area. "The family room and dining area and kitchen are becoming one big space," says House. These open plans are why the kitchen needs "nice, clean lines and an uncluttered look," he says.
By blending these spaces, observes Santerre, "we're de-formalizing the formal dining room but formalizing the kitchen." To complement or match the dining room trim, he says, "we're raising the bar on the millwork and trim package" in the kitchen.
Likewise, instead of topping kitchen cabinets with drywall soffits, Mark T. White, CKD, owner of Kitchen Encounters in Annapolis, Md., stacks molding pieces over the cabinetry. He's also using arches, columns or half walls to link kitchens to the more formal dining areas.
Atlanta designer Jackie Naylor, CKD, CBD, ASID, of Jackie Naylor Interiors, says homeowners are getting more interested in gourmet cooking and have definite ideas about how they want their kitchens to function.
"Kitchens are becoming zoned," she says, "with one general work triangle, then other areas such as a second work space for food preparation." The secondary space typically has its own sink, and a second dishwasher might be located near the dining area.
When it comes to kitchen equipment and finishes, homeowners have strong preferences. Here are their top choices:
Appliances The big news in kitchen appliances is drawers — refrigerator drawers, dishwasher drawers, warming drawers, microwave drawers, you name them. "We're seeing more and more drawers included in kitchens" to add function and convenience, says White. Naylor adds that people are getting more refrigerator drawers, especially in the island. And Santerre says every kitchen he does now includes warming drawers for preheating plates or keeping food warm after it's been prepared.
As for ranges and refrigerators, high-end stainless-steel units remain the hands-down favorite. High-end appliances are the "jewelry of kitchens," explains Denver architect Doug Walter of Doug Walter Architects. "Our clients will sacrifice custom cabinets and granite counters" if necessary, he says, to afford Wolf, Viking, SubZero and other premium appliances.
Some kitchens are too small to accommodate these big units. McGowen's clients aren't discouraged; European manufacturers offer smaller luxury appliances.
Cabinets Drawers are the name of the game here, too. Convenient, accessible storage is "a must," says Naylor. That means more drawers and pullout shelves in base cabinets, even if they are tucked behind cabinet doors.
White says drawer organizer systems are in demand, as are retractable cabinet inserts that make corners and other hard-to-use spaces both functional and accessible.
Reflecting the popularity of contemporary styling, Peter Feinmann of Feinmann Inc., in Arlington, Mass., is installing more contemporary, slender cabinets. White says these sleek upper cabinets are not tall, but stretch across the wall to establish strong horizontal lines and keep cabinet contents in easy reach. Feinmann is seeing a preference for stainless finishes and accents on doors; White is using cross-grain wood, whether real wood or thermofoil veneer. Medium to light wood doors mixed with glass doors and black-accented display cabinets also are popular, White says, and wenge, a dark hardwood, is gaining interest.
For an Old World ambiance, Santerre is installing wood cabinets in deep, rich tones; Rill is using cabinetry that looks like, and sometimes is, pieces of furniture.
Faucets and sinks Chrome and brass faucets are out, say remodelers around the country. What's in are fittings in warmer, more organic looking metals that enhance the Old World look. Brushed nickel is "the biggest by far," says Denver architect Doug Walter. Multi-bowl sinks are a must, says White, and farm-style apron sinks are gaining in popularity.
Countertops White says he's installing more wood countertops, along with the ever-popular granite. Now, though, his wood counters are thick "to accent the piece, and have edging to match the kitchen style." Woods of choice are not just maple, cherry and oak but also exotics such as teak and mahogany. White's also seeing interest in Pyrolave, a durable lavastone product that comes in "fabulous colors," he says. Santerre's clients like the "understated elegance" of honed granite and limestone counters. Naylor's clients gravitate toward metal — copper and stainless steel — and concrete counters, often used together with stone counters. "They like the mixture," she says, "because it expresses a little bit of individuality."
