HACKETTSTOWN, NJ — Millennial clients – particularly those with children – are increasing in influence while the impact of Baby Boomer clients is gradually declining and Gen X is remaining constant, according to a 2022 Design Trends Forecast released this week by the National Kitchen & Bath Association.
The NKBA’s annual design trends forecast points to a gradual, yet palpable, shift in the primary customer base for new and remodeled kitchens and baths, after several decades in which the market was driven largely by a huge cohort of Baby Boomers (aged 57-75) and Gen Xers (aged 41-56) consumers.
While baby boom and Gen-X consumers remain the industry’s predominant buying force, the steady increase in business from Millennial clients (ages 25-40) is increasingly impacting both market share and anticipated kitchen and bath design trends, according to the NKBA, which said Millennials’ impact has “a high probability of increasing in the future.”
“Those working with Millennials see slightly less-expensive projects, but that’s likely driven by Millennials’ lower disposable income during their current life stage,” said the NKBA, whose 2022 Design Trends Forecast was based on a survey of approximately 650 designers, dealers, and other design professionals. The survey’s aim was to identify styles, features and materials that are expected to be more popular in the next several years; to identify the products that have the most dramatic impact on today’s kitchens and bathrooms; to assess if there are notable variations in designer client base profiles; and to predict if client base profiles are predictors of perceived design trends.
Among the overarching themes emerging from the NKBA’s 2022 survey is that kitchen clients generally want flex space for work, touchless fixtures, easy-to-clean surfaces, outdoor living areas, LED lighting and recycling storage. There is also a concerted desire for mobile-friendly spaces, healthy cooking, app-controlled appliances and voice-activated lighting, the NKBA said.
In the bathroom, consumers want a large shower, and are likely to remove tubs in order
to allocate more space or access to storage/dressing areas, the NKBA said. There is also a pronounced need for energy and water efficiency, connected products such as water temperature controls, entertainment and communication, the association added.
In general, new kitchen and bathroom design is emerging from nature-inspired themes, the NKBA reported. “Organic, natural styles are prominent in both kitchens and bathrooms, especially among Millennials, (and) increased natural light with large, high-performance windows and doors for outdoor access will be prominent,” the NKBA said.
“Homeowners have a desire for spaces that can multi-function,” the NKBA observed, pointing to a growing trend toward large islands for food prep that also function as dining tables, homework and work from home; flexible space for home office activities; pantries that include space for storage and a working area for small appliances; and workstation sinks with built-in features (drying racks,
cutting boards, etc.) In addition, bathrooms that connect to dressing areas and/or laundry facilities, and vanities and medicine cabinets with outlets are also experiencing increased popularity.
When designing new spaces, homeowners are generally thinking about the following:
n Cleanliness: easy-to-clean surfaces and countertops that are sanitary and non-porous. The current strong demand for quartz is expected to continue, as are the popularity of larger-format tile or slabs with less grout, and touchless faucets.
n Sustainable design: 100% LED lighting; a dedicated recycling area; low-E windows and doors; Energy star/efficient products; EPA WaterSense fixtures; VOC-free paint; products with recycled materials, and radiant flooring.
n Universal design: spaces that will allow for aging in place; curb-less showers; fewer free-standing tubs, grab bars, seats in showers and-held shower heads.
Although homeowners are excited about integrated technology, it is not being utilized in most projects. Specifically, only 30% and 21% of kitchen and bath projects, respectively, include integrated technology features, the NKBA reported.
“Designers have new ways to interact with their clients, especially Millennials,” the NKBA said. “Future design projects will include a mix of in-person and virtual meetings. In-person meetings both in designer’s offices and at the client’s home will be most prominent.
“Designers will (also) take advantage of virtual channels with video calls and video meetings with clients,” NKBA researchers added. “Millennials are more open to virtual meetings while Boomers are looking for regular onsite meetings at their home.”
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The U.S. housing and residential remodeling markets continued to post gains as 2021 wound to a close, although COVID-related supply chain disruptions, coupled with labor and materials shortages, continued to put a crimp on more-robust growth. Among the key statistics and forecasts released in recent weeks by government agencies, research firms and industry-related trade associations were the following:
Demand for remodeling remains strong, and remodelers “are doing quite well as long as they can adequately deal with material and labor shortages,” according to the latest Remodeling Market Index (RMI) compiled by the National Association of Home Builders. The Washington, DC-based NAHB last month released its NAHB/Royal Building Products Remodeling Market Index (RMI) for the third quarter of 2021, posting a reading of 87, up five points from the third quarter of 2020. The finding is a signal of residential remodelers’ confidence in their markets, for projects of all sizes, the NAHB said. “We are seeing strong demand and continued optimism in the residential remodeling market, despite the fact that supply constraints are severe and widespread,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “For example, well over 90% of remodelers in the third quarter RMI survey reported a shortage of carpenters. And 57% of remodelers reported having slightly raised prices for projects over the last six months, with another 28% indicating a significant increase in price, due in part to higher material costs and ongoing strong demand. Half of these remodelers reported some pricing out of demand due to higher prices for remodeling projects.”
