Instead of a testimony to wealth or status, homes today invite interaction and have become touchstones, fostering ties with family, friends, nature and even ourselves.
By Camilla McLaughlin
From social media to architecture, connections are what matter today. And when it comes to house and home, some of our very basic ties are being rewired. “One way is to think of it [the house] is as just a box that protects me. Another is that the house literally becomes an extension of you,” says Erik Peterson, a principal of PHX Architecture in Phoenix, noting that smart home technology takes this even a step farther so the house totally reacts to your needs. “That’s a different thought process, compared to how to we’ve ever lived before, where the house is totally responding and reacts to you. That’s kind of cool,” he says.
Examine any of the trends in home design today — open floor plans, outdoor living, special-use rooms — and you discover an underlying desire to connect to what renews and affirms our spirit.
“When I am working with clients, we talk a tremendous amount about connections,” says Wendy Saling, a psychotherapist in private practice outside Philadelphia, noting pretty much everything ends up being about connections. “It’s the intersection with other people, whether it be family or friends. People need to have a community, and feel connected and a part of something. It doesn’t matter how old you are, and it’s incredibly important for children.”
“Connections are the biggest priority,” says Kristen Rivoli, an interior designer in Winchester, Massachusetts, “because it’s about how my clients will live in their home and their quality of life. They want spaces that will make it easy for them to connect as a family, entertain family and friends, have a connection/direct view to the outside … a place that is the center of their universe, so to speak.”
“Architecture has a lot to do with connection,” observes Elissa Morgante, a principal of Morgante Wilson Architects in Chicago. Floor plans play a major role, but she says it’s also about “how light and color knit spaces together. When family members, or people in general, are in a space, they either feel comfortable and connected with the space through the integration of light and the footprint, or the room will seem very solitary and confined.”
“People are craving more open-planned spaces where there isn’t so much division between rooms, and that allows more connectivity between the family on a daily basis, but also allows much more fluid and open entertaining, and I think that’s really important to people now. A lot of people, especially since 2008, are doing more things at home, entertaining at home, not being out as much, and coming back to family, coming back to bringing friends and family into the home and making more meaningful connections within the home,” explains Phyllis Harbinger, an author and designer who is principal of Design Concepts Interiors in Cortland Manor, New York. “Even though the economy is getting better, the trend has not stopped.”
“More and more clients, even people who call themselves traditionalists, want open floor plans,” says Morgante. “They want to feel that connection of space and visually connect with people in another room.”
In a world where most of the day is spent creating or maintaining connections, not all of which are meaningful, home becomes even more of a refuge, a place to renew what is most important. “People want to feel their house is nurturing them as opposed to being a statement about them,” says Morgante.
Most want to use all the rooms in their homes, including the very wealthy, who still desire formal living and dining rooms. “They are still formal but they have an approachable, warm feeling of soft luxury and a warm palette,” says Morgante. Finishes might be expensive and require more maintenance but the rooms are still furnished in a way that says “come use this.”
Another way homes nurture a sense of connection is through a coherent palette. It’s not the same in every room, Morgante cautions, but it is consistent on every level. “It continues throughout the house and it brings calm. You feel very connected no matter where you are.”
“It’s about coming into a place that is more tranquil, more subtle in color,” says Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing for Sherwin Williams Co., who expects 2016 color trends to continue the evolution of last year’s penchant for less chaotic, softer, lighter hues and soft blush tones.
Nature used to be what was on the outside, and the original purpose of a structure was protection from the elements. Today what’s important is how a house connects the occupants with nature, literally and visually. Here, too, the trend gets a boost from technology, allowing for glass curtain walls in high rises, larger windows and disappearing doors. “Outdoor living is always on a client’s list. No matter where they live, they want a connection to the outside. The challenge becomes making this happen,” even in cold climates or locations where temperatures might hover close to 100 degrees, observes Phil Kean, owner of Phil Kean Designs in Winter Park, Florida. The desire is universal, according to Kean, who frequently designs homes outside the U.S. There might be differences from country to country, but, he says, “Everyone wants to be outside.”
