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RISMEDIA, May 17, 2007-(MCT)-These days everyone has champagne taste when it comes to the kitchen. The room keeps hogging a home buyer’s attention — and, apparently, money — as people continue adding fancy amenities such as wine rooms to the cooking areas.A recent survey by the American Institute of Architects shows wine storage and wine refrigerators as some of the most requested items in a home, along with other luxury kitchen amenities such as commercial-grade appliances, increased pantry space, drinking water filtration systems, duplicate appliances and natural stone countertops.

“Sociologically, we’ve become a culture that spends a lot of our entertainment time in the kitchen,” said Chris Schultz, president of the AIA in San Antonio. “At parties, everyone ends up in the kitchen.” That’s shown up in home design in a big way, as kitchens continue to be the most popular room in the home.

The AIA Design Trend Survey identifies emerging design trends by surveying 500 architecture firms across the country each quarter. It recently focused specifically on kitchens and bathrooms.

Karla Greer of San Antonio’s Lake/Flato Architects said an open kitchen linked to the living room is a top client request.

“Almost everybody wants that,” she said. “They want the kitchen to feel like part of the rest of the home.” And as clients request fewer formal living rooms and formal dining rooms, they have no problem entertaining guests in the most highly trafficked area of their house.

“Most people are more than happy to have their guests in the family room and kitchen,” Greer said. “Everyone has become more casual.” Some of the other big design trends identified by the survey — and likely found in a neighborhood near you — include improved accessibility, more outdoor living spaces and bathrooms that are more like spas. There’s also a new emphasis on using more environmentally friendly materials in the home, such as renewable flooring material.

Some of the new design trends can be attributed to baby boomers, that large segment of the American population who are starting to retire.

Clients are asking architects for homes with greater accessibility — fewer steps, wider hallways and single-story design — that can work for them for years to come, according to the AIA survey.

“People are thinking in advance,” the AIA’s Schultz said. “A two-story home may be great now, but what happens in 10 years if they break a hip?” Many people with two-story homes are adding elevators, closets that can be converted into elevators later and doorways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, he said.

Greer said it’s an issue especially for people designing a home they hope to stay in for decades.

“Nobody likes to think about getting older and not moving around as easily. But even if you’re younger and break a leg or have knee surgery, it can help all age groups.” These are the sorts of design elements that became common practice in commercial architecture two decades ago with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“That’s something a commercial architect does by second nature that’s becoming more common in the home,” Schultz said. “There’s a greater awareness within the population that a handicapped person has a right to live a mainstream life.” Also, it’s a huge issue for parents of disabled children or for people who want their aging parents to move in with them at some point.

“You need complete accessibility everywhere,” Schultz said. “You don’t want someone to be relegated to one area of the house.” Sustainability Many architects also thank baby boomers for another design trend: green building.

It’s one of the biggest trends that architects are pushing (and the theme of their recent national conference in San Antonio).

Priscilla Wallace, chief executive officer of Boomertising, who spoke at the AIA conference on boomer housing trends, said boomers are driving the green-building movement.

“Without the boomers, you don’t have green building,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean it’s mainstream yet.

“It’s not coming along too fast yet, but that’s the kind of trend we want to go toward,” San Antonio architect Stephen Colley said.

But architects are reporting more client interest in things such as floors made from renewable material, according to the AIA survey. In the kitchen, more clients have been asking their architects to design recycling centers next to the trashcans.

“It standardizes that whole reuse-recycle formula,” Schultz said. “You train your children that a plastic bottle goes into that bin instead of into the trash. That’s a good thing.” Even many developers are moving toward the green-building idea.

“It’s no longer a leftist trend,” Schultz said. “It’s not the weird hippies from the ’60s. It’s just good design practice, period.” In San Antonio, most of the builders participating in the city’s green-building program are working on affordable homes and in middle-class neighborhoods, Colley said.

“This is not just a high-end practice,” Schultz said. “The sustainability things can be put into production housing. Even if it costs $600 more to insulate your home, what is the payback? That $600 might be paid back in a year in lower utility bills.” The great outdoors Homeowners have gotten more concerned not just with the interior home design, but with the outdoor spaces as well.

Although having a large lot isn’t a major priority for people, requests for outdoor amenities, upscale landscaping and outdoor living spaces continue to be strong, according to the survey.

Greer said porches, arbors and big windows that provide a view of the outdoors are in high demand.

Sometimes, large rolling doors essentially can open an entire wall onto a screened-in porch.
“Most of our clients want big windows and fresh air,” Greer said. “They’re willing to live with less-than-perfect temperatures to open up the house.” In San Antonio, outdoor kitchens, fireplaces, upscale pools and xeriscaping are in demand for high-end homes. But the city has a history of this type of home design, Schultz said.

“It’s part of what people have historically known,” he said. “In older homes, you see a lot of sleeping porches. That was a way to create an outdoor room without having to choose being inside or outside. There’s a historical precedence in this part of the country with our climate to use the outdoors as part of your habitation. There’s a trend to recapture that space.” Of course, some months are better than others for recapturing the great outdoors.
“It may be stickier and more humid on some days, but there’s a sense that you’re communing with nature,” Schultz said.

At the same time buyers are getting more eco-conscious, they don’t seem too concerned about their pocketbooks.

Bathrooms are getting as luxurious as kitchens.

Some of the major design trends noted by the AIA include radiant-heated floors, multi-head showers, showers without doors, bigger linen closets and more storage, multiple vanities, and things such as towel-warming drawers or warming racks.

The only bathroom amenity that seems to be getting less attention is the whirlpool tub, which architects noted has dropped in popularity.

But for those home buyers and remodelers on a budget, Schultz recommends skipping the fancy bathroom in favor of a room you’re likely to use more.

“An undue amount of expense in the bathroom doesn’t seem like the best use of the budget,” he said.

Unless you’ve got money to burn, Schultz said, he’d spend the money on the kitchen instead.

Copyright © 2007, San Antonio Express-News
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.