Evolving Needs Mean Disruption For Housing Design And Process

Evolving Needs Mean Disruption For Housing Design And Process

Four walls and a roof sounds pretty spectacular to many people who need housing, but in the United States today consumers expect and demand so much more.

Consumers have become accustomed to the fast-developing world of technology that can customize to their needs and now expect a home to do the same – from the original design stretching to year 15 of its mortgage. This need for customization and flexibility in the home was heightened by the pandemic when homeowners needed different functionality from their homes.

Not only have homeowners been influenced by the pandemic, many are seeing and experiencing the horrible impacts of climate change.

These two massive influential factors have catalyzed consumers into seeking more sustainable solutions, spaces that contribute to their wellness, and flexible floorplans. The buyers’ changing demands are putting pressure on builders and dealers to revise their processes as well, leading housing into a new, more on-demand era.

Modsy, a design technology company, recently completed an interior wellness report that surveyed more than 1,500 people across the US and found key takeaways around sustainability and resilient design.

For instance, 32% of respondents said they would take flex spaces into consideration when designing a room to ensure that the space could remain ultra-functional in the future. And, while the survey found that sustainability is not a top design priority (only 3% said they would incorporate sustainability into design decisions), there is a link between eco-friendly design and improvements in mental well-being that consumers are paying attention to.

According to the report, consumers are seeking design that makes them feel cozy and calm—with organized and relaxed following close behind. Just as the fashion world has evolved to be more and more centered on coziness, with athleisure becoming all the rage, people are asking the interior design world to create environments that promote comfort as well.

Lindsay Graham, a social psychologist at UC Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment, says that architects and builders can incorporate a sense of calm with designs that offer more daylight and a connection to nature and biophilic elements, while also incorporating the impact of electronic devices.

“Certain aesthetics might inspire more creative energy within the space as opposed to an overall sense of calmness,” said Alessandra Wood, the vice president of style and design historian at Modsy. “If you’re looking to create a calm feeling, you may want to avoid too much stuff as it might trigger an energetic reaction in space.

This differs by demographic as well. People who are 35 to 44 years old are 35% more likely to identify organization as a component of “good design” compared to those who are 55 to 64. Younger Millennials are the most minimalist group, while Boomers are the age group most likely to choose eclectic style.

More than 35% of those surveyed identified the living room as the best place to unwind and feel the happiest, which nearly tied with the bedroom. The next closest was the backyard or outdoor space at 10%.

As mentioned, flexibility is critical now. The Modsy survey found that flex spaces and functionality are a top priority when designing a home. Design style reigns as most important at 49%; flex spaces is number two at 28%; increased focus on wellbeing is at 11%; home hygiene and sanitation is at 5% beating smart home features at 4% and sustainability at just 3%.

People are looking for spaces that are designed for versatility—whether that’s added storage, or space for hobbies, distance learning, or rest and relaxation. This shows us that, while people care about the style of their space, making your home work for you with flex spaces is of high importance. 

Similarly, when asked what is the biggest factor in their desire to redesign a room, participants noted functionality as a key motivator (once again coming in second, right after aesthetics). After increased time spent at home during the pandemic, it’s easy to understand why homeowners are making functionality and flexibility a priority.

Graham defines design resilience as the ability to respond to a catastrophic event, but resilient design is also about creating design that can withstand change that is both lasting and adaptable, which is apparent with the increase in flex spaces.

Historically, resilience has been discussed in relation to architecture and engineering, but there’s a shift happening at a more individual level. Graham advises builders and designers to think about:

  • how the space can stay adaptable;
  • how the design can remain multi-functional long term; and, 
  • how the space can accommodate homeowners over time from the perspective of catastrophic events along with from a practical standpoint.

The kitchen is the space that causes the most stress, even ahead of the workspace or home office. That fact, plus the fact that kitchens are also the number one room people want to redesign in their current home is perhaps an indication that better kitchen design should be priority for builders and remodelers.

Redesigning the Role of Technology

Fortunately, technology is able to take an impressive role in educating building stakeholders and consumers alike, along with providing better design solutions. Modsy has developed technology to make flexible design easier with digital models that can show multiple styles and multiple use cases.

“The use cases of the space will change over time,” said Judson Diehl, the general manager of real estate at Modsy. “A room might start out as a guest room, change into a nursery and then to a gym later on. Our platform can provide a digital copy of the home so that the homeowner can engage and interact with it down the road when they want to make changes. As use evolves over time, homeowners don’t have to guess what it would look like, they can see it virtually.”

Hasier Larrea is the founder of Ori, a robotics and architecture company making transformable furniture, and adds on that as the world becomes more and more urban, spaces are getting smaller, but still need functionality.

“Space efficiency will become paramount to make real estate more functional, affordable and sustainable,” Larrea said. “We need to bring space efficiency to the 21st century. Furniture and interior architecture will evolve to integrate all the technologies we are already seeing successfully implemented in other industries, from mobility to co-working to retail. This will make the act of transforming your space to your daily needs as effortless and magical as interacting with apps in your smartphone.”

Diehl looks at the importance of collecting data as part of the process of making space more resilient and helping builders fulfill homebuyer’s needs.

“A builder’s relationship with a homebuyer usually ends when they finalize ESCROW,” he said. “It’s important to start understanding what the buyer regrets after they have lived in the home a number of years and to be able to address them and see a downward trend in the regrets. Also, it would be important to understand what would lead them to buy a new home again.”

Building the Case for Sustainability

There are several substantial challenges to building more sustainably. Builders have to deal with interest rates, the cost of land, and the cost of materials, among many other things. With all of these pressures already in place, incorporating energy efficiency has to be demanded by the market rather than delivered by the builder.

“It comes down to interest rates and appraisals,” Diehl said. “If the home is built sustainably and the buyer can qualify for a larger amount, that would move the needle. At the end of the day, consumers make a financial decision, because even though people want it, they aren’t able to pay more.”

Technology is starting to move the needle in the education process. Some builders have eco-labs or design centers to help buyers understand the difference between sustainable and not sustainable options, such as extra insulation. Those hands-on experiences help homeowners understand the value of investing in efficiency.

Visualization through a platform like Modsy also helps buyers understand the space, which leads to less waste, another key component of sustainability.

In today’s supply-challenged market there is so much compromise happening, Diehl admits, because buyers have to take what they can get. Not only that, but there can be a conflict in the trending wellness aspects and sustainable options. For instance, a home may have fewer windows in order to create a tight envelope, but that means that there is less natural light.

“You can keep both in balance,” he said. “You can add more windows, and then make up for it by more efficient, higher insulation value in the attic. With a smart design, you can achieve the same energy efficiency scores, and with a visualization tool you can also educate the buyer about the tradeoffs. It’s not about the score, but about how you get to that score. Not all homes with the same energy efficiency are built equally.”


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