HOUSING STARTS & NEW-HOME SALES
Single-family home sizes are reportedly rising as an offshoot of the COVID-19 pandemic, reversing a recent trend toward downsizing, as homeowners are seeking additional residential space for a wider range of purposes, particularly teleworking and school-related activities. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the median size of a newly built single-family home increased to 2,297 sq. ft., while the average size for new single-family homes increased to 2,540 sq. ft. Following Great Recession lows, home sizes rose between 2009 to 2015, as entry-level new construction was constrained, according to the NAHB. In contrast, home sizes declined between 2016 and 2020, as more starter homes were developed, the NAHB said. “Going forward, we expect home sizes to increase again, given a shift in consumer preferences for more space due to the increased use and roles of homes in the post-COVID-19 environment,” said NAHB’s Dietz.
Current high prices are resulting in “an unbalanced market,” although home prices would “normalize with additional supply,” according to the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. Total housing inventory, according to the latest NAR figures, was down 13.4% from one year ago. Unsold inventory sat at a 2.6-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 3.0 months at the same time last year, the NAR reported. The median existing-home price was up 14.9% from the same time in 2020. The market has witnessed more than 100 straight months of year-over-year gains, the NAR noted, adding that the pace of price appreciation has outpaced wage gains, “making homeownership increasingly unattainable.”
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What a long, strange year it’s been! Let’s take a look back at the dominant 2021 trends and anticipate what 2022 will likely bring.
While it’s hard to predict with clarity, given some major unknowns, here are some hot takes from across the industry and the country from unique perspectives:
- San Diego-based designer Tatiana Machado-Rosas, Jackson Design and Remodeling’s design department manager;
- Long Island, New York-based kitchen and bath designer Susan Serra;
- Home Technology Association CEO Josh Christian;
- Bob Gifford, business development director for luxury retailer Hastings Tile & Bath in New York City;
- Susan Chung, research v.p. with the American Society of Interior Designers;
- Boise, Idaho-based custom home builder Emily Clark of Clark & Co. Homes.
Wellness Trends Accelerate
Designers have been focused on wellness for decades with interest from some clients, but the pandemic really drove its importance home. Literally! “For 2021, a continued focus on health and hygiene helped drive the kitchen,” observes Chung. She also sees its importance elsewhere, noting that “the bathroom really became a place to escape the stress and fear of the outside world.” Wellness showed up in outdoor, work from home and mindfulness spaces, too. “As the home became a hub for all types of activities colliding together, homeowners were looking to design as one way to alleviate stress and promote tranquility,” the ASID executive concludes.
Beyond the spaces noted above, wellness showed up in related rooms. “The switch from what had been called the ‘mud room’ to what is now called the ‘utility room’ or pre-wash area; so many people wanted a location to drop groceries and sanitize items before heading into their homes,” shares Gifford. This is tied to an increasing interest in hands-free functionality, he explains: “Soap dispensers, faucets, hand-towels – anything and everything that gave people a sense of comfort and control over their environment.”
Kitchen Design Trends
“Multipurpose kitchens with open floor plans continued to be a strong trend as clients look to make their kitchen the vibrant heart of their home,” says Machado-Rosas. “Integrating smart technology, particularly with more people using the kitchen space to work from home or attend virtual classrooms, became even more essential. In addition, clients had a renewed interest in keeping their spaces hygienic, which led to a desire for easy-to-maintain materials for countertops and flooring,” she adds. The design manager conversely sees a resurgence in natural stone for sinks and countertops, attributing it to a desire for the sense of calm that comes from a connection to nature.
Across the country, Serra sees three dominant trends: “Wellness on steroids, cooking convenience and visual comfort.” Health and cleanliness were the top concerns she was hearing from clients. This included “performance materials in surfaces, as well as appliances [and fixtures] that promote healthy living and preserve our health, such as renewed attention to proper ventilation, enhanced touchless faucets and larger sinks going mainstream – often with two faucets” as a few examples.
Changes in shopping and eating habits are also influencing kitchen design, the New York designer believes. “A new hybrid type of cooking has emerged; time (but not too much) is being taken to create healthy homemade meals from fresh, quality foods, assisted by smart, efficient appliances. The purchase of a freezer for bulk food storage, better cabinet storage solutions and designing in more countertop space creates a near utopia for one or more cooks.”