Tile Muted, mottled tiles are natural companions to the subdued stone countertops Santerre's clients prefer. But glass tiles are gaining popularity too, in part because they come in such beautiful colors and designs. The glass has "a translucent, reflective surface," adds McGowen, which lends a distinctive touch to kitchens.
Hoods McGowen sees range hoods becoming a focal point in the kitchen. Extra-large hoods stretched across the wall lend the warmth and character of fireplace mantels. They're finished with tile or wood or even old beams to complement the kitchen design motif. The finishing touch for these chic new hoods, says Santerre, is quiet ventilation, a feature now available from most major hood manufacturers.
The master bath has become a luxurious retreat, with multiple comforts and conveniences. "The spa bathroom — a haven to disappear into — is coming big time," says Naylor.
One must in these deluxe getaways-at-home is a generous-size shower that has frameless glass doors and is fitted out with a combination of multiple body sprays, rain showerhead, hand-held spray on a slide bar, and built-in bench.
"Steam showers are gaining popularity," adds White, as are waterfall showerheads. In most parts of the country, homeowners are less likely to include a bathtub on their wish list.
"Showers are getting bigger, and whirlpool tubs are going out," says Ted Brown of Traditional Concepts in Lake Forest, Ill. "We'll often do a bathroom without any tub." In Atlanta, where Naylor is seeing less demand for whirlpools, she also says there is growing interest in the soothing, serene experience of bathing in a soaking tub.
People are now "very territorial in the bathroom," says Brown. That explains the placement of his-and-hers vanities on opposite sides of the room. Many of Naylor's recent master suites have completely separate dressing areas, linked by a large shower or closet.
Separate toilet compartments continue to be popular. Walter regularly places the toilet in a separate room or niche, or at least behind a half wall, to provide "a touch of privacy." Higher-than-standard toilets are becoming common, says Santerre. He's also seeing new demand for heated seats, elegant wood seats and toilet-bidet combos. Naylor says she's installed more bidets in the past year than in her last 15 years in business.
The furniture look is as stylish in the bath as it is in the kitchen. Homeowners are retrofitting furniture pieces as vanities and cabinets for the master bath or powder room, says Rill, or selecting furniture-style units from manufacturers.
Likewise, concrete countertops are hot in the bath as well as the kitchen. Steven House says homeowners are coloring the concrete for their bath counters, choosing such atmospheric shades as lavender, rose, mauve and ochre.
"Lighting has become far more important, especially in the bathroom," says Brown. Homeowners are opting for good, and good-looking, task lighting. Here and elsewhere in the living area, adds House, they're using skylights to bring in natural light.
Heated floors have become a staple for luxury baths. "You used to have to [heat floors] hydronically," at a cost of about $2,500, Santerre says. The new electric units are far less expensive, making warm stone or tile floors an affordable and very popular luxury.
The new remodeling priorities drive choices in other parts of the house as well. Master closets, for example, are being planned with utmost convenience and style in mind. "Closets are being designed to death, even for smaller projects," says Walter. "I've done $30,000 closet organization systems that look great and get maximum benefit from the space." Brown has built large master closets with furniture-quality storage components, upholstered islands with under-seat storage, and such extras as reading benches and customized jewelry storage.
Homeowners are finding space for mini-kitchens throughout the house, says McGowen, so nobody has to go far for a snack. Equipped with a refrigerator, sink, microwave and coffeepot, these little kitchens are tucked into corners of master bedrooms, guest rooms, game rooms and basements.
Speaking of basements, they're being elevated in style and function. "Basements are becoming wonderful rooms, really part of the house now," says Rill. He's used stone floors and timber ceilings to convert ordinary basements into richly atmospheric "taverny" sitting areas and billiard rooms. Santerre says his clients are "going crazy for wine cellars," even simple ones with painted concrete floors, plaster walls and handsome wood wine racks. More and more of Rill's clients are putting the guest room in the basement, to assure comfort and privacy for guests and homeowners alike.
