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10 Design Trends to Watch from The National Association of Homebuilders

Members of the NAHB Design Committee recently looked into their crystal ball to see what industry trends were in the early phases of development. During a roundtable discussion, the members — architects, builders, land planners and interior designers — shared their ideas on home and community design. Their discussion included color, texture, affordability, size, context and the popularity of outdoor rooms and courtyards — even in the Snow Belt states. Here are their most significant findings.

Rising land prices and increases in construction costs, while a part of the building industry for some time now, have become major factors influencing several current building design trends.

For instance, the higher cost of doing business has brought a new group of builders into the multifamily housing arena. It has also reduced the number of architects available for certain project types. Higher costs also are contributing to a recent dearth of community planning on the part of local officials. And growth controls are increasing building and development costs which, in turn, are affecting affordability.

The first four trends listed are directly related to rising costs. 

The Courtyards at Rolling Hills, Golden, Colo. Designed by KEPHART.

1.  Custom home Builders Are Moving Into the Multifamily Market

This is the number one trend identified not only by the design committee, but by the judges in the Best in American Livings Award (BALA) competition (www.housingzone.com/bala). Rising costs have put the price of the most basic single-family home out of reach for median-income families. Consequently, because building townhouses, duplexes and other smaller-scale attached products is not so different from building detached houses ? and because increased density can reduce land cost — custom builders are beginning to enter this market. This transition has its difficulties, but the market is there.

 2.  Fewer Architects Will Be Available for Multifamily Design

Just when builders need architects for multifamily design, fewer will be available. There are two limiting factors. Most states require a licensed architect for any building with three or more units. In addition, insurance carriers currently are restricting availability by limiting architects to devoting no more than 10%-20% of their work to multifamily projects. While it is happening nationwide, this trend currently is most significant on the West Coast.


Mixed-use community. Image courtesy of DTJ Design.

3.  Community Planning Is Not Keeping Up With Current Housing and Growth Needs

Maybe more accurately labeled a “non-trend,” an apparent lack of community planning using up-to-date planning tools is resulting in greater project costs. Many communities continue to review development plans that fall under 50-year-old comprehensive plans and regulations. This leaves individual developers and builders repeatedly waging the same battles ? fighting low-density mandates, a bias against mixed-use projects, wider than reasonable streets, etc. — project after project. It’s a never-ending cycle that adds even more cost to housing.

4.  Growth Controls ? By Any Name ? Are Reducing Affordability

When builders attempt to address increased housing demand in their area and challenge outdated community ordinances, their communities generally respond with growth controls. These "growth controls" may come in the form of techniques such as historical districts, design guidelines and more, and they are all part of the arsenal of the no growth advocates. Whatever they are called, all of these restrictions take more time, work and concessions to deal with in order to satisfy neighbors and community activists. They exact concessions from development proposals and require more costly materials and methods in construction, again resulting in additional costs for housing. Affordability is lost in this struggle.

The Cortile Collection at The Bridges in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. by Lennar Communities. Designed by Bassenian/Lagoni Architects. Eric Figge Photo ©2004

5.  Regional Styles Are Crashing Their Borders

The Tuscan style, from central Italy, is enjoying great popularity in Orange County, Calif. homes. Other regional styles have had similar success in markets beyond where you’d expect to find them.

The counterpoint to this idea is that many local communities are demanding regional styles that grow from their local traditions, culture, climate and available construction materials.


Belle Creek, Colo. Courtesy of Braun+Yoshida Architects.

6.  Trends in home Sizes and Second Homes Are Hard to Pinpoint

When it comes to home sizes — whether homes are getting bigger or smaller — opinions varied, even among the custom builders on the committee. Some saw homes getting progressively larger while another group saw just the opposite. In particular, they saw that, as families downsize, they are splitting their resources in order to purchase second homes.

It is difficult to believe that the recent move to larger homes can continue, since the cost of a median-priced home is already beyond the reach of the median-income family and the “affordability gap” continues to grow.


Energy-efficient equipment in homes.

7.  Public Acceptance of Green Building Is Beginning to Show in Sales Success

With its recently announced guidelines for green building, NAHB is taking a leadership role in promoting energy conservation and healthy environments. Coupled with that is the early success of Stapleton, the nation’s largest urban redevelopment now underway at Denver’s Stapleton airport and a model for green building.

Each of the 12,000 Stapleton homes is being built in accordance with the Built-Green Program (www.builtgreen.org). And there are three buyers waiting to purchase each completed Stapleton home. This sales success is a clear sign of the public acceptance of green building, and more importantly, the willingness to pay more for the energy savings and the other benefits green building offers.


Classic colors never fade. Doris Perlman, Possibilities for Design. Photo courtesy of Possibilities for Design.

8.  Colors and Texture Are Much Bolder

Color is being used in a much bolder fashion today. As one committee member pointed out, bright colors have historically emerged during periods of economic well-being and tend to become more safely muted during down times. The architects on the panel suggested that strong colors should be used with care. They can make a dense development feel even denser if overused. They can also detract from a building’s appearance if applied without sensitivity to its underlying architecture.

9.  Context Is Fundamental

Designing to show respect for neighboring architecture and social traditions has long been a fundamental principal of architectural design. A hilltop Tuscan village is a perfect example. Every building in the village looks the same, save the churches and monuments. They used the same stone, the same roof tiles and the same details ? and yet everyone marvels at the character and style of the village as a whole.

In contrast, our American independent attitude has created neighborhoods of individually designed homes — each home attempting to make its own personal statement.

10.  home Builders Help Shape the Market With the Products Offered

One builder in the group brought the discussion into focus by reminding us of this fact ? we do, indeed, design, build and sell homes for the market.

The trend here may be that we are beginning to realize that we also shape the market with the products we offer. The market didn’t demand television or cell phones, it consumed them en masse when they were introduced.


Prospect, Colo. Courtesy of KEPHART.

General Motors and Ford have recently been reminded that sometimes the market wants things now that will be bad for business later. Huge SUVs, popular in recent years, are falling out of favor with escalating gasoline prices — leaving Ford and GM holding the bag facing a shrinking market and falling stock prices.

NAHB’s leadership role in green building signals a sea change from the past. Leading these trends versus opposing them may move builders and developers up a notch in the public’s eye, leading to more respect for their efforts and trust that their leadership can be relied upon.

That may be a stretch, but it is a positive step in the right direction.

Mike Kephart is the founder of Denver-based KEPHART community planning architecture. He has spent 30 years focusing on architecture and planning for people, their needs, hopes, dreams and aspirations. KEPHART partners with builders/developers to serve these human needs. For more information, visit www.kephart.com, or call 303-832-4474.

September 07, 2005

National Association of Homebuilders

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