All posts by Camilla McLaughlin

Wallpaper’s Wizardry

Arabella by Tempaper. Photo courtesy of Tempaper. 

Penchants usually gravitate to the latest and greatest, but one tried and true material continues to be a magical catalyst for lifestyle.

Subtle or bold, classic or contemporary, shiny or opaque, wallpaper has evolved to be design’s magic wand — able to add pizzazz, lend a mellow undertone or inject just the right touch of coziness to any room.

Uniquely versatile, it enables consumers to fashion an interior that captures their individuality. It allows for unlimited customization as well as the creation of personalized living spaces, even adapting for children and pets without compromising on aesthetics. And for every budget from DIY to bespoke, there is a product.

“People want to LOVE their home. They want comfort and convenience, but do not want to sacrifice chic,” says San Francisco designer Jay Jeffers.

“There is a strong desire among consumers for original, authentic design that goes along with their vision for their house,” explains Joyce Romanoff, CEO of Maya Romanoff, a manufacturer of luxury wall coverings.

Ask designers about wallpaper and they invariably chorus, “it’s not your grandmother’s wallpaper,” a truism heard so frequently that it’s almost become a cliché. What is truly amazing is how much wallpaper ends up in homes today, adding a visual depth impossible to achieve with paint. Murals are back. So are individual walls showcased with a stunning texture or print.

And walls are only the beginning of today’s wallpaper story. “Trends indicate that the consumer is looking to personalize space through the creative use of wallpapers beyond the walls. Backings for bookcases, shelves, customized furnishings and ceilings all enter the realms of possibility.

While full room wraps, murals and feature walls still dominate the world of captivating designer installations, these small impact pieces allow for strong style statements without huge pattern or space commitments,” explains Carol Miller, content marketing manager for York Wallcoverings, a manufacturer with 125 years of innovation.

If the mention of wallpaper conjures visions of the flat, one-dimensional rolls common little more than 10 years ago, it’s time to refresh that image. “For many years wallpaper was something many of our clients avoided, but today, it is being rediscovered as an exciting way to introduce the color and patterns many homeowners are now embracing. And there are more wallpaper options out there than ever, thanks to advances in technology,” shares Elissa Morgante, founding partner of Chicago architecture and design firm Morgante-Wilson. 

Dating back to decorated rice paper in China as early as  200 B.C., wallpaper has a long history that continues to evolve, with each century, each decade, adding innovations in materials, finishes, production methods and artistry. The most recent reinvention of wallpaper began more than a decade ago, but changes over the last few years have been especially remarkable. Old-school techniques such as block printing and silk screening continue, but the end result seems entirely new. Modern machinery creates precise designs, and new dyes impart richer vibrant hues. Diverse materials from wood and sand to crystals, shells, fibers, beads, even glass add depth. 

Left: Jewel Tones; Middle: Metallic; Right: Soft Organic

Wallpaper sample photos courtesy York Wallcoverings.

“Manufacturers can now digitally create the beautiful, luxurious look of expensive hand-painted or hand-blocked papers, or embed wallpapers with materials such as mica, glass beads, or even capiz shells to add interest and texture,” says Morgante. 

“Over the last decade, we have diversified our product mix by expanding the types of materials we use. We have focused on making our processes more efficient, cost-effective and sustainable, while maintaining our handcraft and luxury appeal,” explains David Berkowitz, EVP of product development at Maya Romanoff, the largest manufacturer of handcrafted wall coverings in the U.S. Their gallery includes wool, burlap, silk and other natural fibers as well as precious metals and wood. Designs are often intricate, requiring an artisan’s touch. For example, papers in the precious metals collection often employ a time-honored method in which metallic leaves are hand applied to a paper backing with chopsticks. An ultra-modern topcoat prevents tarnishing or oxidizing, allowing for easier maintenance.

Textural papers continue to be in demand. The effect can be rustic or refined. In addition to traditional hemp, jute, sea grass, bamboo and raffia, grass cloth might integrate a variety of other materials. Additionally, says K. Tyler, partner and designer at Morgante Wilson, there are woven papers that look like linen on the wall or a variation of silk.

Schemes inspired by traditional designs (dare we mention chintz) have returned, but today’s execution is nothing like the dingy muted tones of yesteryear. Colors are vibrant, often using multiple shades of the same hue. Botanicals have also blossomed into an important trend, inspired by a growing passion for nature and biophilia. Look for splashy leaves and fronds or impressionist-inspired trees and flowers in soft tones. “I am also seeing a change from the crisp, bold large-scale patterns into a more abstract brush-stroked look. But with some of these styles, you’ll need to be aware you won’t have a side match, and each panel is distinguished,” says Christopher Grubb, president of Arch-Interiors Design Group in Beverly Hills.

Top left: Precious metal inlaid; Top right: Hand-finished wood veneer, Ajiro Fanfare. Bottom: Tribal Print from Ronald Redding Handcrafted Naturals collection.

Photos of wallpaper production and sample by Maya Romanoff.

“There are so many things technology has allowed us to do today. We can do wall covering now that looks like the real material, but it’s made out of vinyl,” says Tony Sutton, owner of Est Est, Inc., an award-winning design firm in Scottsdale. Sutton illustrates with examples of wallpaper made from ultra-thin cork or micro-layers of slate. Additionally, he says, “I can take any photograph and then make a giant custom wallpaper out of it.”

Options today range from rugged vinyls to bespoke designs and hand-painted silks with prices that can exceed $1,000 a roll. “Vinyls are typically less expensive, but super durable. Many of them are rated for commercial use and sold in wider widths,” says Mondi.

“I am a huge fan of using vinyl wall coverings,” says Grubb, who does commercial as well as residential projects. “The color palette is enormous. There are silk and grass cloth looks, wovens, textures and embossed patterns. It’s incredibly durable and easy to maintain.”

“On the other end of the spectrum, you would find hand-painted wall coverings. There are custom made, high-end and truly artisan products that typically replicate a faux finish or mural. In between is where most wallpapers reside. Digital printing is typically very affordable and can often be done on different background materials,” says Mondi.

Design is only part of what consumers want. Sustainability and ease of use are equally important. Upmarket to DIY consumers demand sustainability, which includes efforts to minimize the footprint of manufacturing, observes Miller. Beyond no VOCs, ozone-depleting chemicals or cadmium or mercury, York Wallcoverings also uses water-based inks and coatings and smokeless, non-polluting inks. Additionally, there is a push toward sustainable materials, including cork, natural grasses, leaves, wood veneer, even glass beads made from recycled windshield glass.

Ease of Use

“Now every level and type of wallpaper concerns itself with ease of application and removability,” says Miller. “Even nonwoven unpasted backings used most often by designers remove in full strips.”

A potential game-changer for the industry came with Tempaper, which has revolutionized the concept of peel and stick papers. There is nothing stodgy about these designs, which run the gamut from traditional classics such as chinoiserie to glam to bohemian. They also tap into creations by well-known designers such as Bobby Berk and Genevieve Gorder. The company also offers panels and murals as large as 8 feet by 10 feet. Some designs such as Arabella, part of the Zoe Bios collection, are inspired by artists such as Jean Michel Basquiat. 

Founded by twin sisters Jennifer Matthews and Julia Au, Tempaper is an ideal solution for someone renting, as designer Jewel Marlowe discovered. “Recently we rented a high-end beach home in Jamestown, Rhode Island, for 10 months. This was just long enough that I wanted to add some personality to some of the spaces in order for it to feel like home. However, I was very aware that whatever I used needed to be quickly removable. Luckily, I found some beautiful Tempaper designs to personalize and beautify some of our rooms,” she shares.

Birds are flocking to wallpaper this year. Graham & Brownexpresses this theme in Tori Teal.

Photos courtesy of Graham & Brown.

New additions to Tempaper’s line up include designs from Wright Kitchen and holographic decals from Bobby Berk. This year, the company also introduced a collection of vinyl floor rugs. 

Tempaper does seem to add a “now you see it, now you don’t” ability to wallpaper’s extensive resume, making it a truly magical material.

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Safe & Sound

When it comes to kitchens, the popularity of all things smart and sanitary is soaring, as consumers gravitate toward antimicrobial features.

Almost a sous chef, innovative, hands-free faucets such as U by Moen fill pots with exact amounts of hot or cold water or anything in between.

Seemingly overnight, touchless faucets, easy-open drawers and an ever-growing array of kitchen tech morphed from “nice-to-have” amenities to “must-haves” as the desire for cleanliness and safety eclipsed convenience.