Another trend Walter sees is that "the walk-in pantry, mudroom and laundry room, all old-fashioned ideas, are coming back." And this time around they are being fitted out with fine finishes and extra-efficient storage. High-quality laundry rooms are being added to the main floor or, even more convenient, the bedroom level. These showplace rooms have large front-load machines, generous counter space, racks for hanging or flat-drying clothes, even jetted sinks for hand-washing clothes, says Naylor.
Flat-screen televisions have broadened design possibilities, says Walter, because it's much easier to accommodate them than an entertainment center or armoire. They're being slipped into place over family-room fireplaces, behind artwork, and high on the bedroom wall. Santerre often hangs a small flat-screen television on a swing-arm bracket at the end of a kitchen cabinet, where it can be watched from the kitchen or the breakfast nook.
Outdoor kitchens are increasingly popular and more elaborate. At minimum, says McGowen, an outdoor kitchen includes a range, grill, refrigerator and sink. It might also feature a pizza oven, icemaker, bar or dishwasher.
Even without the kitchen, homeowners are eager to enjoy the outdoors. Unwilling to let great exterior spaces go to waste, "more and more people are connecting their homes to their yards, with terraces on the front or side of the house, not just the back," says Rill.
Homeowners aren't settling for ho-hum exteriors. They want a house that's "not like everybody else's," says Allan Lutes of Alpha Remodeling in Ann Arbor, Mich. To create one, owners of moderately priced houses as well as high-end properties, 1990s tract houses as well as older homes, are dressing them up with distinctive trim, large window areas and premium finishes.
"There's a strong focus on the front entrance," Lutes adds. Homeowners are anteing up for luxury doors with elaborate glass inserts, plus "sidelights, a covered front porch with columns, and decorative elements such as a starburst in the porch roof gable," says Lutes.
Ken Moeslein, of Swing Line Windows Inc., an exterior remodeling company in Pittsburgh, explains why: "Homeowners are learning that the door is the first thing people see," Moeslein says, "and they want to make a first impression of quality and aesthetics."
"Mass customization" is what Stephen Rynerson, AIA, calls the new availability of exterior products in abundant styles and colors. According to Rynerson, it has opened the floodgates for personal expression. His firm, Rynerson & O'Brien Architecture in Oakland, Calif., specializes in period architecture. Products such as simulated divided light windows look so authentic now, he says, that his clients are able to use them without investing in handmade units. Likewise, Lutes's clients are choosing cultured stone veneer to gain the look of stone without having to redo the foundation.
Thanks to technological advances, vinyl and clad wood windows now come in dark brown and a range of bold colors that owners are selecting to add character to their homes. And they're choosing complementary siding and trim colors, making creative use of the literally thousands of shades now available in vinyl siding, or ordering fiber-cement siding that's been pre-finished in the color of their choice.
As for roofing, dimensional, 50-year shingles are "the new norm" even for modest houses, says Moeslein, edging out more mundane flat, three-tab shingles. Young homeowners in particular, he says, are combining distinctive roofing with imposing entries to make their smaller or older homes look "as close as possible to the new house 10 miles down the road."
An eye-catching presence isn't the only goal of homeowners who upgrade their house exteriors. "Energy efficiency and no [or low] maintenance are bigger than ever," says Moeslein. "Customers are willing to pay more to tighten up the house. I'm selling more triple-glazed windows than ever, and low-E glass with argon filling has become minimum standard." Tract house owners are even changing out Palladian windows for more energy-efficient look-alikes. Insulation-backed vinyl siding is attracting buyers too.
With so many product choices and a trend toward more elaborate, expensive projects, exterior remodeling businesses are changing almost as much as the exteriors they remodel. Lutes's clients commonly spend $30,000 to $60,000 on a complete exterior upgrade, he says, and for these big upgrades they "want more design advice." That's why design consultation has become a standard service at Alpha Remodeling; staff designers routinely prepare design schemes and do color studies for their clients. Landscaping is part of the remodel. Though "we don't do the landscape work ourselves," says Lutes, "we may bring in a landscape designer" to round out the plan.