Sarah Van Arsdale - The watchword in real estate has always been: location, location, location. Anything else about a home can be changed: a bedroom can be added, a kitchen renovated, a garage torn down to make room for a garden. But you can do precisely nothing about the number of miles from the nearest grocery store or blocks to the library. And the surrounding neighborhood will make the value of the house plunge or skyrocket, regardless of the square footage.
This year, the watchword in home design seems to be: the economy, the economy, the economy. We're all feeling the percussive echoes of the crash of two years ago, no matter what field we're working in. And the tighter times are affecting not only how much we're spending on decorating and designing our homes, but also the choices we make about how we're decorating—everything from color to furnishings.
To get a sense of the design forecast for 2011 in three different areas of the United States, we talked with three design companies, one each in Georgia, Nevada, and Washington, DC. We asked the designers what they see in the offing for the coming year. You'll see there are some trends that seem to be holding true no matter what part of the country you're in, and there are other areas where the designers are seeing divergent desires in their clients.
Not surprisingly, across the board designers are hearing that clients are concerned about keeping costs down.
Jason Dunn and Michael Peters of Two Gays and A Design in Atlanta, Georgia said their clients are "definitely more intimidated by the cost of projects."
"Without a doubt, while the costly projects are put on hold, they are still highly desired," they said. Even if people know they can't afford those raw silk curtains or that Eames chair, they still lust after them.
Jill Abelman, of Insidestyle Home in Las Vegas agrees, and says that all her clients are "more budget-conscious, and trying to conserve costs."
The pinch is also being felt in Washington, D.C., where Sherry Ways of Kreative Ways & Solutions sees the economy as "dictating how much consumers are spending on their homes and thus, impacting what they purchase, where and how."
For Sherry Ways, this means simply paying close attention to what the client is saying about what they can afford and what look they want to achieve—something any designer ought to do even when times are flush."I work on finding the best economical solutions to their design dilemmas, while keeping a firm design aesthetic reflective of their personalities and lifestyles," she said.
Mr. Peters of Two Gays says his team tries to stay upbeat even in a down economy, while, like Ms. Ways, staying within budget.
"We usually ask our contractor and architect to create an itemized estimate for each project that we like to refer to as the 'wish list' and prioritize accordingly," Mr. Dunn said "It's always best not to make the client feel like they are broke, and instead encourage that what they can afford for the time being will be amazing."
Mr. Peters and Mr. Dunn know that many people simply want the best, and they see no harm in continuing to dream—while finding creative ways of achieving the same look without breaking the bank. "Even if the economy has had an impact, that shameless shopper is still trying on that Chanel bag or in our case, dreaming of that 18th century armoire," Mr. Peters says.
In Nevada, Ms. Abelman sees many clients trying to cut costs by taking on some aspects of a job themselves, by hiring their own contractors and shopping around for the best deal on products.
She's also finding that coming up with a new method for pricing is helping her retain or attract clients.
"We always mark up our furnishings when in a design agreement, but lately, we have been taking an hourly fee only for sourcing materials such as flooring so that clients can save. If they want us to purchase for them, we only take a 10% markup on these materials."
Clients seem to like having this option, Ms. Abelman said, even though they're often surprised when they learn, in paying by the hour, just how many hours it takes for their designer to track down even one piece.
"Many times we end up ordering the material anyhow, and the extra bonus is that our clients have a greater understanding of how much time it takes us to do our job," Abelman said.
She also sees many clients deciding to downsize, walking away from larger homes and investing instead in smaller homes, which they want very much to fix up. "I think many folks have moved away from that 'keeping-up-with- the-Joneses' mentality and are now focused on comfort and more realistic choices," Abelman said.
This downsizing, in turn, explains in part the continuing popularity of the multi-purpose room, because when a family, couple, or individual moves to a smaller home, "space is at a premium," and "so one room has to serve more than one function," Ms. Abelman said. Sherry Ways sees the continuing interest in the multi-purpose room as part of the trend toward making the home a place for relaxation, where clients "can be themselves."
