PHILADELPHIA — It was a long stretch of disappointing monthly billings reports from the American Institute of Architects, reflecting the prolonged housing downturn and the reluctance of homeowners and, indeed, builders, to commit to spending great sums as prices continued to fall.
Reflecting the general flattening of the market over the last few months, the most recent billings index (for October) saw lower numbers, though it remained above the score of 50, indicating a rise.
The big positive, however, was an uptick in inquiries about projects somewhere down the line — meaning that while Americans remain insecure about the economy, they expect it to improve.
Philadelphia architect Jim Wentling recently decided to update a list of trends in home building that his firm came up with in 2011, when the real estate market began hitting its much-needed bottom.
So, two years later, here are some of the trends Wentling is observing.
“We are seeing great-room sizes bump up a bit, as well as the formal dining room — yes, people still want this room — while the den becomes an office more often than a living room,” he said.
“The separate living room off the foyer more often becomes a den if not an office — yes, the living room is gradually going away — as well,” Wentling said. “We also see garage sizes increase somewhat to accommodate larger cars/SUVs and storage space, particularly in plans over 3,000 square feet.”
That’s on the first floor.
On the second, the laundry room is gaining importance, as are the dimensions of the secondary bedroom, Wentling said.
“Walk-in laundry rooms as opposed to closets are common on plans 2,000 square feet and larger,” while secondary-bedroom sizes are increasing, as well, particularly in homes over 3,000 square feet.”
In home plans with first-floor owners’ suites, he said, the laundry room moves downstairs, too. Secondary-bedroom sizes can increase even more, and a loft space or guest suite also can be added on the second floor.
In the owners’ suite, “the tray ceiling is universally in demand — optional only on plans less than 2,500 square feet — while vaulted ceilings have completely lost favor with buyers,” Wentling said.
A tray ceiling is a rectangular architectural feature that is either inverted or recessed. It is often found in dining rooms, hallways and living rooms.
The other significant movement in owners’ suites, Wentling said, is toward roomier showers, with those in larger plans becoming walk-in size, with seats and full-tile interiors.
“The soaking tub is not going away, but we do see this being omitted in smaller and multifamily plans in favor of the larger showers,” he said.
Among floor-plan amenities, “the drop zone is gaining major importance and is found in almost all plans over 2,000 square feet,” he said.
In residential architecture, “drop zone” refers to the area between the garage and the mudroom, where you put items such as book bags and foul-weather gear on the way into the house.
Counters, benches, hooks, and cubbies are typically included in this space next to the informal or garage-door entrance, Wentling said.
Other features gaining popularity: the “command center,” a small desk or alcove near the kitchen; island counters; and “more dramatic stair configurations for larger plans,” Wentling said.