Visual comfort is also a trend, Serra has observed. “As the kitchen has taken on more lifestyle functions in the past 18 months, homeowners are much more open to creative design solutions,” she shares. This has meant larger windows, nature-inspired texture and finish mixes, and comfortable dining areas with flexible designs or banquettes. “The transition of the kitchen aesthetic to more seamlessly integrate with surrounding rooms lessens the perception of the kitchen as workspace and nudges it more toward a living space,” she suggests.
Clark has also seen kitchens evolve, she comments, citing an “expansion of the scullery or the working pantry, work zones as opposed to a work triangle, and multiple mini-kitchens for multi-generational living.” Antimicrobial counters, touchless faucets and chef sinks also support healthy living and cooking, the home builder notes. Natural finishes, warm woods and creative design solutions with saturated cabinet colors are showing up in her northwestern region too.
Bathroom Design Trends
“The emphasis in bathroom design has been to create a highly customized space that communicates joy and tranquility,” Machado-Rosas observes. “Clients have been seeking a personal retreat with a spa-like atmosphere where they can truly relax.” These have included steam showers, heated floors, statement tubs – sometimes custom – and premium features catering to clients’ personalized needs and desires. Natural materials show up in these luxury bathrooms, too, the San Diego designer notes. “Balancing porcelain or glass tile with natural woods and stones and amplifying natural light have been popular,” she adds.
Clark sees the trend toward personalized luxury in her Idaho homes, as well. These include “sculptural soaking tubs, steam showers with light, sound and aromatherapy, tiles with hand-cut looks and subtle tonal differences, reeded or fluted textures, oversized area rugs and diaphanous drapes.”
“All during 2021, we worked with designers who wanted (and still want) the flexibility to customize their projects by using different colors and finishes for their vanities,” Hastings’ Gifford recalls. “For tubs, the solid surface materials remain popular because they have a supple texture and they are easy to clean and maintain.” The New York retailer also saw strong interest in hands-free faucets with white finishes and versatile wall-mounted vanities.
Technology continued to trend in kitchen and bath projects, and it shows no sign of slowing. Smart features have a growing presence in kitchens and bathrooms, Home Technology Association CEO Christian notes. “We are seeing entertainment products being installed in kitchens like waterproof TVs built into the counter backsplash, charging docks, tablets for cooking tutorials or recipe surfing, built-in ceiling speakers or a simple wireless speaker on the counter.” He is also seeing sleek, integrated outlets, lighting keypads and flush-mounted concealment systems so that the room’s electronics are present but hidden.
“With bathrooms, we are seeing a lot of circadian rhythm lighting being installed so that time spent in the bath is consistent with a homeowner’s sleep cycles,” he says. Additional bathroom technology trends cited by the designers include smart toilets, enhanced shower systems, built-in sound and lighting systems and smart shadings.
Machado-Rosas sums up the situation this way: “We saw a significant increase in clients asking for fully integrated smart technology in their homes. Because of the combination of enhanced affordability and ease of use, we expect to see this trend grow exponentially in the years to come.”
Predictions for 2022
ASID’s Chung is anticipating that flex spaces, universal design, locally sourced products because of supply line and sustainability concerns will trend in 2022. She also believes that the pandemic has increased the perceived value of designers in helping their clients navigate the challenges brought about by the pandemic.
HTA’s Christian anticipates a strong push toward wellness technology, indoor and outdoor home theater spaces and the death (at least short-term) in ‘just-in-time’ delivery systems. He also sees designers working earlier in the process with technology professionals to more seamlessly integrate their projects.
Hasting’s Gifford predicts the increasing importance of video tours to replace travel and live events where possible. He also anticipates more integrated sink/vanity options, solid surface tubs continuing their popularity and, though no one wants to hear this, he notes, price increases across all products because of the increased costs of raw materials.
Among the designers, Serra anticipates appliances with upgradable technology, more dining space in kitchens, and more storage for multiple cooks. Machado-Rosas expects to see technology show up in more products and for smart home systems to become more affordable, a continued attention to creating calming spaces, multi-purpose rooms, larger pantries and customized bathrooms. She also expects minimalism to trend strongly for its low-
Home builder Clark expects to see more hidden kitchens, induction, multi-function appliances and less upper cabinetry. She anticipates bathrooms getting more artisanal materials, sound and light enhancements for spa effects, and even what she calls family wellness suites. These would resemble high-end spa facilities with steam or sauna areas, grooming stations and central shower stalls.
While 2021 kept many design industry professionals at home, dealing with inventory and other challenges, 2022 is already shaping up to be a more active, in-person kind of year. The Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, paired again with the International Builders’ Show, will meet in person in Orlando in February. Exhibitors reflecting the trends observed by these professionals will be on hand to share their wares. I’ll be there. Will you?
Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC is an author, wellness design consultant and industry speaker. Her third book, Wellness by Design (Simon & Schuster), published September 2020. You can learn more about her Wellness Market presentations, books, Wellness Wednesdays Clubhouse conversations and consulting services at jamiegold.net.
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