Indoor air quality, purified water and clean surfaces rank high with consumers. Before the pandemic, interest in wellness at home was on the rise; now, amenities that bring a hygienic benefit, particularly in the kitchen, top wellness demands. A desire for simplification with easy-to-clean cabinets and counters along with healthy living are micro themes expected to steer product development and design in the future, according to the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

Even trusted materials such as wood, cork and brass are now considered for their capacity to shed germs or resist contamination. “All our faucets are solid brass construction and therefore, by the very nature of the metal, have additional antimicrobial properties,” points out Noah Taft, senior vice president of marketing and sales at California Faucets, noting the benefit of brass over less costly materials

Pure Water

As the desire for healthy homes builds, so does interest in water quality. Filtration has become an important focus, according to experts at Kohler, who say more than 75 percent of customers already take measures to filter their drinking water. In January, Kohler introduced a four-stage reverse osmosis purification system designed to fit in the cabinet under the kitchen sink. The system reduces contaminants, including lead, mercury, chlorine, bacteria, virus, arsenic, copper, fluoride and more. With a capacity of 27.5 gallons per day, it would replace approximately 200, 16.9 oz. bottles of water.

Water Appliance

Sinks used to be, well, just sinks, until Rohl and other manufacturers elevated the status to “water appliance.” According to estimates, the kitchen sink used to be frequented 10 to 30 times a day. Now, after weeks of sheltering at home and a hyper-focus on handwashing, the sink is getting more use than ever and receiving lots of scrutiny regarding design, ease of use and even appearance.

“Kitchen sinks and faucets are on the front lines of keeping a home clean and safe — used continuously for food preparation, hand and dishwashing,” says Edyta Drutis, director, brand and communications, at Blanco North America. Blanco’s Silgranit stone-like sink material is nonporous, resistant to stains, scratches, chips, acid and heat. Acting as a shield against dirt and contaminants, it reduces bacterial growth by 98 percent. The hydrophobic surface pushes away dirt and water, so it drains easily and cleans with soap and water or baking soda.

When it comes to sinks, bigger continues to be better. Even before the pandemic, experts at the National Kitchen and Bath Association noted increased demand for large sinks to accommodate tasks as diverse as washing fresh produce and jumbo pans, to babies and the
occasional pup.

More Power Per Drop

Look for faucets designed to do more than deliver water. Lenova introduced a model that takes washing produce or the dog’s bowl to the next level by integrating ozone into the flow. Recognized as a safe, non-toxic way to kill viruses, bacteria, mold, yeast and algae within seconds of contact, aqueous ozone has been extensively tested and clinically proven, according to Lenova. Not only does it sanitize surfaces, but it can be used to wash produce, and it even removes pesticides. 

Adding more cleaning power to each drop, particularly for sprays, is another objective for manufacturers. Kohler recently introduced options such as a faucet sprayer with nozzles aligned to create a forceful blade of water to sweep away stuck-on food. Another, a soft spray, preps berries without bruising. Moen optimized its sprays to deliver 50 percent more spray power while containing the splash — great for messy pots and messy hands.

Look Ma, No Hands!

Touch-free faucets have been around for a few years. In the first versions, sensors would activate the flow in response to a motion. Then, voice control was added. The most recent innovation enables homeowners to activate faucets via Alexa or Google Home. Turning the water on and off is only part of what U by Moen — a Best of KBIS 2020 winner — delivers. Instead, it can fill a baby bottle with just the right amount of water at the right temperature or load a pasta pot with precisely four quarts of hot water, freeing the cook for other tasks. Metered dispensing ranges from one tablespoon to 15 gallons, and temperature commands can be exact degrees or merely hot or cold. “Baby bottle” and other customizable presets simplify commands.

Hard As Glass

“Glass tiles are not porous and do not possess characteristics that allow or promote the growth or life of microbes, bacteria, or germs,” explains Jim Stevens, brand manager for Lunada Bay Tile. “Keep in mind that the grout between each tile is porous and does not have these same characteristics. However, grout is usually set down, below the top surface of the tiles, so direct contact is less likely. And grout could be sealed with an antimicrobial sealer to create a safe and sanitary surface.”

Glass tiles, which are nonporous, also mesmerize.

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Lifestyle and Longevity

The trends changing houses in 2020 and beyond.

By Camilla McLaughlin

New values, shifting demographics and technology are all transformative agents in 2020, and each will shape real estate and design well into the next decade. Some, such as outdoor living, are not new, while others, including the importance of ancillary spaces or a desire for slightly smaller but highly customized homes, are just getting underway. Farmhouse is out; contemporary, along with modern interpretations of traditional styles, is finding favor with architects and home buyers. Attitudes about what’s important in a home beyond an open floorplan, and even the open concept itself, are being reconsidered and revised. Color is back. Experts tell us the passion for grey and all-white kitchens is waning, although in practice designers also say neutrals still dominate.

Got all of that?

Even the term “move-up buyer” has a new meaning. “Move up doesn’t necessarily mean move into a bigger home as it did for previous generation,” explains Leigh Spicher, national director of design studios for Ashton Woods. “Today’s move up buyers expect quality and are willing to invest in special features in their home.” For upscale owners, preferences are likely to lean toward diversification in favor of several properties in different locations rather than a large estate home.

Each year, The Best in American Living program (BALA), an annual design competition held by the National Association of Home Builders, showcases award-winning design and architecture and pinpoints current and growing trends. Awards this year, based on homes built in 2019, showcased a range of styles from midcentury modern to transitional to contemporary expressions rooted in traditional styles or regional aesthetics.

Another change, according to Don Ruthro , principal at Dahlin Group Architecture Planning and this year’s judging chair, is more homes with the same style inside and out, which he says conveys a greater sense of authenticity.

Even in production homes architects are pushing for more character and uniqueness with thoughtful, well edited design elements. Well edited, according to BALA, means a genuine purpose of place and points of interest that draw the eye across the facade without all of the fussiness of past decades.

Curated design details are another design trend BALA judges highlight. “It’s clear that buyers want their home to feel personalized to their taste. From ceiling textures to shelving choices to mullion size. Every detail matters, and today’s educated buyers won’t settle for anything less,” they explain.

Other trends play into the desire for personalization. Anything that adds texture is on trend, especially wallpaper. Also enhancing personalization are unique applications of wood to highlight forms and also warm up interiors. Compared to prior years, the use of wood, often a dark hue with a matt fi nish, mixed with other surfaces, was very much in evidence in homes, new and remodeled, constructed to showcase current trends at the International Builders Show. Adding to the depth created by an overlay of textures in a home is the use of mixed metal finishes, with gold tones very much in evidence.

No facets of design are left to chance or convenience, even lighting. “Like other design details, just installing what’s on hand without added thought about placement just won’t fly with the 2020 buyer,” further advise BALA judges. Curated design details, personalized lighting design and texture were all highlighted as trends buyers can expect to see in homes over the next few years.

Even though kitchen, great room and dining — casual or formal — combined into a central living space continues to dominate, how that space is organized and expressed in an overall fl oorplan is slowly evolving. “Open space plans for the family room, kitchen, and dining area are still going strong. Our challenge in open plans is how to defi ne each space and give it some separation while still maintaining the overall open feel,” says Chicago designer Donna Mondi.

In California, designer Christine Markatos Lowe says the open plan is going strong, and perhaps the biggest change has been the addition of a second functional space to kitchens. For higherpriced homes, the presence of a back kitchen, whether a full-blown kitchen, a large walk in pantry or a butler’s pantry, has become a must have, central to keeping the main kitchen streamlined and clutter free.

Colorful kitchens? Maybe.

Examples at the national kitchen and bath industry show refl ected forecasts calling for color to punch up kitchens. Dark blues and earthy greens combined with wood finishes often clad lower cabinets and islands. Still, a number of designers express reservations regarding too much color. Wood cabinets continue to be on trend, mixed with other finishes.

“There has been a shift back into furniture-style cabinetry, exposed appliances (there’s always a place for LaCornue!), and especially statement marble countertops. European influences have made their way into the modern kitchen and I couldn’t be happier,” adds Mondi.

Another trend in renovations, Lowe says, is to open sightlines so rooms feel more connected to each other but still have their own language. “So it’s a combination of both things we’re seeing.”

“The main living spaces are getting bigger and more integrated with each other, but a good architect will design in such a way so they feel like individual spaces even though it’s part of one room,” says Bob Zuber, AIA, who is a partner at Morgante Wilson Architects in Evanston, Illinois.

Tricked Out Extras

Chances are what makes a house special for most buyers is not the number of bedrooms or even a great open plan but extras, what K. Tyler, also a partner and head of Interior Design at Morgante Wilson, dubs ancillary spaces. From tricked out mudrooms and laundry rooms to glass-enclosed wine rooms to pantries and second kitchens, what might be extras are essentials to buyers often shaping a unique living experience and often tilting them in favor of a certain house or floorplan. Offices, dens and studies will continue to be important additions to open plans. Nine times out of 10, homes with these features are going to be preferred over ones that just have big rooms, says Tyler.

Signature front entries are also gaining prominence. Expect to see continued emphasis on front entries. Foyers are designed to be functional but also to make a dazzling first impression.