In Georgia, Mr. Dunn and Mr. Peters have some clients who want a multi-purpose room, but others who want something more well-defined. "It's hard to tell what the future will be for multi-purpose rooms," Mr. Dunn said. "It depends on the need of the client."
One area where the economy—whether up or down—has a great effect on design is in color. This year, Pantone has announced that Honeysuckle is the color for 2011, and that we'll be seeing a lot of it.
Ms. Ways, who calls herself "a color expert and therapist for interiors," pays close attention to color trends, and agrees with Pantone that Honeysuckle and other pinks will be popular this year, "as well as the citrus-inspired bright yellows. Colors that are clean in character with feelings of hope will be in," she said, adding that "2011 will be the year for playful happy colors filled with the emotional response of appreciation."
Mr. Peters and Mr. Dunn agree, but said they think that "cooler grays will find their way into the mix to make a color like Honeysuckle pop." And yet, Ms. Abelman said she doesn't see Honeysuckle winning any popularity contests this year. "I don't see it! Being that it's related to pink, I think it will be a hard sell," she said. Like Mr. Peters and Mr. Dunn, she sees more gray tones coming into their own this year. "I have more faith in the taupy lavender tones they are showing with charcoal grays and I also like the new bright greens when paired with espresso chocolate."
One surprising area that may be affected by the economy is Green Design, a concept that was gaining mightily in popularity until the crash of 2008, and which now seems to be limping a bit.
In DC, Ms. Ways sees the interest in Green Design as continuing, with her clients "taking a strong interest in keeping their homes energy efficient, and they are interested in the newest green products that are available and affordable." In fact, she cited the use of eco-friendly products as a trend that will continue into the coming year and beyond.
But "affordable" seems to be the key word here when it comes to Green Design.
And while "restoration is always a desire of the client in any design," Mr. Peters says they don't see it at the top of their clients' lists.
"Sometimes going Green can mean going broke. The environment is definitely a component to interior design, but at times, it can be a damaging one to the designer" if it means telling the client they're about to sail over budget, Mr. Dunn said.
When we asked the designers what trends they predict will continue into 2011, Mr. Peters, Mr. Dunn, and Ms. Abelman said the use of mixing different looks and elements will remain popular.
"I really like the trend of mixing rustic reclaimed material with sleek stainless contemporary details on furnishings," Ms. Abelman said.
Mr. Peters and Mr. Dunn see this trend as making use of the old while bringing in the new. They also noted that small, rather than large, recessed lighting will help update the look of any room, and that in flooring, "darker and richer-toned hardwood floors are kicking the door open again, even throughout the entire home—including the kitchens and bathrooms—rather than breaking up each room with tile, for instance." This look makes a home "feel more open and transitional," they said.
Ms. Ways also sees this interest in flooring, but in DC, the interest she sees is more in the sustainable materials such as cork and bamboo.
In addition, floral design is something that Two Gays see as pleasing their clients, "whether it's a simple vase with sticks or a $5,000 intricate floral arrangement."
In Nevada, Ms. Abelman sees a trend in less busy design.
"I have noticed that most clients have moved away from anything that is 'busy': no large prints, lots of textures instead of pattern. All of our clients are moving toward a quieter, more textural aesthetic in all materials and fixtures," she said.
Even though the economy hasn't yet bounced back to where we'd like, there are hopeful signs that the system is righting itself, and many people are entering 2011 with more hope for a brighter year. We share that hope, and wish all our readers the very best for a happy, healthy, and well-designed 2011.
This article has been reprinted with the permission of the Sheffield School, New York, NY. Sheffield began as an Interior Design school in 1985, and then expanded its course offerings to train people in other design-related fields, including Feng Shui, Wedding and Event Planning, and Jewelry Design. With thousands of active students and more than 50,000 graduates, Sheffield has trained more design professionals than any school in the world.