By Maxine Lauer
The news making headlines around the world continues to be economic: Consumer spending, the growth engine that has held up many economies for the last several years, is suffering, and homes, our most precious material possession, remain at risk for many. Yet, we are beginning to see a positive uptick in various components of economic health, painting a future of slow-to-moderate growth where a nation historically obsessed with consuming is learning to live on less.
“Downsizing” is the new mantra which is affecting all types of goods. In food we have restaurants popping up where the chicness is in the small portions, such as Minnies in Chicago, which serves up tiny “Minnieburger” sandwiches with airline-size bottles of liquor. The appliance industry is showcasing smaller unit products that can go in secondary locations, or in a primary location within a single household where less volume is needed.
And, at long last, the American home has stopped growing and predictions are that it will get smaller and more affordable. Builders are already addressing new ways to create small space solutions that provide the key amenities consumers want. We are focusing on doors and windows which bring exterior space into total living area for a seamless transition. The outdoor room has become the outdoor home, complete with cooking, entertaining and family areas. In fact, the outdoors has become a critical expansion on interior living space as more consumers become stuck in starter homes and with the rise in multigenerational living.
Walls are coming down in and around the house and, as a result, rooms no longer define functions within the millennium home. With WiFi we can work anywhere, indoors or outdoors. Technology is blurring the barriers between place and function for middle-class households: indoor firetables, outdoor chandeliers, upstairs laundry rooms, basement kitchens. There are even TVs on track systems that can travel the length of an open space family area to be near those who want to watch, and far away from those that don’t.
Just coming back from the fall trade shows, more examples of creative space solutions abound for both indoor and outdoor rooms. “One-into-two” describes the new trend in furnishings that morph from a single entity to a multipurpose product. The table opens up to a table and chairs; storage is embedded everywhere. As we demand more functionality from smaller profiles, we will continue to see products that expand only when needed or items that multitask. We are also seeing a rise in practicality, with innovative solutions that bring décor that can last but also with the ability to “change-it-up” for a design-savvy populace.
Some key macro influences that we’re watching on outdoor design include:
•Mix-and-match: We are moving from “matchy-matchy” decor to an a la carte way of decorating, a way to express our individualism as well as allow for more frequent decorating updates to avoid boredom.
•Surprise & delight: Consumers are bored with today’s world of retail generica; standing out with unexpected details provides a way to capture their attention.
•Sensory design: Color and texture continue to increase in importance, particularly as contemporary decor becomes softer in both palette and design.
•Artisan: New technologies are bringing to market products that give the appearance of being handcrafted, appealing to our desire for a unique home that speaks to our individual taste.
Maxine Lauer is the chief executive officer and president of Sphere Trending, a consulting firm that specializes in trends affecting our environments, through a deep understanding of consumer needs and desires, societal changes, technological innovations and retail landscapes. Please visit its website at spheretrending.com.