Preferences for these features and quality over square footage extend to a range of price brackets. According to the National Association of Home Builders annual survey of buyer preferences, more buyers overall are likely to choose less square foot but higher quality homes with desirable features such as large walk-in master closets and energy efficient windows and lighting over large homes with fewer features.

Innovative materials continue to be important change agents. Consider outdoor living, one of the most transformative trends of the last decade. The modest pool and patio is now an array of open air venues and outdoor rooms. Pools and fire features are equally artful and functional. Rather than just an amenity tacked on to the house, outdoor connections are now the main orientation and organizing element for plans. Transitions between the two are hardly noticeable thanks to new materials and finishes, extending flooring beyond interiors. Master bedrooms morph into full blown retreats with their own outdoor spaces.

Innovative plans further bring green spaces deep into the home via interior courtyards. Expect to see more ways to bridge inside with outside as the decade progresses. Most recently, super large panes of glass and larger glass doors, further enhance visual connections and light-filled interiors. In most regions of the country, an indoor/outdoor sync is considered a “must have” for luxury, and there are no indications the penchant for outdoor connections will diminish. Among BALA trends, expansive largeformat windows along with sophisticated indoor/outdoor connections figured prominently.

Thinking Long Term

Beginning with the recovery, the tenure of homeownership increased. Instead of the 4.21-year average, typical from 2000 to 2007, ownership extended to 8 years or longer, hitting a record high in the end of 2018, with some cities — Boston, San Francisco and Hartford — charting tenures of 10 years or more. Whether or not this is a trend worth watching or simply a blip on the charts remains to be seen, but it is a solid indicator of changing attitudes toward home that spills over into design, interiors, even furnishings. Increasingly owners in almost all price brackets are thinking long term and lifestyle when it comes to their homes.

Resale seems to have moved to the back burner. Instead, consumers look for features and fi nishes that uniquely sync with and enhance their lifestyle. “I would say people are tailoring the house more specifically towards they way they want to live,” explains Zuber, noting sometimes those same features will also enhance resale.

According to Ashton Woods’ 2020 design trends survey, 86 percent of today’s buyers said home personalization is important.

Another indication of consumers anticipating longer ownership is growing interest in fl exible spaces and also in accommodating a range of ages. The term flexible spaces is taking on a new meaning. Instead of extra footage for a mancave or teen hangout, it’s viewed as versatile rooms that can change over time, explains Spicher. Perhaps a nursery today and a home o ce tomorrow. Or as many owners (55 percent in Ashton Woods Design survey) say, space that can transform into additional living space in the future for an aging family member or boomerang children.

More clients even in the 40s are looking to use the house when they are older and are planning to these accommodations with wider doors and space for an elevator shaft, say Tyler and Zuber.

Smart Home Challenges

In the next decade, smart home technology will change homes more than any other factor. Already new homes beyond a certain price point include a range of apps and devices, particularly in the kitchens, where manufacturers are already adding connections among appliances such as the hood with a range top. Also, voice control. Some brands also incorporate technology that enables some repairs to be made remotely. “What’s exciting is that every passing second, we get one step closer to a context-aware smart home. Manufacturers are pushing the boundaries. Developments in the areas of sensing technology and AI will result in appliances, fi xtures and systems that automatically respond and adapt to our home and environment changes,” says Kate Bailey, senior director of Category Management at Ferguson Enterprises.

“It’s not so much about new things as it is about things getting smaller, faster, lighter better integrated, so they get to the point where smart becomes livable and something you want to put in your homes,” says Melissa Morman, client experience officer at Builders Digital Experience.

Looking ahead, the key, the most transformative feature will be the development of an operating system that will integrate diverse function which will enhance integration and connection of devices and enable a home to further adapt to changing conditions.

Also on the horizon is a desire for homes to be a nurturing center for wellness, a capability that will be enhanced by new technology.

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Boston’s North Shore

Full of historic homes and luxury beaches, northern Boston is the up-and-coming region of New England.

Geographic rivalries are not uncommon. In Boston, it’s two stretches along the coast radiating from the city — North Shore vs. South Shore. At first glance they seem similar, a chain of cities and towns hugging the coastline, but the differences (and maybe the rivalries) go back centuries. The Pilgrims landed in Plymouth on the south, and the Puritans landed on the north in Salem, founding two different colonies with diverse underpinnings.

On the North Shore, it’s hard to escape reminders of the region’s storied past. Here it’s possible to find quintessential New England in villages such as Essex, which has the most antique shops per square mile in the country. In the city of Newburyport, just south of the New Hampshire border, vestiges of the Colonial era mix with the 21st century. Once an important port and center for shipbuilding, Newburyport has the largest collection of Federalist architecture in the country. Here and in nearby towns such as Newbury, one finds prime examples of early Colonial homes, some of which remain private residences.

©ISTOCKPHOTO.COM / DENISTANGNEYJR

Throughout the North Shore, there are dozens of historic homes and sites. The Peabody Essex Museum on East India Square in Salem highlights the history of the region, particularly the maritime connections, but it is also ranked one of the country’s top art museums.

The region includes more than 25 cities and towns extending along oceanfront, inlets and marshes north of Boston and into former farming villages farther inland. A number are considered enclaves for the affluent, but the diversity of housing and communities ranges from waterfront and marsh-view settings to urban condos, to residences on multi-acre sites a few miles inland in Boxford or Middletown.

Some of the best beaches in the state also dot this stretch of the coast and include Plum Island off of Newburyport, Crane’s Beach in Ipswich and Wingaersheek in Gloucester on Cape Ann.

Locals often refer to Cape Ann, a rocky spit of land reaching into the Atlantic, as “the other cape.” Admittedly, it is one of the prettiest stretches of coastline in the state (it’s been a setting for a number of movies), and one that still offers an authentic lifestyle that appeals to an eclectic group from fishermen to artists and writers. The seaside village of Rockport is an arts hub. On Cape Ann, one discovers Shingle-style homes often mixed among Contemporary-style residences built to capture ocean, marsh or pond views.

Not only does this area include gorgeous beaches, but also some of the region’s true estate settings in Manchester by the Sea and Annisquam. It is also home to America’s oldest fishing port, Gloucester, which is still a working fishing community.

Along with beaches, history, stunning homesites and towns that foster community, the region is noted for a cuisine inspired by the Italian and Portuguese heritage and the bounty of fresh seafood. In fact, instead of farm to table, Gloucester touts its “bait to plate” freshness. All this, only 30 miles from Logan Airport and Boston.

     

This editorial originally appeared in Unique Homes Winter 2020.

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Footloose Fortunes

©istockphoto.com / ClaudioVentrella

While the pace of wealth creation may be slowing, the story now is how it’s spreading around the globe.

“The increasingly footloose nature of wealth.” That’s how global consultancy Knight Frank characterizes today’s trend in affluence. When it comes to real estate, all it takes is a quick look at the worldwide activity of major brands to see a clear illustration of this concept.

The locations of new affiliates of Sotheby’s International Realty in recent months include Oklahoma City, Arkansas and Kansas, along with Cyprus, Slovakia and Qatar. Qatar is the second location in the Middle East for Sotheby’s. Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices has extended its reach to global hubs, partnering with major firms in Europe and the Middle East. Now, they count Berlin, London, Milan, Madrid, Barcelona, Dubai and Frankfort in their network. Coldwell Banker has offices in 49 countries. Luxury Portfolio International, the luxury arm of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, has affiliates in more than 70 countries.

“The fact that the world is becoming smaller and smaller, the speed of information flow, and travel contribute to people’s interest in owning properties elsewhere, both for Americans and foreign nationals,” explains Joyce Rey, executive director, Coldwell Banker Global Luxury.

Markets may go through cycles and new partnerships emerge, but the foundation of global real estate hasn’t changed. “The luxury buyer understands that one of the best, if not the best, investments they can make is property,” explains Michael Jalbert, executive vice president, Global Field Operations for HSF Affiliates, the parent company of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.

Chatter regarding a potential recession might form a smokescreen, but wealth creation will continue to be a constant, according to Knight Frank’s annual Wealth Report, which forecasts a rise, over the next five years, of 22 percent in the number of individuals whose net worth exceeds $30 million, a group often classified as Ultra High Net Worth, UHNW. Over the next year, existing UHNW, especially in the U.S., expect their wealth to increase.

When Rey began her career in the 1970s, foreign buyers were a rarity, especially in Southern California. Today, she says, the percentage of foreign buyers purchasing ultra-luxury properties, those priced above $20 million, has remained pretty steady. “Usually it waffles between about 20 percent to 25 percent. And that hasn’t changed over the years.” For the first nine months of 2019, foreign buyers accounted for 31 percent of purchases of $20-million plus residences in Los Angeles’ tony west side.

