The Way We Live Now


It's easy to define a decade once it's over. Remember residential design in the '80s? Excess and opulence, McMansions and mix 'n' match. The '90s? Minimalism, Asian influences and spiritualism. But here we are in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium, and a burning question is emerging:

Will a leather recliner with built-in cup holders be the home design icon of the double-ohs?

Not necessarily, say design professionals and forecasters, who have enough clues from the first five years to make predictions about the decade as a whole. Naturally, there are trends, counter-trends, and contradictions; but that just makes the discussion more interesting.

Normally, new trends don't start at the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31 and end as the last strains of "Auld Lang Syne" fade away 12 months or 10 years later. But in the case of the '00s, many experts point to one event near the beginning of the decade that changed how Americans felt about their homes. That would, of course, be 9 / 11.

Ray Allegrezza, editor-in-chief of Furniture Today, characterizes the '00s as the Decade of Coming Home. "We're rethinking our priorities," he says. This decade's furniture is more comfortable and more casual than ever before, but he also believes Americans are more open to change and are trying new things -- at least in home decor.

Whether people are actually spending more time in their houses and apartments since 9-11 is open to debate, but there are plenty of signals that there has been an upswing in interest in all things home-related. Americans are renovating their houses in record numbers.

"Most people don't want rooms they can't use," says Suzanne Levin Silverman Lapides, design associate at Louis Mazor in Baltimore. Designers are now working with builders and renovators more than they have in the past, she says. They are no longer just decorators.

Home and Garden Television saw double-digit percentage increases in primetime viewers the last three years. Shows like ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy are hits. Lee Snijders, designer and host of HGTV's Design on a Dime believes the design show phenomenon is "the trend of the decade."

Furniture sales are up. More people are entertaining at home. And the increasing popularity of home offices and home theaters suggests that Americans are hunkering down more than they used to.

Oasis of wellness

Designer and futurist Christopher Lowell believes "cocooning," a concept that had been around for a decade, became fact after 9 / 11. "People walked back into their homes and really looked at them." And then decided to make changes and improvements.

Lowell describes the homes of the '00s as sexy, genderless, flexible, uncluttered and infused with a sense of wellness. (That last because of the increased popularity of the spa experience.) When you look around your living room, you may disagree, but that's just because you're not On Trend.

When Christopher Lowell Enterprises recently conducted an online survey of young couples, the results were surprising. The majority said they got their ideas not from shelter magazines, design books or TV but from places they went to eat, drink and play. That is, bars, restaurants, spas and hotels.

"They want to bring the public space experience into the home," Lowell says.

What people are looking for in new homes to some degree bears that out. For 30 years, the size of single-family homes increased every year until 2001, says Gopal Ahluwalia, staff vice president of research for the National Association of Home Builders. Since then, it's stabilized at 2,330 square feet, but the volume is rising. In other words, homebuyers are demanding higher ceilings.

"People want more light, more height, more openness," he says. "It's not only shelter needs but lifestyle needs." They are asking for "his and her" bathrooms next to the master bedroom (what Donna Warner, editor-in-chief of Metropolitan Home, calls "hotel suite" bedrooms); spa appointments; lots of technology involving security systems, energy management and lighting control; and grand kitchens that include restaurant-grade appliances and two dishwashers.

"In the '80s and '90s, the focus was totally on space," says Ahluwalia. "Now there's more of a trend to quality features, top-of-the-line surfaces, 10-foot ceilings and hardwood floors instead of carpeting." People want luxury appointments, he adds, even if they aren't going to use them. Call it the Pampered Decade.

How this Pampered Decade differs from the opulent '80s is that people want luxury without ostentation, says Davis Re-mignanti, design consultant for "They want beautiful fabrics and beautiful woods, but they don't want to wear their luxury on their sleeve."

Trend forecasting

There's a "two-headedness" to residential design in this decade, Remignanti adds. Call it the Janus Decade, after the Roman god of gates and doorways with two faces looking in opposite directions. We haven't left the 20th century behind yet, but we're eager for the future.

Right now, he explains, interior designers are mixing the "new with the crude." These latter are furnishings that are clearly not refined, like a weathered piece of naive artwork. Furniture manufacturers are using high-tech metals with wood recycled from old barns in Europe.

"The future is mysterious," Remignanti says. "The past is comforting." This will change, he believes, in the next decade, which will be all about technology and industrial looks. And talk about forecasting: he thinks the next decade (that would be the 2020s) will cast a nostalgic eye to the past century again.

Home furnishings trend forecaster Michelle Lamb sees the struggle between old and new as the most important feature of the '00s. "It's being played out in every aspect of life," she says, "from politics to decorating style. When it comes to decor, I see a polarization that has more to do with belief systems than aesthetics."

One group is ready for what's trendy, like the new loft style (youthful, sleek, contemporary furnishings). The other is looking for the stability of past forms. Traditional styles like formal French are gaining ground, she says. Surprisingly, the groups don't necessarily divide according to age. Baby boomers aren't the only consumers interested in traditional furnishings. Members of Generation X, raised with little or no ritual, are now looking to the past as an anchor -- at least when they furnish their apartments.

Information is out

One thing just about everyone agrees on: This is the Home Decor Information Decade. Never before have consumers had such access to design information, both on the Internet and TV. People also are being educated as they shop. Good design can be found at every price point, including Target, Ikea and Kmart.

The result, says Ed Tashjian, vice president of marketing at Century Furniture, is that today shoppers do whatever they want. "I liken this decade in furniture to what happened to fashion in the '80s," he says. "Five years ago people bought a suite of furniture. Now furniture is much more eclectic than ever before. The higher you move up in the food chain, the more true that is; it requires more taste and more money."

That doesn't mean people are always secure in their design choices. This decade's explosion of brand marketing -- a trend that's not slowing down, says the American Home Furnishings Alliance's Jackie Hirschhaut -- is proof of that. Names like National Geographic, Martha Stewart, Liz Claiborne and Humphrey Bogart make it easier for consumers to assume real or perceived lifestyles by buying their furniture and accessories.

So far the '00s don't have a dominant furniture style, although contemporary is gaining ground, says Warren Shoulberg, the editor-in-chief of HFN magazine, which tracks home furnishings for the industry.

As for color, "the '90s had gotten very monotone," he says. "Neutrals were really strong -- white, black and beige. There's a much broader range of color now: oranges, lime greens and also more livable blues and greens."

This, in other words, could be the Return of Color Decade.

Emerging trends

Here's what forecasters think the '00s will be known for in residential design:

Home furnishings that are comfortable, casual and relaxed

The return of modern: both contemporary and retro Mid-Century Modern

Home design TV shows

More furniture purchases online and through catalogs

Color over monotones and neutrals

Fondness for traditional furnishings while wanting what's new and trendy

Technology, and furnishings based on technology

Houses with higher ceilings and more luxury features

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