This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 edition of The High End magazine. For more information about The High End, click here.

To shine some light on what’s ahead for homes, we take a look at 10 ideas, products and attitudes that promise to impact homes as we head toward the end of the decade.

By Camilla McLaughlin

What’s driving innovations for homes is a synchronicity between evolving consumer attitudes, new products and emerging technologies. Today, consumers play an important role in this process. Rarely are consumers cited as change agents, but consumers themselves have changed.

Instead of being recipients of what the market offers, they have become savvy, active participants in the process. When it comes to homes of the future, nothing matters more than the consumer.

Millennials Are Change Agents 

Expect to see millennials become luxury players. Right now, their impact on high-end markets is minimal, but this demographic is already a force shaping future home designs, particularly regarding energy efficiency and sustainability. “This is the homebuyer of the future and builders should be constructing homes to meet their desires,” says Lee Ann Head, vice president of research for the Shelton Group. “According to our Energy Pulse studies, millennials want more energy-efficient homes and the technology to easily monitor and control their energy consumption. Millennials are also more discerning about certifications and prefer certified energy-efficient homes.” Also, they are “very aspirational about solar energy and are adopting solar panels at a much higher rate than the overall population.”

Approximately 35 percent of U.S. homebuyers are millennials, and 67 percent of them are first-time buyers. But having delayed a first-home purchase, many millennials do not fit into the typical first-time-buyer profile. “It’s important to note that the first-time homebuyer is not what it used to be. Many of these folks are better established in their careers and many are more upscale. Therefore, many of them are in the market for their ‘dream home’ not their ‘starter home.’  Therefore, the list of features I’ve noted, which could drive a home price up, is not necessarily out of the question for these buyers,” explains Head. And, she adds, the greener homebuyer tends to be a better-educated, somewhat more upscale buyer.

Still Debating Whether Size Matters  

If there was any given in the world of upscale real estate, it was bigger is better. Today, any consideration of home sizes opens the door to an entirely new dialogue based on diverse and changing consumer attitudes. For trophy homes, there is still nothing modest about square footage; uber properties are getting larger with increasingly lavish amenities. But designers, Realtors and architects also say clients want smaller homes and plans that engage every square foot. “People want to use their whole house. Fewer and fewer people are willing to have spaces just for formal occasions,” shares Elyssa
Morgante with Morgante Wilson Architects in Evanston, Illinois.

Even the tiny house trend has found a luxury expression with what Florida developer Frank McKinney is calling a Micro Mansion. With just under 3,000 square feet under roof, McKinney’s tiny home is hardly micro, but it is still smaller than some luxury master suites. The inspiration he says came from Miami condos and also clients desiring a single-family residence in South Florida, but not another large estate they might only use a few weeks a year. Still, they expect a level of quality and finishes worthy of a mansion. McKinney has not compromised on finishes, design or drama in this ultra-luxurious home that includes unique features such as counters made of sea glass.

Consumer research was the foundation for Bassenian Lagoni’s adaptable homes. Dramatic outdoor spaces include a sunken living room.
Photos courtesy of Chris Mayer Photography and Bassenian Lagoni Architects

Functionality & Finishes        

“It’s more about really functional spaces and higher-quality finishes,” says Chicago designer Donna Mondi. “Some people don’t want a living room. Instead, they’d rather have the space be a home office or a really beautiful study or library. A lot of it is more the function of the space than less space,” she explains. Like many designers, Mondi says consumers are becoming more discerning. “There is an appreciation for how a great faucet feels in their hands or a great doorknob feels versus a cheap one.”

Getting Smarter  

Interactive design has completely altered the way we engage with our homes. “It has been a real cultural change that’s permeated through all product design. People are more demanding and more aware of the ease of use of interactive design because of their experience with smart phones,” says Marc Hottenroth, director of Industrial Design at GE Appliances. “We are starting to see the trend moving from tap and select on the phone to gestures and voice and then having a conversation with the product via a digital assistant.”

The addition of artificial intelligence takes interactivity to a new level. Already, it is boosting the IQ of smart homes by enabling protocols such as geofencing in which a predetermined series of actions (security disabled, lights turning on, music playing) are triggered when an owner (and their smart phone or watch) reaches a preset distance from home. Looking ahead, Hottenroth speculates on scenarios in which we might purchase say a rack of ribs at a grocery store and artificial intelligence would call up recipes and transmit them to a kitchen appliance. “There are all sorts of interactions that could take place that we never even thought about,” he says.