Rey was one of the first to reach outside U.S. borders to forge connections. After the increase of Japanese buyers in 1980s, she traveled to Japan to meet one-on-one with agents and potential buyers. “I feel if a quarter of your buying population is foreign, you should be reaching out to the foreign market,” she says.

Bob Hurwitz, founder and president of the Hurwitz James Company (HJC), was also on the leading edge of the global outreach. “In the early 90s, I recognized that the buyers for my highest-priced properties were more and more often originating from overseas. This was actually before the Internet was even a reality for marketing purposes. As a result, I started focusing a significant percentage of my marketing to exposing my listings here in the states to affluent foreign buyers.” He also created a network of HJC representatives to promote his listings overseas. Currently, Hurwitz represents nearly $3 billion in luxury properties and developments worldwide.

Even those who work in the global arena today are occasionally surprised by the geographic diversity of investors and buyers. “One stat that recently jumped out at me is Aruba is home to 90-plus nationalities and ethnic groups, which I thought was fascinating,” shares Stephanie Anton, president of Luxury Portfolio International. “One of our affiliates there also pointed out that many of their buyers are coming from India.”

And this isn’t an isolated instance. Indian buyers are cropping up in many other primary and second-home locations, including Portugal. Among foreign buyers in the U.S., India ranks third after China and Canada. India is expected to lead the five-year growth in Asia’s ultra-high net worth population with a 39 percent increase, followed by the Philippines (38 percent) and China (35 percent).

Increasingly, the ultra-wealthy are not necessarily tied to one country or one region. Approximately, 26 percent plan to emigrate in the next year. Already, more than a third hold a second passport and 22 percent plan to buy outside their country of residence, according to Knight Frank.

However, 2018 saw only a marginal increase (0.8 percent) in the size of the ultra-wealthy population, which Wealth X describes as a “marked slowdown” from the year earlier. The combined net worth of the ultra-wealthy declined 1.7 percent, the first annual fall in three years, according to Wealth X. However, it’s important to view these changes in context, because 2017 saw dynamic wealth creation with double-digit growth in the number of ultra-wealthy and impressive gains in asset markets.

The global outlook this year is nuanced. Rising interest rates and the end of quantitative easing means we are reaching the end of super-charged returns on everything from classic cars to art and property, according to Knight Frank. Government policies continue to transition as some countries seek to attract wealth, with a record number offering citizenship and residency through policies regarding investment, while others restrict outflows of capital. Others, including Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK will continue to make it more difficult for wealthy non-residents to purchase properties.

Looking ahead, expectations are for slower price growth in key markets. But, as with any correction, a shift in values is an opportunity to which buyers respond, something that is already happening in London, where agents see a potential turnaround, particularly for higher-priced properties, underway.

“London’s general property market has experienced a slowdown and fall in housing prices. That said, the luxury property market is certainly bottoming out and we are experiencing buyers returning to the market, which is demonstrated by our revenues being up 146 percent year on year,” says Martin Bikhit, managing director at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Kay & Co.

“Given all the uncertainty of Brexit, values in London have come down significantly. It’s a buyers’ market,” says Jalbert.

The exchange rate of the U.S. dollar to sterling makes the value equation even more appealing. “American buyers have been able to take advantage of savings up to 45 percent compared to the 2014 peak of the market. U.S. buyers believe that the market is going to spike post-Brexit and there is now an opportunity to buy competitively. Indeed, this is illustrated by the fact that American hedge funder Ken Griffin was the buyer behind two of London’s most expensive property transactions within the past year,” according to Bikhit, who calls this surge a “pre-Brexit boom.”

Hurwitz sees luxury penthouses in many traditional hot markets, including London, as good opportunities for buyers, since those prices have seen a big decline. Other recommendations in Europe include France as well as Tuscany, which, he says, has an appeal that transcends the strictly financial. “Finding something totally renovated in an authentic manner is key.”

A flat or pied-à-terre in Paris has become a rite of passage for Americans, says Anton, noting reports of particular interest coming from Silicon Valley. Paris is one of the bright spots in Europe, placing third on Knight Frank’s list of the

fastest-growing luxury markets.

“France and Italy are still two of our top locations and our offices are expanding in numbers and experiencing a very solid claim in the market,” says Craig Hogan, vice president, Coldwell Banker Global Luxury.

Berlin is Europe’s rising star. It has topped Urban Land Institute’s list of markets to watch in Europe for four years in a row, and currently ranks second after Madrid on rankings of the fastest-growing luxury real estate markets. Luxury residential here is a small but vibrant niche, with the number of privately owned apartments selling above 1 million euros growing by 17.5 percent from 2017 to 2018.

Stefan Schulze, COO, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Rubina Real Estate, says, “If Berlin succeeds in further expanding its potential in scientific and culture fields and remains one of the influential centers in Europe, it can be deemed certain that not only the number of premium new development projects but also the quality of luxury real estate will continue to grow sharply.”

Global Buyers in the U.S.

From the perspective of foreign buyers in the U.S., Hurwitz says, the market has changed multiple times over the last few years, fueled by factors as diverse as the attitude and oversight of a foreign buyer’s own government regarding money leaving their country, to crushing economic changes in their country of origin, to U.S. government restrictions on shell companies buying, to various others. Hurwitz says, “I still believe the U.S. is a safe bet and I am telling my clients to buy here.”

During the 12 months from April 2018 to March 2019, global purchases of U.S. properties fell sharply, with purchases declining by 36 percent. The dollar volume as well as the average price also declined. Rather than lack of interest from potential buyers, Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, cites what he calls “a confluence of factors — slower economic growth abroad, tighter capital controls in China, a stronger U.S. dollar and a low inventory of homes for sale.”

John Smaby, NAR president, adds, “There is still significant interest in U.S. properties across the globe, and the U.S. is still seen as a safe, secure place to invest.”

London

©istockphoto.com / _ultraforma_

Tuscany

©istockphoto.com / mammuth

Paris

©istockphoto.com / Givaga

Madrid

©istockphoto.com / SeanPavonePhoto

Global Bright Spots

Along with real estate professionals from over 27 countries, Stephanie Anton recently returned from her company’s international conference in Athens. “It was thrilling to hear and see firsthand about so many bright spots in the market,” she says, including places where property markets were hard hit by political and financial turmoil during the recession. “One that was particularly obvious was our host city itself. The optimism of the Greek people was palpable.”

Both Spain and Portugal are seeing an influx of buyers and a surge in sales. Both suffered during the recession and are experiencing a strong turnaround.

“I think there is a sentiment of Europeans kind of holding their breath and waiting to see what happens with Brexit. But yet, there are also bright spots and the bright spots are more of those second-home markets because they’re lifestyle purchases. And so people are less concerned about the economic impact of Brexit because of making decisions on purchasing second or third homes,” Anton observes.

Some of the strongest luxury markets this year have been in resort locales. San Miguel de Allende continues to rank at the top of best cities and second-home destinations. “Our typical luxury buyers are investors looking for properties to take advantage of the lucrative vacation rental market, or shopping for their second or third vacation homes,” says Nancy Howze, with CDR San Miguel.

“Upscale consumers tend to have a broad world view,” says Jalbert. “They understand markets and are attracted to a range of places. Buyers in different parts of Europe are looking for a weather change, so it’s no surprise to see the resurgences of locations along Costa Del Sol and Portugal.” Jalbert adds that almost 100 percent of the luxury transactions in their eight offices in Portugal are from buyers outside the country. “It’s just an incredibly enchanted place where they have beautiful properties, but where there has also been significant investment in infrastructure,” he says.

One thing that has remained constant across the globe is the attitude of the elite regarding buying. Some of the highest sales in the last year can be tracked to global buyers, according to Hogan. “They will spend the money but need to know it’s a wise decision.”

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE GLOBAL 2019 ISSUE OF UNIQUE HOMES. TO SEE THE DIGITAL VERSION OF THIS STORY, CLICK HERE.

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Biophilic Design

On tablescapes, in kitchens and baths, garden and great rooms, green seems to be having a moment.

Photo courtesy of marvin Windows and Doors

Extensive windows and doors link to greenery outside and bring nature inside.

©istockphoto.com / martinwimmer

Photo JORDAN STEAD / Amazon

Not too long ago, it was difficult to spy even a vestige of green in a room. Today, it’s almost impossible to find new interior scheme without a spark of green. “We’re seeing emerald green used on everything from walls to cabinetry to tile and even lighting,” observes Sue Wadden, director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams.

Green hues, especially deep vibrant shades, seem to be everywhere along with living greenery and plants. But rather than a fleeting color preference, the passion for green might also be the first sprouts, indications of a more transformative movement — biophilic design — edging into residential design and architecture.

