When Laura Kaehler, principal architect at Laura Kaehler Architects in Greenwich, sits down to discuss a new home or renovation with clients, she has a lot of questions — and not just about whether they want a two-car garage or a formal dining room.
How do they like to store their spices? Do they have a lot of dress shirts to hang in the master bedroom closets? Are they more comfortable reaching to the left or right of the stove? Are they shoe obsessed.
And she’s not just being nosy. In 2018, local architects report that one of the biggest trends in clients’ wishes is not really a trend at all. It’s a desire for customization — from curb appeal to cubbies in the mudroom — that drives the way many families envision homes today.
“These are the kinds of things that evolve out of lifestyle,” explains Robert Dean, president and principal architect at Robert Dean Architects of New Canaan. “Twenty or 30 years ago they remembered Grandmother’s house when planning a home. These days they remember what they liked at the resort hotel they were staying in last week.”
Which is not to say that clients aren’t ready to honor traditional styles when creating a home. For instance, Dean says, a family might take favorite bits from a time-honored exterior style without going the way of the cookie-cutter suburban developments of the 1950s and 60s.
They want design “that takes note of history, but cleans it up and simplifies it,” he observes. “They want it to be fresh and new.”
To that end, David Barbour, owner of David Barbour Architects in Bridgeport, has seen a move toward composite, man-made exterior materials, as well as industrial steel featured in railings and stairs. Rooftop decks are also popular in waterfront areas, where exterior space may be at a premium, Barbour says.
Black-framed windows and modern combinations of shingles and clapboards are also trending, says John Rountree, principal of Rountree Architects in Westport. “There’s a new aesthetic,” he notes.
Inside, open floor plans are on the rise, with clients shunning traditional center-hall plans. Many are also giving spaces that were once must-haves the heave-ho, Kaehler reports. “The first thing clients say is, ‘We don’t use our living room,’” she says.
While lumping the cooking, dining, and downtime space together might seem to simplify the architect’s job, it actually makes for interesting challenges, Kaehler contends. She’s found that playing with ceiling height can help delineate spaces in which to eat and entertain.
When it comes to bedrooms, clients are often looking for a tricked-out master suite containing everything from a full bathroom and dual walk-in closets with storage solutions tailor-made for the couple to kitchen features, such as a wine cooler or coffee bar.
Many clients want separate bedrooms for each child, each with a dedicated full bath or one shared by one adjacent bedroom.
And choices for those bathrooms run the gamut, Barbour says. Clients have requested lighted nooks for their shampoo and other shower accessories, sheets of serene sea glass used as glass brick was once employed, and bathroom floors made of smooth river rocks. Bathroom floors that extend into showers are also popular. “You don’t have to step over anything that way,” Barbour explains.
Architects are noticing an overall stepping back of sprawling homes with two-story grand foyers and great rooms, says John Rountree. The architect, who specializes in solar design and energy independence, welcomes the trend, which favors efficiency.
“They still want open, but not huge,” he notes.
Kaehler has dubbed the trend “responsible luxury.” “Clients are looking for a little better detail and quality of material,” she says. “Why heat these giant spaces you hardly use?”
While formal living rooms are going by the wayside, Barbour says, families are opting for smaller front parlors or libraries. A formal dining room might be repurposed into a couple of small home offices, Rountree adds.
The trend toward customization also has clients rethinking the importance of resale value over personalized comfort, Kaehler says. One unlikely victim of this trend? The bathtub. Twenty years ago, a spa tub was de rigueur in custom homes. Now homeowners seek fancier shower space that they know they’ll actually use.