With the national recovery of the housing market has come a return to larger and more expensive homes. Residential architects are reporting more specialized uses of space and the growing interest in special function rooms. Examples include outdoor living spaces, mud rooms, in-law suites, and safe rooms. With more specialized uses of space has come an increased interest in special features, many of which provide greater accessibility for an aging population. New technologies are also seeing a dramatic increase in popularity, both in new and remodeled homes. Popular new products offer greater energy efficiency and often provide households with fewer maintenance obligations.
These are some of the key findings from the AIA’s Home Design Trends Survey from the second quarter of 2013. Business conditions have been steadily trending up since early 2012, and—given the strong levels of inquiries for new projects, the growing levels of project backlogs, and the uniformly strong readings from firms across all regions of the country—workloads for residential architects promise to remain strong in the quarters ahead. During the past year, residential architects have reported a recovery in virtually every residential construction sector. Coupled with already strong readings in home improvement activity, there now is a very strong base for future improvement in market conditions.
Special function rooms rebound in popularity
As home sizes shrank during the housing downturn, special function rooms were particularly hard hit. Many households view special function rooms as discretionary, and therefore easier to eliminate as homes were downsized. Now that average home sizes are growing again, interest in special function rooms is beginning to reemerge.
Rooms that have seen particularly strong growth in popularity over the past year are outdoor living areas and rooms, and mud rooms/drop zones. Almost 63 percent of residential architects surveyed report that interest in outdoor living areas/rooms are increasing, while fewer than 2 percent report interest to be declining. For mud rooms/drop zones, more than 45 percent of respondents report increased interest, while only about 1 percent report a decline. For both of these areas, scores are well up from year-ago levels.
Au pair/in-law suites have likewise seen an increase in interest from year-ago levels. Storm rooms/safe rooms/hidden rooms are now reported to be increasing in acceptance, reversing the trends seen one year ago. Home offices are seeing more stable levels of interest from a year ago as well. While part-time and full-time telecommuting is likely just as prevalent, home offices are also common options for consultants and temporarily unemployed workers. But with the payroll numbers beginning to pick up, this may reduce the interest in home offices (Figure 1).
The increased enthusiasm in outdoor living has pushed this special function room to the top of the most popular list. A year ago, over a third of residential architect respondents rated home offices as the most popular special function room, a share that has fallen to just over 22 percent with this survey. Au pair/in-law suites have also increased in the rankings of the most popular special function rooms. With more workers in the workforce, the need for live-in child care is on the rise. Also, aging parents living with their children have generated interest in these spaces.