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It All Comes Down to Happiness

What’s in and what’s out usually dominate design discussions, but homeowners’ desires today transcend colors or square footage. Instead, words like comfort, happiness and versatility pepper conversations with designers asked about the consumer mindset today.

“Generally speaking, everyone wants things to be more casual these days, even in the city.” Even in more formal homes, “they want extremely relaxed, flexible, comfortable,” observes Manhattan designer and member of the AD 100 Liliane Hart. Overall, she says, “People are living more intimately.” A majority want to use all the spaces in their home with no room off limits to children or dogs.

Photo Mark Roskams | Liliane Hart Interiors

“Comfort is becoming even more of a request, and we are using a lot of performance fabrics — clients appreciate the durability,” says Christopher Grubb, founder and president of Arch-Interiors Design Group in Beverly Hills.

“People are much more in tune to their interiors, men and women alike,” observes Tony Sutton, president and owner of Est Est, an award-winning interior design firm in Scottsdale. “Men are much more involved in the process because they do care, and they understand the psychological influence the space has on mood.”

In a way, it all comes down to happiness, says Elissa Morgante, founding partner of Morgante Wilson Architects. “When we collaborate with our clients, we are more focused than ever on the simple priority of creating a home that brings them pleasure every time they walk in the door. There’s a lot of freedom in that approach to design because you’re not concerned about following rules or making a safe choice or thinking about whether something is in or out of style. Instead, the guiding principle is the idea that your home should make you happy — and that’s all about personal choices rather than following trends.”

Embracing Personal Style

Homeowners, particularly the affluent, continue to expect their residence to be uniquely their own. Compared to even a few years ago, they are surprisingly liberated and apt to pursue rooms, aesthetics, and special interests they consider essential to their lifestyle. Features such as outdoor connections, ancillary spaces and versatility contribute even more to desirability and value.

“With all the choices on the market, I find people are able to embrace their personal style and not feel like they have to follow a fad. Even trends they may not be fully committed to, if it feels right for a particular space or project, they will use a bit of it,” says Grubb.

“I am seeing a little bit of settling as far as styles are concerned. People aren’t as nervous about what’s the most popular style,” says Sutton. And the good news, he says, referencing the mix of architecture in new construction and renovations, is a variety of styles are trending across the U.S.

Donna Mondi

Inside and outside, the farmhouse style is waning. Contemporary is growing as a top preference, particularly for elevations, while newly streamlined expressions make traditional and regional vernaculars increasingly relevant, stoking demand.

Thinking Long-Term

No longer living in the moment and ready to change interiors on a whim, homeowners are looking for value and thinking long-term, something designers say they have been preaching for years. Antiques, whether single statement pieces or authentic accents, are back in favor along with higher-quality furnishings. “Smart people realize the value in doing it right the first time as opposed to instant gratification,” says Sutton.

“Pick a statement piece for the room, whether it’s a stunning chandelier, dramatic wall finish, or oversized piece of art, and put your money there. Save money on side tables, accent pieces, accessories, and pillows. Those items can be updated every 5-10 years to give you a new look,” explains Chicago designer Donna Mondi.

It’s All in the DETAILS

Rather than broad sweeps, details and incremental changes tell this year’s design story as linear forms begin to give way to softer shapes. “There is a strong swing toward sculptural furniture. Anything round, such as a curved banquette, round pillows, round rugs, sofas with curves, are really in. I am seeing a lot of color again. Everyone wants it. They are not interested in grey interiors anymore. I am using color in fabrics, even walls. The combination of rounded shapes and more color creates a lot visual interest,” shares Hart.

Morgante Wilson

“At our firm, we’ve noticed increased interest in architectural details this year, such as arched entryways and wood paneling. Plaster walls are also extremely popular. When it comes to furniture, caning, reeded details and curved forms, seem to be taking center stage,” says Anelle Gandelman, founder of A-List Interiors in Manhattan.

Black is back as a preferred and versatile design element, and it’s one indication of industrial chic finding its way into more residential settings. From black frames surrounding doors and windows, to the use of metals in railings, to window sizes and patterns along with laser-cut ornamental metal, elements associated with the industrial style have become desired additions to interiors.

A curved banquette is reimagined in a collection honoring Roche Bobois’ 60th anniversary.

What’s in demand this year? Wallpaper, which some designers say they employ more frequently than paint. An injection of technology has given this most traditional of finishes a new life. “There are more wallpaper options out there than ever, thanks to advances in technology. Manufacturers can now digitally create the beautiful, luxurious look of expensive hand-painted or hand-blocked papers, or embed wallpapers with materials such as mica, glass beads, or even capiz shells to add interest and texture,” says Morgante. “The bold prints, high-contrast colors and interesting textures available today are especially fun to incorporate in small ‘jewel box’ spaces such as powder rooms or foyers.”