Further evidence of the desire to connect with nature can be seen in the number of materials — including wood, fibers and green walls — being incorporated inside homes as design features. This is particularly true for new, ultra-sleek contemporary high rises. “We see a huge trend in natural materials coming into the home, and that’s been going on for a long time,” observes Jordan, who expects to see medium-to-light wood tones in demand.
While sleeker contemporary or transitional looks might be in favor, many homes retain a connection to history, whether it’s the architecture, story of the property, a family treasure or a classic design. Whether working with historic or current properties, Sue-Joli Rioux, president of Tres Jolie Maison in Buffalo, Naples and Miami, says she makes a point of connecting the past with the present and the future. “Our history is what makes us who we are. Classic design is just that, classic. It is timeless and therefore transcends trends,” but it also can be anywhere on the scale from traditional to modern.
Channeling the Unspoken
“As human beings, we all crave connectivity to different things at different points in our lives. It’s important for designers to really listen and tune into clients. There are always hidden desires behind the words, and our job is to pull that out and let them [clients] own it,” says Harbinger.
Whether the goal is a place for kids or dad, special-use rooms rank high on wish lists. Connecting with children might be a driver for open-concept floor plans, but architects and designers encounter growing interest in spaces just for kids. Some, such as tech areas or homework stations, are geared to balance the desire to hide away in their rooms. Others, such as kid-focused game rooms, playrooms, and outside activities areas, are designed for kids to be with their friends without having to be directly in the living space.
“Parents want homes where kids want to hang out with their friends,” says Kean, voicing a request he hears with growing frequency. “I am not sure if parents what to know what the kids are doing, or they want the cool house where everyone wants to hang out.” Still, Kean says, if we are talking about their children, it’s important to a lot of people to be part of that which their children are experiencing.
Open-concept floor plans might be today’s No. 1 trend, but most designers also see a parallel in requests for away spaces. Some parents want to escape the family hubbub; for others the goal might be a quiet spot to decompress and reconnect with one’s spirit. These desires take on any number of manifestations, from a sitting room off a master bedroom or a nook adjacent to a main living area to meditation spaces, yoga rooms and elaborate spa areas. Designers report more clients requesting Zen baths with bamboo, private terraces, water features and tubs that promote wellness.
Also, architects such as Morgante report growing interest in hidden rooms, usually accessed via a concealed door in a bookcase. The goal isn’t security but rather just a quiet, private space.
Man caves also top demands for special-use rooms, and they are becoming more elaborate than just a place to watch the game with the guys. A recent space Harbinger designed included a pool table, bar, hang-out area and golf simulator that was adjacent to an extensive gym and indoor basketball court.
Post-recession, homes also reflect our changing relationships with money. “People who never thought about a budget or how much something costs, are now asking. They are much more aware, more educated and inclined to spend on things that are going to last, and buy quality” rather than anything over the top that is not going to serve a greater good in their life, says Harbinger.
Connections also are on developers’ horizons. “Build it and they will connect” is no longer a philosophy. Instead, developers create a plan that fosters ties among residents, and most developers are not willing to leave this important facet to happenstance. Instead, locations for residences, pedestrian plans, sports, and even a calendar of diverse activities are calculated with an eye toward giving residents opportunities to forge new ties.
Developers speaking at a recent real estate conference emphasized the value of plans built around this objective. At communities such as Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina, connections are a cornerstone for development. “It’s about how that home fits into the neighborhood, how the trails and waterways connect to other places, and positioning public spaces so those connections are natural,” says Stephanie Gentemann, a partner in g2 Design, an architecture firm in Hilton Head. Nature is another important facet in this new design philosophy. Not only do developers strive to preserve the natural setting but they see enhancing residents’ connections with nature as an important goal.