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Small Talk

Kitchens and baths do more with less
By Kermit Baker
May 10, 2010

Current kitchen and bath designs stress efficiency and simplicity, as these areas of the home are being somewhat downsized in the face of continued weakness in the housing market. In spite of more pressure on space, kitchens are taking on more functions—such as recycling centers and electronic recharge and storage areas—and remain the command center of the home. For both kitchens and baths, households are placing a premium on features and products that promote energy efficiency, environmental sustainability and adaptability.

These are some of the key findings of the American Institute of Architects’ Home Design Trends Survey for the fourth quarter of 2009. With a focus on kitchen and bath design trends, this effort surveyed residential architects on emerging developments they are observing in their work relating to residential design and/or home remodels.


ADDED FUNCTIONS

With homes becoming smaller and more efficient, kitchens and bathrooms have also been downsized despite continuing to be a central focus of homes. Historically, home sizes have shrunk somewhat during economic recessions, but an emerging consensus contends that in the coming decade, new homes will be smaller on average than they were in the past decade.

As home sizes moderate, space in the kitchen is being used differently. According to the Home Design Trends Survey, 14% of surveyed residential architects reported that the number of food preparation and food storage areas in the home was increasing, while 19% saw them decreasing. This pattern was very similar for the size of kitchens: 14% reported gains while 18% reported declines. Just a year ago, the reverse was true, with more respondents reporting an increase in the number and size of kitchen areas than those who saw a decrease. Cumulatively, since the survey began in 2005, there has been a fairly significant reversal in the growth of kitchen areas in the home.

While space is at a premium in the kitchen and architects need to do more with less square footage, some functions have retained their importance and others have even increased in importance. Areas devoted to recycling are finding growing favor, according to most of the architects surveyed. Pantry areas, computer workstations and areas devoted to recharging laptops, cell phones and PDAs also remain very popular functions within the kitchen. Integrating kitchens with family space remains a popular option, as does designing them for accessibility and adaptability.

Sustainability continues to be a popular consideration for kitchen products. Renewable material countertops and flooring still enjoy increasing popularity, while that of drinking water filtration systems and natural wood cabinets is beginning to stabilize.


BATH MATTERS

Trends in the number and size of bathrooms in homes are similar to those for kitchens. Just 17% of respondents reported that the number of bathrooms was still increasing, while 8% saw a trend toward fewer bathrooms in homes. Percentages were similar for the size of bathrooms. Both number and size saw peak growth rates in 2006, according to previous AIA surveys, with the pace slowing significantly over the past three years.

With bath sizes stabilizing in homes, fewer features are being added. One exception is radiant-heated floors, which are sparking growing interest due to energy efficiency and comfort considerations. Also sustaining interest are bath features that enhance accessibility and adaptability.

Energy efficiency, sustainability and accessibility are also key themes in popular bathroom products. Water-saving toilets in general and dual-flush toilets in particular are seen as increasing in popularity by a majority of architects surveyed. Along with LED lighting, these three product lines seem to be gaining in favor even as households are generally scaling back on their investment in housing. Doorless and no-threshold showers, as well as handshowers, are bathroom products that promote accessibility and continue to be in demand. Other upscale bath products are not faring as well in this new cost-conscious housing environment. Requests for steam showers and towel warming drawers/racks are reported to be declining in popularity by about a third of respondents.

While floor plans may be smaller, design considerations are getting bigger to encompass not only green products and practices, but also Universal Design. For architects, at least in this economic climate, less is more.


—Kermit Baker, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is the AIA’s chief economist. He is also senior research fellow at the Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) at Harvard University.
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