A Birds Lampadaire and a caned Armand Chaise chair pay homage to whimsical classics.

Making Great Rooms Greater

Open plans combining great room, kitchen and dining are here to stay, at least for now, but the execution is increasingly nuanced. “Some of our clients are no longer interested in a completely open floor plan, but the functionality of a great room is still desirable. Rather than one large, cavernous open space, we are creating distinct zones with architectural details such as beams to visually divide the great room, creating the feeling of more inviting, intimate spaces within the larger room,” shares Gandelman.

Instead of one large seating arrangement in a large room, Hart creates several groupings. Swivel chairs add versatility and the ability to connect with more than one activity in the room. Another strategy is a game table or smaller table off to the side, which creates a functional area still connected to the rest of the room.

Personal spaces are moving to the top of many wish lists. Gandelman says, “We are also getting requests for smaller private spaces such as sitting rooms, dressing rooms, pantries and even vestibules to break up a floor plan. These smaller areas are wonderful to design because clients are willing to take more risks in a small space, and we are able to create ‘wonderful moments.’”

In new builds where the entire apartment is an open space, Hart sees flexible walls that move or can be folded back allowing the ability to change the configuration when needed. Last year, a concept home built by KB Homes included a movable wall that could expand a bar area in the kitchen for entertaining or add space to a home office/guest room.

Hidden Gems

From glass-enclosed wine rooms, to studies, to kitted-out laundry rooms and pet spas, ancillary spaces are in demand. They facilitate lifestyle and enhance value. “These little tiny spaces that were lower on the totem pole in terms of the big design attributes of a house suddenly become make-or-break features,” says K. Tyler, head of Interior Design at Morgante Wilson.

Rather than shouting for attention, some of the sexiest features today are tucked behind movable panels in bookshelves or secreted behind a partial wall. “Most of the time, when we design a hidden room or secret door, it’s purely for fun! They are unique, playful features that infuse a home with personality and character, and our clients love showing them off. At the same time, the ‘secret’ aspect of a hidden room makes it perfect for creating a space where homeowners can relax and unwind,” explains Morgante.

Photo by Marco Ricca Studio | A List Interiors

Grubb is transforming a second laundry room off a master bedroom into a private space he calls a “man spa.” Unfortunately, he adds, there isn’t enough room for a barber’s chair.

In kitchens, a full-length cabinet might open to reveal an office or working pantry. Butler’s pantries and messy kitchens sheltered behind a main kitchen are the secret sauce that makes an open kitchen/great room combo work so well, particularly for upscale homes.

Whether they set the tone for the interior, tease a stunning view or simply honor arrivals, foyers are also having a moment. “My goal is for anyone entering to instantly take notice, have their curiosity piqued, and get excited about what is to come next as they enter the home,” says Mondi. Additionally, foyers are used to direct attention to certain features, such as an amazing view. “If you have an important piece of art, we draw your attention to it with perfect placement and spot lighting.”

Photo by Michel Gibert

Indoor-Outdoor Connections

Indoor-outdoor synchronicity continues to transform floor plans. Increasingly, main rooms are oriented toward an outdoor tapestry of covered and open spaces, lounge areas, gardens, water and fire features. Transitions seemingly disappear, creating a cohesive experience as much outside as it is indoors. Technology continues to enable enhanced connections with larger windows and doors, screens that do more than block insects, and glass that can change from translucent to opaque. Look for more integrated courtyards and strategies to bring more light into the center of homes.

Photo by Michel Gibert

Be Well

On the cusp of becoming a megatrend, wellness promises to be equally transformative, dramatically altering the way homes and residents interact. Among wealthy consumers, wellness is already a concern and designers report gyms, workout spaces, massage rooms, spas and saunas are anticipated additions to upscale homes.

“Designers are well-versed at sourcing solutions that can offer a better daily life and creating environments that are optimized for the occupant’s comfort and accessibility. From biophilic elements to features that optimize acoustics, designers have already begun to think about how spaces impact people,” observes Paul Scialla, co-founder and CEO of global wellness innovator Delos, which pioneered the concept of wellness real estate. Delos also offers guidance and evidence to support the work of designers.

Scialla and Delos are taking the built environment and wellbeing to the next stage of evolution with a home intelligence system, DARWIN Home Wellness Intelligence, that continuously monitors and remediates air and water quality in the home. The addition of lighting keyed to circadian rhythms, also executed via DARWIN intelligence, further enhances mood, memory and quality of sleep. Rather than simply passively monitoring, this system actively improves indoor air and water quality.

What will future homes look like? From the vantage point at the beginning of a new decade, we seem to be in a unique position as we look ahead to the decade that follows with potential transformative innovations as well as an ongoing style evolution on the horizon.

By Camilla McLaughlin

This article appeared in Homes & Estates magazine. 

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It All Comes Down to Happiness

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