Biophilia, according to consultants Terrapin Bright Green, refers to humankind’s innate biological connection with nature. Although social psychologist Eric Fromm first coined the phrase “biophilia,” the concept wasn’t popularized until the 1980s when biologist Edward O. Wilson took up the mantle. Biophilic design introduces natural elements, organic forms, light and water into the built environment. Research shows integrating natural elements increases productivity, enhances creativity and improves mental health. “We’re getting evidence-based design, especially in the healthcare industry, that just by having a view of the outside a patient recovers quicker and requires less medication and attention after surgery,” observes Miami designer B. Pila.

“The use of green in home interiors is picking up steam,” explains Stephanie Pierce, director of design for MasterBrand Cabinets. “There are a variety of shades cropping up today, particularly in the kitchen and bath from deep emeralds to soft sages and dark ivies. Deep, moody hues are making a bold impact on these spaces. The effect is as cozy as a warm blanket.”

“Touches of rich, verdant green can make it feel as though you’ve escaped to the outdoors and are soaking up the invigorating effects of nature — without even leaving your home,” shares Wadden.

“With the growing interest in wellbeing in all aspects of our lives, including the home, people are using nature-inspired lush greens to bring comfort into spaces,” explains Christine Marvin, director of corporate strategy and design at Marvin Windows and Doors. “Emerald green is a bold color that perfectly balances glamour with calmness, evoking a sense of relaxation and inspiration.”


Three spherical conservatories forested with more than 40,000 plants and trees allow Amazon employees to work while surrounded by nature.

Photo courtesy of sherwin-williams

Green, whether an accent or main course, is a mainstay on design menus.

Until recently, biophilic principles were utilized primarily in commercial structures, and the inclusion of nature — living plants, park-like oases, organic forms, natural materials including wood and stone, water and light — is revamping corporate settings including Amazon, Apple and Google. Last year, Amazon’s long-awaited biophilic project, The Spheres, opened on the site of its original headquarters. The three glass and steel domes are forested with more than 40,000 plants. Along with plants and a four-story-tall green wall, there are waterfalls, a river, walkways and meeting spaces. Hotels and other commercial spaces are implementing biophilic design practices but with more modest expressions.

For residential buildings, the addition of natural elements and connections with the outside has been an ongoing evolution, partially in response to consumer attitudes rather than a dedication to biophilia. Designers are just catching on. “Consumers are more educated in wanting healthier lifestyle choices,” says Angela Harris, creative director and principal of TRIO, an award-winning interior design firm in Denver.

Current residential design merges indoors and out, organic and humanmade, using visual and real connections. The integration of outdoor spaces is a response to consumer lifestyle demands, but the end result potentially delivers the cognitive, psychological and physiological benefits biophilia advocates tout.

“We’ve noticed an increase in demand for bigger windows over the past five years, as more people want to feel connected to the world around us while we’re indoors,” comments Marvin. “In a world that’s become fast paced and where our living and workspaces are merging, letting light in allows us to feel alive and connected to space outside our homes. Incorporating large windows into the home plays a significant role in achieving this ‘outdoors in’ feel and connecting to nature. We’re also seeing a pull towards large window walls, or many windows that are mulled together to create a wall of light that heightens the experience of light in a home.”

It may seem biophilia is just another quick moving fad, but more than one organization is promoting the concept and actively formulating certifications for buildings under the auspices of groups such as the International Living Future Institute, a Seattle-based nonprofit that encourages sustainable practices and wellness. In 2016, a cadre of architects, builders and researchers formed the Biophilic Design Initiative to further the movement. Biophilia is also part of the U.S. Green Building Council’s WELL Building Standard.

Whether or not biophilia will exert a long-term influence on design remains to be seen, but there is a good chance wellness and nature will be an important aspect of design’s new normal.

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Gazing into Real Estate’s Crystal Ball

©istockphoto.com / Jirsak

The luxury real estate outlook for the coming decade includes understanding millennials and dealing with low inventories.

A new year and a new decade prompts pundits to dust off crystal balls and prognosticate on what’s ahead. But experience teaches us that vision is not always in focus.

To illustrate her perception of luxury in 2020, Stephanie Anton, president of Luxury Portfolio International, points to Pantone’s color of the year, a classic blue symbolizing protection, sustainability, peace and confidence. “That’s exactly how I feel about the market. It’s going to be a peaceful year, solid, with nothing dramatic happening.” 

Others might agree with Julie Leonhardt LaTorre, COO for Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates, who says, “The U.S. luxury property market has never been as exciting as it is today. While certain real estate markets are currently experiencing some softening, others are seeing an uptick in sales.”

“It’s a time of change,” says Craig Hogan, vice president, Coldwell Banker Global Luxury. In hindsight, there is a good chance 2020 will be viewed not as a year of spectacular sales or an unusually strong market, but rather as pivotal — the year in which millennials became real estate influencers, sparking a transformation more significant and substantive than simply sales or the number of transactions. The turnover from baby boomers to millennials will take more than a decade to complete and will impact all facets of real estate from design to communication to how transactions are conducted.

Looking Back

When the last decade began, there was only one certainty for real estate: we were in a recession, perhaps the worst crisis since the Great Depression. Tentative hints of a recovery arrived with the new year, but as the decade unfolded, it was clear the worst was not over. “Bumping along the bottom” became a catch phrase to characterize the long, slow recovery. By decade’s end, almost all markets were back to or had surpassed pre-recession values. A few became hot markets with a surge of new residential property and skyrocketing values followed by another period of adjustment. Many others bounced by and remained hot markets through the end of the decade. By early 2019, the possibility of another downturn loomed as some economists and housing experts bet a recession was waiting in the wings.

Today, a few clouds hover over some forecasts, but expectations are the economic expansion, the longest in history, will continue. Jobs, the economy and continued low interest rates continue as positives. For real estate, the year ended on an upbeat as markets revived in the second half. Still, a lack of inventory continued to hamstring sales with only a 3.9-month supply of homes on the market at the end of October, down from 4.3 months recording October 2018. Noting that residential construction is still under-building to meet demand, Rover Dietz, NAHB chief economist, points to higher development costs, which, he says, “are hurting affordability and dampening more robust construction growth.”

The median existing-home price for all housing types in October was $270,900, up 6.2 percent from October 2018. October’s price increase marks almost eight years, 92 straight months, of year-over-year gains.

The probability of a recession in 2020 is 29 percent, according to 14 housing economists and experts gathered by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) in December for a forecast summit. They project a 2.0 percent increase in GDP in 2020 and 1.9 in 2021. Annual median home prices are expected to increase by 3.6 percent in 2020 and 3.5 percent in 2021.

“Real estate is on firm ground with little chance of price declines,” said NAR’s Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. However, Yun cautioned that lack of inventory, not enough for sale homes to meet demand, was still a detriment. “In order for the market to be healthier, more supply is needed to assume home prices as well as rents do not consistently outgrow income gains,” he explained.

Year-end bought more positives with an increase in builder confidence for single-family construction, the highest point since June 1999, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market index. “Builders are continuing to see the housing rebound that began in the spring, supported by a low supply of existing homes, low mortgage rates and a strong labor market,” said NAHB Chairman Greg Ugalde, a home builder and developer from Torrington, Connecticut.

New Markets to Watch

In recent years, a big change has been the migration of luxury to secondary markets such as Denver and Houston. This year, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Nashville, Cincinnati, Boise, and Kansas City were added to the luxury orbit, according to the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing.

Looking ahead, John Brian Losh, chairman and publisher of LuxuryRealEstate.com, believes that all of the fundamentals for a positive year for real estate are in place. “I think nationally it couldn’t be better. The economy is booming. It’s an election year, and people don’t want to raise taxes during an election year. It’s rare to have a slowdown during an election year. The luxury market is all about consumer confidence. If confidence is high, the market will stay strong.”

Still, some media reports portray luxury sales in freefall, particularly from Manhattan, which is finding new ground after a mid-decade surge in prices, or L.A.’s tony Westside enclaves, where a spate of speculative development pushed prices to unjustified levels. Yet, Manhattan and Beverly Hills both posted sales that set record prices in 2019. 

I think nationally it couldn’t be better. The economy is booming. It’s an election year, and people don’t want to raise taxes during an election year. It’s rare to have a slowdown during an election year. The luxury market is all about consumer confidence. If confidence is high, the market will stay strong.

John Brian Losh

Chairman & Publisher , LuxuryRealEstate.com

“What’s interesting is what we’re hearing and feeling is not as bad as we hear in the media,” shares Anton, following a recent two-day summit with 15 leading brokers.

Something Meghan Barry, president at LuxuryRealEstate.com, has heard this year from more than a few agents is they are having their best year ever.

While Anton agrees “there is definitely a softening in luxury generally,” she also points out, “There are bright spots. It’s not a horror story. Things are flat year over year, and as we look to the coming year, we think it’s going to be the same.”

Lesli Akers, president, Keller Williams Luxury International, sees the growth of inventory as a positive. “We’re starting to see more supply and we need to. It’s not moving into a buyer’s market. It’s moving more into an adjusted market. I think the luxury market is strong now.”

