Decisions, decisions. Whether you’re building a brand-new home or pondering a kitchen makeover, there are dozens of big and small details to lose sleep over.
We’ve enlisted architects Marcy Schulte, Sarah Nettleton, Geoffrey Warner and John Vetter to share their perspectives on hot home trends and the most popular projects, sustainability and making the most of your budget.
Q: What’s hot in kitchens?
MS: Everyone wants an eat-in kitchen and a large working island because there are more social activities around food, wine and cooking. We often knock down walls and open up the kitchen to the family room or other spaces. We turned a separate kitchen and dining room in a 1980s builder home into one big room.
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SN: Kitchens are the No. 1 remodeling project because it’s the part of the house that feels the most dated and typically done in the style of the era the home was built. What people want today goes back to the farmhouse idea of the kitchen as the heart of the home — with cooking on one side and a big table for seating on the other side. Now it’s updated with a center island, easy pullout drawers and walk-in pantries. Today’s kitchen fits more seamlessly aesthetically with the rest of the house.
GW: The party always happens in the kitchen, and people want it open to the rest of the house. Big center islands give you enough room to spread out, cook and work on a laptop. We use a lot of stock Ikea cabinets — they’re cost-effective, and people like the clean look. Granite is still popular because it’s cheaper now. But a lot of people are attracted to salvaged marble — it’s softer and can stain, but they like the tactile qualities.
Q: What’s the latest in bathroom design?
MS: Layered lighting is key for putting on makeup, shaving and ambient lighting. Radiant in-floor heat adds a spa feel. The full-glass-door shower is taking precedence over the tub.
GW: People now know what a dual-flush toilet is. There’s so much more to pick from and better design quality in water-saving features. And if we’re limited on space, we’ll put in an oversize step-in shower and give up the bathtub.
JV: Bathrooms are more open, with natural light and often have views of nature from a tub or sink. We put in integrated “furniture-like” cabinetry highlighting separate sink areas. The vanity cabinet appears to float off the floor with lighting underneath. People invest in really terrific showers with multiple heads.
Q: How can someone carve out space for a bathroom in an older house?
MS: In a 1940s Cape Cod, we took a small existing bathroom and expanded it into an adjacent closet. We took advantage of the shape, making a big shower at the end with vertical glass subway tile, investing in color and materials to make an impact.
Q: What space has grown in size and importance over the years?
MS: Many remodelings create room for a mudroom — people need that landing spot and transition from work to home, where you can not only drop a backpack or briefcase but charge your phone in a charging station.
Q: How can you create more storage in the must-have mudroom?
GW: One solution is to remove the sliding door on a back-entry closet and build open storage lockers and shoe cubbies.
Q: What are ways to enhance an uninviting exterior?
MS: We gave a dated 1980s suburban home a welcoming contemporary entry by adding rich materials and details. We put a wood trellis over the front door, added textural siding and clerestory windows. By the entry, we created an outdoor room with a raised stone patio and garden wall for privacy.
Q: Everyone wants more space. How do you get it on a limited budget?
SN: First, look at rearranging what you have and possibly removing walls or moving doorways. As a last resort, add on — but don’t just build big. An addition should be functional and well-designed.
Q: How can you spend your remodeling dollars wisely?
MS: Get the basic shape and structure of the room right, then invest in quality materials, and lastly layer in color and texture. Invest in great lighting in key locations.
GW: Decide what’s most important now, and what you can do later. We renovated our house on the 10-year plan. Do the best infrastructure features you can within your budget. You can add custom cabinets later — but not insulation.
SN: In a kitchen remodel, we cut out a round recessed area in the ceiling of the eating area and put in a strip light around the perimeter. The circular glowing light, combined with the round table, define the space. It’s a timeless architectural element that’s cheaper than a chandelier.
Q: How can you improve an older home’s aesthetic?
GW: Once you have to replace the windows, it’s a good time to put in larger windows — especially in the back of the house. Many older homes don’t have windows facing the yard or southern exposure. If possible, install low-maintenance, durable fiber-cement siding. Remove the old combination storm windows on a glassed-in porch, and open it up to let in more light.
Q: How can you make an older home work better for today?
JV: Try to repurpose existing spaces, and open them up to more light. Examine your family dynamic, from raising children to empty nesters, to rework spaces to fit your lifestyle. Don’t get caught up with what the market says you need.
Q: What small improvement made a big impact in your older home?
SN: I replaced a dining room window with French doors that give a view of the garden and invite you to step out to the outdoors. Adding the right door in the right place is pretty inexpensive vs. adding on a room. Fixing the connection between the house and the back yard is a big deal.
Q: What are some trends driving technology, materials and design?
MS: Living more sustainably with everything from the low-tech — a place for composting and collecting recycling — to high-tech automated home systems that control lighting, sound and temperature.
We’re using more quartz surfaces than granite. People like the tonal sleek contemporary look, and it’s easy to refresh with paint and accessories over time. Countertops are a matte finish rather than high-gloss. Backsplash matte tiles that look like concrete are popular.
GW: Clients are much more aware of sustainability, greener ways to use resources and overall energy efficiency. The energy code will get stricter, and that will affect design. Solar panels may be mandated at some point. People are more open about using metal and fiber-cement siding, which has been exploding over the last 10 years. Taking down walls in older homes and creating open floor plans are a big trend.
JV: Design-savvy clients are more concerned with the quality of space, what resonates with their lifestyle and the property they purchased — not a huge amount of square footage that lacks details. It’s a much more casual way of living and entertaining. Architect Sarah Susanka brought this principle to the foreground — but it kind of fell on deaf ears until the recession. Now more people are downsizing to a simpler lifestyle and want a more direct connection to nature.