Could some of the most in-demand housing markets be cooling off?
Trend: Sleeker Models that Emphasize Quality
Perhaps one of the sneakiest side effects of the ceaseless buying spree in America is that, as a group, we have become incredibly sophisticated shoppers.
Perhaps one of the sneakiest side effects of the ceaseless buying spree in America is that, as a group, we have become incredibly sophisticated shoppers. Marketers today really can’t get away with offering products that in some way do not exude quality for the price point. And this widespread eye for quality is clearly being felt in the home building industry where a new trend in merchandising models is underway.
|"One special piece of art becomes a very important statement when presented within a simple detail," says Lita Dirks of Lita Dirks and Co. of her firm’s interior for builder Spectrum Skanska in Westchester, N.Y. Another model for Renaissance Homes in Leesburg, Va. shows simplified grand quality.
PB editors, recently back from an extensive housing tour of Southern California, were struck by the cleaner, sleeker looks of all the newly opened models in San Diego, Orange, Riverside, and LA counties. We asked ourselves - are we seeing a trend away from the very detailed type of merchandising that had become so prevalent of late, one where family pictures and dishes in cabinets are included to help buyers visualize their desired lifestyle? No. Not really, say experts we asked at two of the home building industry’s interior merchandising firms.
Detailed lifestyle scenarios are still an important element of good merchandising. What has changed, they say, is the level of quality even homebuyers of modest means are seeking in their potential abodes. And the best way to show quality, these experts say, is to scale back the number of items to draw attention to the furnishings and the finishes.
Ava Busby Carberry of Color Design Art in Pacific Palisades, Calif., e-mailed us back to confirm that cleaner, simpler looks in models are indeed a strong trend. "This doesn’t mean, however, that model homes are any less personalized," she says. "That’s what we think is the key; models should feel very individualized and personal, using art and accessories, as well as optional finish materials to make the appropriate statement about lifestyle and life-stage. It is a by-product of a market in which consumers have more and more choices with which to make a personal statement about their homes."
Lita Dirks, principal at Lita Dirks & Co. Inc., Englewood, Colo., does the bulk of her model merchandising for builders in the Midwest and on the East Coast and guess what? Cleaner and sleeker works well there for the same reasons it does out West. "Nicer, simpler and well chosen items are really important rather than lots of stuff and that is a quality issue," Dirks says. "I think we are seeing buyers that every year are much more sophisticated so the key is finding the best way to project quality to the buyer."
Dirks adds that a major factor contributing to the new-look models is simply a reflection of the direction that mainstream interior design has taken of late. Models are cleaner and sleeker, she points out, because it echoes furniture design. The warmth in today’s homes comes from colors that are muted and comforting. Carberry agrees and, as good interior designers do, has pinpointed a specific reason Americans are increasingly seeing themselves in less cluttered living environments. Beyond even our collective eye for quality is "the stressed out lives we all live," Carberry suggests.
"We want less to think about, less to maintain, and a more restful, relaxing home environment," she says. "Colors are moving towards the softer more soothing tones. Furnishings have a cleaner look, smoother lines, less fuss and more quality."