Florida developer Frank McKinney’s Micro Mansion
Photos courtesy of Ed Butera, IBI Designs and  Frank Mckinney

Can You Hear Me Now?

“We are moving toward rich interaction and the next wave is having no interface,” Hottenroth explains. Instead of using manual or digital controls to operate an oven, washer or other appliance, we will simply talk to them. Currently, GE has a digital assistant, Geneva, which meshes with Alexa or Google Home and enables consumers to control a number of appliances using voice commands. They can add minutes to a wash cycle, extend time in the oven or turn on the dishwasher from their bedside. They can ask if their laundry is clean or how much time is left on a cycle. Or Geneva — with a little help from her
digital friends — can keep clothes tumbling in the drier a little longer. Unfortunately, folding clothes is not an option. Yet.

Wellness

Wellness as a concept for homes has been around for a few years, and most of the emphasis has been on construction materials and air quality. Now consumers and builders are turning attention to other aspects of wellness and materials that compromise air quality. The WELL certification for homes has been available for a few years, and new nonprofit advocacy groups such as Wellness Within Your Walls and the Sustainable
Furnishings Council bring attention to furnishings and other products brought into the home. Expect to see more certifications for homes such as Indoor airPLUS.

More Than Cooking

Steam ovens, introduced a few years ago, tapped into new consumer preferences for healthier food prep. Following that trend, several new products take wellness and kitchens in a new direction, which expands on the idea that a kitchen can be a place to grow as well as prepare food, a concept often spied in one version or another of kitchens of the future. “Maybe it’s just California being healthy eaters, I say we’ve definitely seen steam ovens as well as composting as a trend. We integrate a lot of composting. Not only do you have your garbage and your recycling, but you also have your compost. That’s involved in every kitchen now,” says San Francisco designer Kriste Michelini.

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, a new appliance from WLabs of Whirlpool Corporation, the Zera Food
Recycler, took home awards in several categories including Eco-Design and Sustainable Technologies. Using an automated process, Zera can break down a week’s worth of food waste from the average family into ready-to-use homemade fertilizer in 24 hours. All it takes is a push of the button or the Whirlpool mobile app.

The Urban Cultivator, a residential version of a commercial product, brings the ability to grow herbs and greens into the kitchen. The product can be free standing or installed to blend with existing cabinetry and looks very much like an undercounted wine refrigerator. It includes automatic air circulation, watering and custom formulated organic plant food. Growing potential include greens such as kale and arugula as well as herbs.

The Urban Cultivator
Photos courtesy of the urban cultivator

Flexibility & The Sharing Economy 

Today, homeowners typically stay in their homes for an average of 8 to 10 years, so it’s no surprise flexibility has emerged as a desired attribute for homes. While most attention is focused on rooms that can be adapted in multiple ways, architects are focused on ways homes overall can adapt to the changing needs of homeowners. For the 2016 International Builders’ Show, Newport Beach architects Bassenian Lagoni (BL) designed two homes geared toward changing lifestyles. “We wanted a home that can morph and flex over time,” says architect Hans Anderle, who was on the BL design team. In both models, the entry-level Contemporary Farmhouse or move-up Contemporary Traditional, fluid floor plans enable rooms to be used in a number of ways and are enhanced with seamless indoor/outdoor connections on multiple sides of the homes. Additionally, both homes incorporate spaces giving families options to adapt the home to their own lifestyle. A first-floor suite with a mini-kitchen is suited for adult children, grandparents or visiting family. But an outside entry also makes it ideal for Airbnb guests or for a home office. Both homes include another separate space for rentals or guests or a home office. Not only do these designs accommodate changing spatial needs of a family, but the intent was also to include ways for entry-level owners to afford the home initially and then adapt it as their lifestyle changed.

Changing Architecture 

Architecture is not static. Instead it’s always evolving. Right now, contemporary holds sway, but still it’s rooted in regional vernaculars, which syncs with the growing consumer desire for authenticity. Look for more transitional styles in new homes as well as existing homes as more owners opt to renovate rather than move. Even hard-edge contemporary styles are softening in some regions.

Traffic 

Traffic and gridlock aren’t often mentioned as change agents, particularly for homes. However, in some cities, both — along with access to alternate transportation — play a role in home values, pumping up prices and demand. Self-driving cars are often cited as a potential solution, but even urban planners don’t have a solid take on the impact on cities, let alone housing. Some believe autonomous transportation will create more demand for suburban locations.

The recipe for a home of the future: indoor/outdoor merger, authentic materials, and dramatic design.
Photo courtesy of Chris Mayer Photography and Bassenian Lagoni Architects