Heading into 2020, there are also a number of encouraging indicators for luxury from a continued vibrant global market to a surge of demand for second-home and resort properties. “With the creation of new wealth around the world, cities like New York City, London and Dubai, just to name a few, will continue to thrive in the luxury arena,” says Johnson.

London

©istockphoto.com / sborisov

Tokyo

©istockphoto.com / tawatchaiprakobkit

“We have been seeing a strong increase in demand in Dubai’s super-prime segment, with transaction volumes increasing by 81 percent year-to-date in the second quarter, compared to the same period last year. The mainstream market over the same period saw a 2.2-percent decline, although since then the wider market has seen increased transaction volumes, increasing 11.1 percent year-to-date in August over the same period last year,” says Dounia Fadi, chief operating officer, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Gulf Properties.

“Some of the hot markets that are emerging globally are Canada, Japan, Portugal and New Zealand,” says LaTorre. “Canada continues to generate strong interest. Specifically, Vancouver, which is steadily regaining momentum, experiencing the greatest gains in year-over-year employment growth among Canada’s three largest census metropolitan areas, so confidence in the city’s fundamentals remains high. There is a strong focus on Tokyo, especially with the Olympic games in 2020. It’s currently on a world spotlight.”

In London, prices are down, and the general property market has slowed. But the luxury market, which Martin Bikhit, managing director at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Kay & Co. describes as “certainly bottomed out,” is reviving with buyers returning to the market. It’s still a buyers’ market, which creates new opportunities for investors and foreign buyers. Bikhit sees Americans and others from countries with currencies pegged to the U.S. dollar taking advantage of prices and exchange rates offering savings of 45 percent compared to the 2014 market peak.

“International buyers are using the currency play to their advantage and timing their investments accordingly. Therefore, we are seeing a number of international buyers looking to buy in the UK,” says LaTorre. And, she adds, “we’re still seeing foreign interest in the U.S. luxury market.”

Hot luxury locales this year were resort markets, and the passion for get-away properties or the new family gathering spot is not expected to change soon. “The preferences of the consumer have changed dramatically. We’re seeing wealthy millennials are particularly interested in purchasing second homes,” says Anton.

Tax policies also came into play this year in a big way and expectations are they will continue to shape demand and bring more interest to low tax states such as Texas and Florida. Expectations are taxes and government policies will remain motivations for buyers. “The weather, the climate and taxation have a lot to do with where people move, especially in this economy,” says Losh.

Not only are more consumers migrating to lower tax states, but Hogan says an increasing number of agents are licensed in two states such as Illinois and Arizona or New York and Florida. “We have always had people with dual licenses. Now we have agents who have established a presence and market themselves as having offices in two locations.”

Many are also revising their acquisitions too. “People are looking for multiple small properties instead of one large property,” adds Anton.

In the last year and a half, both Coldwell Banker Global Luxury and Luxury Portfolio International conducted research into millennial attitudes and the potential influence of this cohort on luxury market. “The buyer pool has changed. In the luxury space, we’re now faced with people with different expectations, different styles of communication and different experiences,” Hogan says.

Already evidence of the transition from boomers and Gen X to millennials can be seen. By spring 2020, millennials will account for more than 50 percent of all mortgage originations, according to George Raitu, senior economist at Realtor.com. By 2030, Wealth Engine and Coldwell Banker Global Luxury estimate millennials will hold five times as much wealth as they do today.

Currently, the number of wealthy millennials in the luxury market may be small, but they are extremely influential. For one thing, Hogan says, they are buying more real estate than their parents. “They own an average of three homes, while their parents own an average of 1.4, and they’re spending more money.”

Overall, millennials are defying earlier predictions by starting families, moving out of urban neighborhoods and owning cars. What’s ahead is uncertain, but agents and brands are preparing for dramatic changes in the industry overall. 

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE WINTER 2020 ISSUE OF UNIQUE HOMES. TO SEE THE DIGITAL VERSION OF THIS STORY, CLICK HERE.

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The New Townhome

Early reports of the death of the townhome appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

A private garage for two cars; flex space ideal for teens, guests or an office; a light-filled interior with generous rooms between multiple levels. Decks, porches and patios, open interiors to the outside. The feeling is expansive and private. Welcome to the new townhome.

“Back down. The townhome is dead” was cautionary advice Jeff Benach, principal of Chicago-based Lexington Homes, often heard during the recession. But that wasn’t the experience for his firm, which, he says, always had been “pretty strong on townhomes.” They continued to offer this option. “A couple of years later in 2011 and 2012, all of a sudden the townhome is becoming the it property type,” he says. Few other types of residential housing have had a resurgence of interest as town-homes, and few others have undergone as many fundamental changes in architecture, floor plans and finishes. Elevated design and dynamic architecture are only part of this newfound appeal. Cost, location, and lifestyle — which often is more important than price for buyers — also come into play.

Long perceived as second best, town-houses are no longer viewed as merely a less costly alternative to single-family homes. Instead, the appeal extends to a surprising span of life stages and lifestyles from entry-level to move-up to affluent.

No Longer Second Best

“We’re starting to see, and I’ve seen more of lately, something I never saw in my 30-plus years of doing this, and that is families, young families with kids looking for a townhouse for school districts or other reasons,” explains Benach. “This obviously signals a shift in who is buying townhomes, whereas before it was first-time or move-down buyers.” Also, school districts have become a much bigger factor for potential buyers, which, Benach says, reflects a much greater acceptance of townhomes as a longer term, grow-to product.

 

 “Luxury townhouses in New York City are increasingly offering homeowners more options and choices when it comes to their lifestyle. A townhouse generally provides homeowners more living space and the opportunity to have a residential experience that is closer to a single-home lifestyle, which is hard to find in a metropolitan area. The townhouse can offer a family room to grow and more flexibility as needs change in the future,” explains David Dynega, CEO of Detail Renovations in Great Neck, N.Y.

PHOTO COURTESY KOBI KARP ARCHITECTURE AND INTERIOR DESIGN

Walls of glass bring the tropical landscape into the experience of this townhome on Fisher Island.

The ability to lock and leave without compromising on outdoor connections and privacy is another incentive. “Living in a townhouse-style building, I literally lock my door and leave. I’m walkable to downtown and I have no anxiety about maintaining or the lawn or yard or snow removal. It’s taken care of. I think that’s the benefit for a more transient society, especially people with multiple dwellings,” shares Michigan architect Wayne Visbeen, principal and founder of Visbeen Architects.

“The keyword in townhome is home,” observes Kobi Karp, principal of Kobi Karp Architecture & Interior Design. “It’s a very habitable home, a house within the town. That’s really the way we see it, and it’s traditionally, historically been as such,” he says reflecting on the tradition of grand urban residences from the era of the Vanderbilt and J.P. Morgan. “A lot of our projects are infilled in urban spaces, and people are using town-houses to be unique destinations for their family within the urban center,” he explains.

“The townhouses you see now are designed much more like a single-family home, and people want a single-family feel even to an attached home,” says Michael Stone, senior designer at Bassenian Lagoni Architects in Newport Beach, California. While attached multi-story dwellings, traditionally called row homes, are what many still envision at the mention of townhouses, this option today has a range of iterations. “It seems like each week we are seeing a new spin on the attached product,” shares Stone.

Today, townhouses can be clustered on small lots. Some are freestanding, like some historical homes in New York City, or they might be attached. They can also be part of a highrise building. “We create them on lanai decks; we create them on rooftops,” says Karp. Location is key and an address in a highly desirable, prestigious neighborhood in cities including New York or Miami adds to the appeal and the cachet of the property. Being part of a high rise also usu-ally enables townhome owners to enjoy all of the amenities of the building.

Even new master-planned communities — usually with diverse property types, prices and sizes — often include town-houses in walkable locations close to the hub of activity.

Getting More With Less

Kobi Karp lives in a townhouse. Wayne Visbeen lives in what might be considered a new vision for townhouses. His is a three-story live-work space. “I think the thing that is similar between townhouses and single-family homes is we’re all trying to figure out ways of getting more for less. So how do you use space efficiently, no matter how luxurious? It is something that even my very-high-end clients are looking for,” he says. His own home is only 20-feet wide; yet, he says, people are shocked when they learn how narrow the home is. What makes the difference? Ceiling heights give volume and expansive windows bring in light.

Visbeen, who has won design and architectural awards for both custom and production homes, tends to think about space innovatively. A good example is a large room in his home designed to be adapted to multiple uses, including a rec room, a guest suite and a conference room for his business. This type of space is something Visbeen says he is incorporating into almost all new designs from townhouses to single-family residences.

What makes a townhouse today differ-ent from one designed decades ago? Light, maximizing square footage, floor plans oriented for privacy and indoor/outdoor connections. Even entries have been reorganized with direct access to a residence from a private garage, which is more often than not, spacious enough for two cars and additional storage.

