Architects Share Design Trends

Financial considerations and Americans’ evolving lifestyles are driving preferences in home design.

According to the latest Home Design Trends Survey by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), houses and lots in the United States are continuing to shrink, as is homeowners’ desire for high-end features and amenities. What’s growing is a wish for greater accessibility within the home, which goes hand in hand with an increased interest in more open floor plans and layouts that allow flexibility to accommodate Americans’ evolving lifestyles.

While it’s typical for new home sizes to decrease during recessions, the AIA notes that the downward trend in lot sizes, square footage, and interior volumes began before the current recession and housing bust. Interestingly, signs indicate that new home sizes are continuing to decline even as the market begins recovering. Fifty-seven percent of the architects polled for the survey reported decreases in home sizes, compared with 21 percent who reported increases. Driving this trend for smaller homes are concerns about rising energy costs and the rocky economy, combined with a desire for reduced property maintenance.

The survey found that smaller homes are becoming more popular at every price point. More than 41 percent of architects polled indicated that upper-end homes are getting smaller, compared with 9 percent who see homes in this segment getting bigger. Nearly 46 percent said that the square footage of entry-level homes is decreasing, as well; only 2 percent said these homes are growing.

But smaller homes don’t necessarily mean less usable space, particularly if they are designed intelligently. The increased interest in open floor plans reported by 56 percent of survey respondents and the growing desire for accessibility reported by 60 percent of respondents mean that smaller homes actually could boast more usable space, as well as space that’s easier to use. The aging population and growth of multigenerational households both are driving the need for open layouts and accessibility, the report finds.

The flexibility allowed by open floor plans also accommodates the many different lifestyle needs of Americans. Rooms that pack multiple functions inside their footprints are more useful to modern families than several single-purpose rooms that are rarely used.

Architects report that homeowners are more often eschewing upscale landscaping and outdoor features (such as swimming pools, gazebos, and tennis courts), but that interest is still relatively high for outdoor living spaces like decks, patios, porches, and rooms such as kitchens and lounging areas, as well as for low-maintenance landscaping.

By Stephani L. Miller. This article first appeared in CUSTOM HOME 2010 magazine.