Kitchen Bath Trends

What’s Hot in Kitchen and Bath Upgrades

As housing sales have begun to improve, architects report that they are finding more homeowners inquiring about home improvements, and especially kitchens and bathrooms. They’re the last spaces to be downsized when the economy struggles, and the first to be upgraded with new trends, products, and materials when it rebounds, according to Kermit Baker, chief economist for the American Institute of Architects (AIA). For details, we talked with Baker about the results of AIA’s recent “Home Design Trends” survey.

Allstate Blog: Why are kitchens and baths last to be scaled back, and first to be improved?

Baker: Kitchens and baths have always gotten the most attention of any room; they’re where fashion and function come together, and [where] homeowners spend a disproportionate share of their housing dollars. When they downsize, those are the spaces where they least want to make concessions. And, when markets return, they’re first to be added back.

AB: So, would you say kitchens are “back” now?

B: It’s not that they lost their place, but after years of focus, there wasn’t as much interest in kitchens because of the economy. [But, now] people are again thinking about redoing that room and adding technology—[making it] a place to use a computer, charge a phone, or filter water.

AB: Your survey also showed more interest in recycling stations and pantries. Is that a long-term trend?

B: More homeowners want larger pantries to store supplies; the same goes for recycling areas. But that’s beginning to change as more towns go to single-stream [recycling systems], so people won’t [need the extra room] to separate trash [in the future].

AB: What about outdoor kitchens? They seem to have come on strong.

B: In some areas [the interest in outdoor kitchens] is growing. We’ve been surprised how popular they’ve become in cold climates. What’s more important, though, is how homes are integrating interior and exterior space.

Kermit Baker - AIA

AB: That’s interesting. So, is there a tangible benefit to remodeling right now?

B: In a hot market, the return on investment is higher than in a softer market. [But] there may be truth that costs may be lower now and availability of a high-quality hire better. [For instance,] some in-demand architects or contractors may be less interested in a small kitchen upgrade in a stronger market.

AB: Your survey also shows interest in adapting homes for older residents; how?

B: For those wanting to age in place, they seek zero-threshold showers, grab bars, levers instead of knobs, wider doorways and hallways, and kitchens easier to navigate around.

AB: Do you expect more adaptation for multi-generational living?

B: We have a growing [trend toward] a multi-generational living environment. I think a certain number of older parents will move in with their children. What we saw most during the downturn was grown children returning home.Yet, we didn’t see great evidence that homeowners spent money to revamp their houses since it seemed a temporary phenomenon.

AB: I bet some parents are hoping that to be the case. So, what does drive people to spruce up their homes?

B: People spend according to how long they plan to stay. With mobility rates down because of difficulty reselling, more may be willing to invest, but they do so first by upgrading heating systems and replacing windows, [projects] that give a strong return on investment. Redoing a kitchen and bathroom make sense if homeowners stay put, since the greater costs are harder to justify [right now].

AB: What about sustainability?

B: There’s still interest, but it may have slowed. People still want renewable countertops and flooring, but there’s less interest [in sustainability] than a year ago; perhaps, [because many] already made these changes.

AB: You also saw strong interest in energy-efficient bathrooms, but where?

B: Top on the list is LED lighting, followed by water-saving and dual-flush toilets, and low-flow showerheads and faucets. But there’s inconsistency since there’s greater interest in upscale showers, which may use more water. And there’s interest in radiant-heated flooring, which uses electricity.

AB: How do you explain those inconsistencies?

B: People don’t seem to want to give up certain comforts.

AB: Thanks for chatting, Kermit. Great stuff.