 

It’s All About The Light

Interiors infused with light dispel any sense of compromise regarding square foot-age or the size of a lot, even for attached homes. For example, in a recent plan created by Bassenian Lagoni, individual town homes were attached along the rear wall. The entries faced opposite streets and the orientation allowed for the placement of windows, large banks of windows, on three sides.

©ISTOCKPHOTO.COM / PHOTO_HAMSTERMAN

Strategic positioning of stairs connect levels and enhance light in new townhome designs. 

Often, stairways are open and positioned to transmit light through two or more levels of the home and to also visually connect multiple levels without sacrificing valuable interior space. For upscale properties, elevators are becoming a non-negotiable item, particularly in new construction on sites where the enhanced value derived by the location and the land often more than exceeds the cost of an elevator.

A new spin on townhomes from Lexington Homes, is something Benach describes as a bit of a hybrid. “It’s a town-home in that the main footprint where people live is about a 40- by 22- or 21-foot footprint, times three stories.” In a typical old-style townhome, the garage would be in front or in the rear but still integral to the building. But in Benach’s hybrid model, the entire house is “all living space.” The back door opens to a rear yard and a garage that fronts on an alley. “So, it’s just like a city single family home, except they are attached. And there is a weathered-board fence between each one, so you’ve got your own little private back yard,” along with a garage, he says.

PHOTO COURTESY KOBI KARP ARCHITECTURE AND INTERIOR DESIGN

Whether a covered deck, garden, pool or simply a small patio, outdoor spaces are some of the most desired amenities in townhomes.

Outdoor Attachments

A small outdoor space, especially in urban centers, is one of the most desired amenities offered by townhomes. It’s something many do not want to sacrifice just because they live in a metropolitan area.

Equally fundamental to an experience akin to single-family are decks, patios and porches, often on multiple levels of the home. Not only do they provide an essential connection to nature, but they extend the square footage, often via stacking or telescoping doors that completely

 

merge inside and out. Often, for homes located above parking garages or in high-rise buildings, they create opportunities for outdoor living — even small gardens or play areas in locations and sites where such access is almost impossible. Being able to walk outside or dine, possibly in a covered outdoor room, brings an entirely new dimension to the townhome experience. The latest “must-have” outdoor amenity is a rooftop deck, which in many locations maximizes views. Outdoor kitchens and dinning, gardens, pools, and play areas make this amenity space even more desirable.

Outdoor Living Inside The Home

Another strategy architects employ to create outdoor connections and infuse natural light into the center of townhouses is interior courtyards, often sited next to a side yard or the rear, with the home grouped around it in a U-shape. In addition to opening ground-level spaces (often via disappearing doors) to the outdoors, they create opportunities for additional windows and even large expanses of glass on upper levels. In all price ranges, the use of transom glass at the top of walls or over windows and doors further opens interiors on upper levels.

Private courtyards within the townhouse also evoke historical ties to turn-of-the-century townhomes in New York. “Those homes were highly glazed with interaction and connectivity to the landscaping, and to the gardens,” says Karp.

In addition to outdoor living options, having square footage distributed between multiple levels is a main differentiator between a flat and a townhouse.

The interaction between indoors and outdoors also differentiates a townhouse from a flat as does having living spaces on multiple levels. Both create value and enhance privacy and the essential sense of home. “It gives you a little bit of separation. It’s physical and mental privacy,” says Karp.

“Additionally, particularly for high-end homes, taller rooms often found in town-homes are ideal to display art,” observes Karp, a feature increasing desired by affluent owners.

Even for the affluent, especially in urban centers, Karp says, “a big house and land isn’t necessarily as financially feasible as it is to maintain a luxury townhome in a town center where you live it and you use it in a more efficient manner. You live and you use every room of the townhouse, where I give you a sprawling house in the city and there’s rooms you never walk into.”

     

This editorial originally appeared in The High End Winter 2020.

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Kitchens Are Changing

Colors, materials and the overall aesthetics often take the spot-light, while functionality takes a back seat. But storage, organization and tech-enabled appliances are as much the heart of kitchens today as cabinets and hardware. 

As the overall look for kitchens becomes more cohesive, functionality might be even more important, as maintaining a sleek aesthetic requires a subtle integration of storage and dedicated zones for everything from baking to beverages. Equally transformative is a growing array of tech enhancements that promise real value for consumers. All of which ensure the most beautiful kitchen also will be up to the tasks required of the hardest-working room in the home.

“Regardless of the size of the kitchen, the main design challenge is to balance space given to appliances, storage and work surfaces,” says Mary Jo Peterson, an award-winning author, educator and designer and president of Mary Jo Peter-son Inc.

More windows and fewer walls moved storage to base cabinets. Interior storage solutions tailor a kitchen for an individual’s lifestyle and preferences. Photo courtesy of Masterbrand Cabinets. 

“It’s a functional area and how your work in the kitchen is an important consideration,” says Stephanie Pierce, director of design and trends at MasterBrand Cabinets. Especially with high-end clients, she says, designers’ conversations have evolved to be more about lifestyle than appearance and style preferences. This all ties into the shift toward personalization of both aesthetics and function in homes.

In the last 10 years, she says, the industry as a whole has tripled the storage solutions offered to consumers. Additionally, there is a much greater focus on customization and adaptation for specific uses, which enables consumers to create the amount and the type of storage uniquely geared toward their use of the kitchen and their lifestyle. As an example, Pierce points to a cabinet designed specifically for dry goods. “That’s not something we would have seen five or six years ago. We would have tried to do something that was much more versatile and generic that could work with anyone’s objective.”

Amping up the need for enhanced storage and organization is an ongoing change in kitchen design. Several years ago, Pierce says, they identified an emerging trend of adding add light to kitchens with more windows and fewer walls. The end result? Storage moved to base cabinetry and, more recently, to floor to ceiling cabinets. Pull-out drawers offer the most versatility, according to Pierce, and recent research shows 79 percent of designers identified wide drawers as the top kitchen feature.

Kitchens have not only become a main place to entertain, but also a hub for a range of activities from charging devices to home-work to functioning as a home office. This is not a new trend, but Annelle Gandelman of A-List Interiors says, “lately, more peo-ple have been asking for dedicated spaces within the kitchen that cater to guests specifically. We get a lot of requests for coffee bars, butler’s pantries, and even breakfast bars filled with specialty appliances integrated into the cabinetry.”

Phil Kean sees a bar for liquor and wine gaining interest among consumers, which also moves some entertaining into areas adjacent to the kitchen. The New American Home 2019, a concept house designed and built for the home builders’ annual trade show, featured a large bar situated between the kitchen and great room that functioned both inside and outside the home. This year, Thermador introduced a dishwasher just for glasses. Kean says it’s interesting to see an appliance with such a specific function. “I think we’re going to see that more often. People might want to have a second dish-washer in their bar.”

Other specialty appliances requested for bars and beverage centers include refrigeration drawers, ice makers, instant hot faucets, drawer microwaves, convection ovens and wine refrigerators, according to Gendelman. Interestingly, one appliance that’s become a “must have” for upscale kitchens is a built-in coffee and espresso maker. Introduced at the kitchen and bath show (KBIS) this year was a faucet that delivers filtered boiling water as well as sparkling water and normal filtered water.

For high-end kitchens, the big story currently revolves around butler’s pantries and second kitchens. “We find that even people who don’t cook will invest heavily in their kitchens because it’s not just about function and food prep but also where people spend most of their time. As a result, the messier, uglier parts of a working kitchen are being moved into pantries and smaller back kitchens. These spaces are where the toaster ovens, slow cookers and ugly appliances are being hidden,” says Gendelman.

Pierce agrees. “We’re seeing fewer countertop appliances being visible,” she says. Another emerging addition to the kitchen is something Pierce calls the “walk-through pantry,” which essentially looks like a traditional cabinet door to a pantry. But open the door, and it takes you to an entire secondary kitchen that she says can be “massive.” Often it will have a sink and a second refrigerator. “It’s basically a prep kitchen that is also designed toward food storage.”

Dedicated spaces for entertaining, such as this wine cabinet, please both hosts and guests, easing congestion in the main kitchen. Photo courtesy of Masterbrand Cabinets. 

“Convenience is luxury,” observes Gendelman. Motorization is a convenience, particularly in contemporary kitchens, where cabinet doors, even some appliances, open in response to a slight push. Additionally, manufacturers have introduced a range of ways to open cabinets, including doors that tilt upwards, allowing users to leave cabinets open without interfering with traffic patterns.

Consumers also see the value of technology as a way to create convenience. In research from the National Kitchen and Bath Association, 72 percent of consumers believe technology “adds market value to my home.” “Saves me time and steps” was perceived as a main benefit of kitchen technology by 70 percent of those surveyed. A majority also said kitchen tech is important because “it makes my life easier.”

