Findings of the quarterly AIA Home Design Trends Survey released this week indicate that consumers continue to put emphasis on practical features that expand the functionality of their home via heavy investment in outdoor living spaces and accessibility features. This iteration of the survey delves into emerging home features, systems and technologies during the second quarter of 2017, based on responses from more than 500 residential architecture firms.

Special Function Rooms and Home Features

Special function rooms were hard hit during the housing downturn, as it was easier for consumers to eliminate discretionary spaces when downsizing or searching for a new home. Home offices were the most popular special function room prior to the recession, but as the market recovered and interest in special function rooms reemerged, demand for home offices plateaued. Outdoor living space has topped the list of most popular special function rooms since 2013, and demand for indoor/outdoor living spaces or features has been a headliner of the AIA's Home Design Trends Survey nearly every quarter since.

According to survey respondents, the three most popular special function rooms in the second quarter of 2017 account for 77 percent of selections of the most popular rooms. Home offices still make the top three, but popularity among consumers has dropped 50 percent since 2012. Conversely, popularity of outdoor living spaces has spiked 72 percent since 2012, when it was tied with mud rooms as the second most popular special function room.

Popularity of Top Three Special Function Rooms 2012-2017

The share of residential architects reporting increased demand for various special function rooms over the past year (minus the share reporting decreased demand) illustrates the growing popularity of outdoor living spaces more dramatically: 70 percent reported increased consumer interest in outdoor living rooms—nearly double that of the five other special function spaces on the list.

“Prior to the housing downturn, home offices maintained a solid hold as the most requested special function room,” said AIA chief economist, Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, in a press release. “Obviously new home technology offerings have influenced residential design trends, but the impact of the Great Recession can still be seen through homeowner interest in better use of existing space.”

And many Americans are trying to adapt existing space to fit the needs of multiple generations within their family. Much like outdoor living, interior design elements intended to aid aging-in-place continue to top AIA's quarterly reports—in-home accessibility, single-floor design, and open space layouts (that allow better mobility) made the top five list of most requested features in the first quarter report.

During the second quarter, residential architects reported that home features that accommodate multi-generational households increased in popularity most. The other most popular features also make it easier for older homeowners or residents to age in their home as mobility decreases; demand is increasing for first floor master bedrooms, wider doors/hallways, on-grade entry, and ramps/elevators. Demand for features that aid accessibility in the home is a long-term trend—they've been among the top five most popular home features the past four years.

Most Popular Home Features 2013-2017
“Not surprisingly, demand for greater accessibility features continues to be strong,” Baker added. “Whether it’s a result of generally lower mobility or the aging baby-boomer population, homeowners are preparing for the future.

Products and Technology

In past AIA reports (up until 2013), wireless telecommunications and data systems were the most popular technology desired by homeowners. While the feature is still among the top five, demand for energy management systems has claimed the top spot the past two years, as homeowners seek to make their homes more efficient and desire to manage household systems remotely. Electric car docking stations are also becoming increasingly popular (54 percent of respondents reported higher demand), a trend expected to continue as companies like Tesla strengthen their foothold in the auto market.

Technology Products Increasing Most in Popularity

“As more automation products become available, homeowners continue to explore new ways to maintain their spaces with greater ease,” said Baker.

The survey also polled popular features of products desired most by homeowners, many of which are incorporated in energy management systems.

Most Desirable Features of Tech Products
The most desirable features of tech products allow homeowners to run a more efficient household in a hands off fashion. The top nine all increased in popularity by 30 percent or more in 2017, although demand for thermal moisture control and improvement of indoor air quality softened slightly year-over-year.

Business Conditions

Remodeling accounts for the largest share of business activity among the sectors responsible for the majority of work in the second quarter, and has outpaced new construction since the recession. Specifically, home additions and alterations account for the largest share of activity, followed by kitchen and bath remodels. “Activity in the additions and remodeling segments are picking up pace, [which] is a positive sign for the greater housing market in 2018,” Baker concluded.

The second quarter report shows that design activity in the first-time/affordable buyer segment increased year-over-year, a promising indicator that younger buyers are making their way into the market. The AIA's first quarter report also reported an increase in the first-time segment (a 10 percent gain year-over-year), so continued growth is likely. Demand in the townhouse/condo segment continues to recover, with 17 percent of survey respondents reporting improvement in the market, compared to 2 percent in the second quarter of 2016.

Business Conditions by Construction Segment

As we reported this week, the Architecture Billings Index posted a healthy score of 53.7 in August, with project inquiries at 62.5. (Scores below 50 represent a contraction in the market, while those above indicate growth.) “The August results continue a string of very positive readings from the design professions, pointing to future healthy growth across the major construction sectors, as well as across the major regions of the country,” said Baker. “Future rebuilding from hurricanes Harvey and Irma will produce even more construction and rehabilitation activity as these recovery efforts get underway over the coming months and years.”

Read the full report here.