In this research, consumers outpaced designers in their enthusiasm for and understanding of technology. There was strong approval and interest in smart appliances and tech solutions that enable consumers to control various aspects of the home from the kitchen, as well as solutions that make meal ideas/preparation easier and more enjoyable. Very appealing tech features for a large majority of consumers include appliances/faucets that send remote failure/leak alerts; cooking appliances that sense over-cooking or being left on; hands-free faucets with Wi-Fi interconnectivity; appliances that can be activated remotely; and sensors that can monitor/communicate food inventories in your cabinets.

 

Now you see it, now you don’t. It’s the messy kitchen. Cabinet doors open to a second space for prep, storage and even cooking. Photos courtesy of Masterbrand Cabinets.

For consumers, the timing might be right. Smart-home technology has changed in only a few years, moving from a nice-but-quirky gadget to something worthwhile. “Smart is the new green” was the consensus of a trio of kitchen design exerts speaking at KBIS.

Ryan Herd is a tech veteran, NKBA industry insider and author of Join the Smart Home Revolution. He sees technology finally turning the corner, moving from a nice-to-have gadget to something offering real value to consumers. “Things are knitted together better” is his take on the cur-rent state of technology for the home and also for kitchens. Knitting together refers to ways different applications, devices and even appliances work together to produce outcomes consumers find beneficial. Some, such as the number of cooking apps integrated into appliances (highlighted at KIBS this year), are already in the marketplace. Others are on the cusp of being introduced. Appliance manufacturer Miele introduced Con@ctivity 2.0, which connects an induction cooktop with a ventilation hood. When the cooktop is turned on, the information is transmitted to the hood, which turns on. It continues to run for a few minutes after cooking is completed and then automatically turns off.

Bosch, along with Thermador and Gaggenau, introduced a line-up of voice assistants, all part of their smart, open-platform Home Connect. “All within one app, Home Connect empowers consumers to personalize the way they interact with appliances through any number of our partners and services, such as waking up to a fresh cup of coffee each day when the alarm goes off, setting the lights to flash when the washing machine cycle is finished, or selecting a recipe that will communicate with the oven to ensure it’s utilizing the right program and temperature for optimal results,” said Patrick Palacio, director of innovations for Home Connect. Partners includer Kitchen Stories, Drop and Innit. Chefling is the first AI powered kitchen assistant that provides pantry management, online shopping and recipe instruction.

Photo courtesy of Whirlpool.

Photo courtesy fo Thermador. 

Whirlpool won innovation awards at CES this year, including an innovation award in the Smart Home category for Kitchen Aid’s Smart Oven+, which includes grilling, baking and steaming within one appliance. The KitchenAid App gives status updates, and through the Yummly app users can send cooking instructions directly to the appliance. Voice control via Alexa or Google Home is another innovation.

Designers and manufacturers are look-ing for ways to remove the tangle of cords when multiple devices are being charged. Look for more ways to plug-in, with sockets and charging areas that pop up from countertops or can be installed in drawers. And also to not plug-in, using materials that charge wirelessly, such as a countertop material recently introduced by Corian.

Connectivity also means a manufacturer can detect a problem with an appliance, sometimes even before the consumer does. Herd uses the example of a wine refrigerator that has all the functions one would expect but also includes an app to scan the bottles and maintain an inventory. It has social aspects to facilitate collaboration with friends. The app also enables the manufacturer to monitor the compressor and other mechanical elements and alert consumers (along with scheduling service) if there is a problem, which Herd says is particularly valuable if you are storing $100 bottles of wine.

Winning a top award from NKBA was Flo by Moen, which detects and stops leaks from toilets, showers and faucets, to the pipes in the foundation and behind the walls. Not only does the device alert consumers to leaks, but it can then also turn off the water remotely.

In the not-too-distant future, a smart refrigerator will not only allow you to remotely see what’s inside, it will also keep an inventory that is updated every time something is added or removed. Eventually, cabinets will have a similar capability. “That’s where you get the stitching together,” says Herd. In the next step, the entire kitchen knows everything. Apps will not only keep track of what’s on hand, but they will also make meal suggestions and possibly tailor those suggestions to any specific preferences or even the allergies of guests.

Kitchens and appliances are long-term investments, and some might be reluctant to invest in technology. However, for upscale consumers it’s easy to envision a time when the convenience afforded by technology will far outweigh the cost.

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Vertical Villages

Homes grouped around a small collection of shops, churches, banks, a doctor’s office and a barber. It’s the way cities and towns developed. Today, a similar process is underway in Vancouver, Miami, Baltimore, San Jose, Memphis and many other cities, except expansion is as much upward as it is outward in a new vision of community considered a “vertical village.”

The concept found early proponents in Asia, where space is at a greater premium. Now, similar neighborhoods are taking shape in the U.S. and Canada, often in former industrial or commercial sites. In Memphis, Cross-town Concourse is rising in a former Sears distribution center and retail outlet the size of 25 football fields. In Atlanta, another abandoned distribution center is the foundation for Ponce Market, a mixed-use community adjacent to the Beltline. And in an era when retail seems to be threatened, shopping malls — not the familiar single-dimension covered expanse, but open sites inviting participation — are the foundation for vertical villages along with a mix of residences in multiple buildings and varied price brackets.

Misora Santana Row. Photo courtesy of Ankrom Moisan Architecture. 

However, no matter how well meshed, retail and residential alone do not create community. Instead, the addition of parks, trails, green spaces, grocery stores, farmer’s markets, performance centers, galleries, venues for the arts, wellness, education and medical and dental facilities turn what might be simply a new mall into a community.

Arts and culture are a focus at Crosstown Concourse, which is a collaborative effort, focused on the arts. Here, residents are perceived as embodying the spirit of the place.  

Santana Row in West San Jose, California, is another relatively new mixed-use community incorporating retail, offices and residential.

“Community is engrained in everything we do here at Santana Row,” says Collette Navarrette, West Coast marketing director for the developer, Federal Realty Investment Trust. “The center-wide amenities, highly engaged residents, and unique community events that Santana Row offers inspire and connect people in a meaningful and lasting way.

The concept of a vertical village might be mainstream for developers, but it’s still new to consumers. One of their biggest questions is whether the convenience and community will meet their needs and most especially their values, according to data scientist David Allison, who heads an eponymous global advisory firm. He says it all comes down to values. “What we value determines what we do.”

Allison brings new insights into con-sumer behavior. He contends traditional demographic parameters of age and gender do not work in today’s market. “People really don’t act their age anymore. Gender rules and norms are less important than ever before. In fact,” he says, “we live in a post-demographic era. Allison’s firm has amassed data from almost half a million people regarding 40 core human values as well as several hundred other needs, wants and expectations. Their database, Valuegraphics, shows that people in the traditional demographic categories have little agreement — only 13 percent of the time for Boomers, 11 percent for Gen X and 15 percent for Millennials. Humans overall only agree 8 percent of the time. Instead, Valuegraphics data uncovered 10 huge groups or architypes who agree on pretty much everything.

To profile those drawn to a vertical village, Allison combined this data with additional research among 1,864 North Americans who indicated interest in such a community. The results reveal several major interest profiles.

The Interlace in Singapore, designed by Ole Scheeren and Oma, established a new vision for urban residential living. Photo courtesy of Mike Cartmell. 

Local Experience
Chasers Approximately 32 percent literally pursue experience after experience, but they like to have those experiences close to home. “They want to do things they love again and again,” says Allison. Loyal to things that trigger a sense of belonging, they are apt to join a team or club and love to see the same faces. Quality of life often means quality of social life. A sense of belonging is important and they like the idea of multipurpose living. Allison says for this group extra thought should be given to programming. A 3D walkthrough of a yet to be finished building would have great appeal.

Workaholic Investors
Comprising 19 percent of potential residents, this group values financial security, material possessions and wealth. They are likely see a place in a vertical village as an investment. Allison says, “They are thinking long term about all of the component parts of the offering.” They are likely to be attracted to the proximity of amenities. Who lives in the building could also be an incentive for them.

Creative Savers
This group, which comprises about 16 percent of the sample, gravitates to places that will foster their own creativity. They accept potential financial challenges presented by a creativity-centered life. They are likely to have children and are attracted to inspiring design, cozy common areas and quaint trails meandering through parks, according to Allison.

City Loving Environmentalists
The last of the major archetypes, this group sees this style of community as being better for the environment and is motivated to reduce their carbon footprint. They love city living but appreciate and value of parks and green spaces. Highly educated and loyal, they are attracted to diversity. Family and relationships as well as health and wellbeing are also important to them.

Another group, about 18 percent of the sample, is composed of varied smaller architypes, which indicate going vertical might represent a substantial cross section of consumers.

CityVista, a mixed-use development, located at 475 K Street, N.W., in the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood of Washington D.C. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons by AgnosticPreachersKid.

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