Big Opportunities for Builders

Three unmet needs and the market shifts they signal are a call to innovation; a chance for differentiation

February 28, 2017

This month’s issue includes stories about three unfilled market niches that are significant opportunities for builders: culturally aware housing, live-work housing, and Missing Middle Housing. They're an example of old ideas, made new. 

Senior editor Susan Bady examines homebuyer trends informed by a nation that’s becoming more culturally and ethnically diverse every day. Data from the Pew Research Center show that, within the next half century, more than three-quarters of the population will be immigrants or born to immigrant parents. As you’ll see, designing with cultural awareness hews to many of the guidelines that drive any good design. Some considerations involve ancient Chinese and South Asian design principles for kitchen layout, placement of drains, and entryways. Other considerations have to do with trends that builders are already accommodating with their product designs: making room for aging relatives, extended family, and grandchildren (Image: Maark via Pixabay). 

Long before artists’ lofts became a thing in New York and other major cities in the early 1970s, the seamstress’ shop provided a place to live above it, the blacksmith’s shop had adjacent rooms, and the farmhouse got built near the sheep barn. Our House Review design team offers floor plans for modern-day live/work spaces. Though regulations to keep factories from impinging on homes became essential in the last century, the zoning that ensued included a knee-jerk reaction to all things commercial, senior contributing editor Larry Garnett observes. 

Live/work is an old idea that’s coming back, and it holds promise as a response to the increased demand for walkability, Garnett says. “If you’re trying to renew a town square or are building a new walkable environment, live/work creates vibrancy and a sense of place because you have people there 24-7, which means increased safety because people aren’t disappearing from town when the work day is done.” Garnett adds that when we think of live/work, we think of density. “It doesn’t have to be that way,” he insists. “If all the parts fit together, it can work in suburbia.” 

Finally, senior editor Mike Beirne talks to architect Daniel Parolek about another innovative response to market shifts. Missing Middle housing is built on the scale of single-family homes but contains multiple units—such as traditional duplexes. It’s a potential answer for Millennial buyers who want a home within financial reach offering walkability and a sense of place. Missing Middle is an appealing option, too, for aging Boomers who don’t want to live in isolation and are pondering a way of life that’s just a bit less dependent on the car.


Amy Albert is editor-in-chief of Professional Builder magazine. Previously, she worked as chief editor of Custom Home and design editor at Builder. Amy came to writing about building by way of food journalism, as kitchen design editor at Bon Appetit and before that, at Fine Cooking, where she shot, edited, and wrote stories on kitchen design. She studied art history with an emphasis on architecture and urban design at the University of Pennsylvania, has served on several design juries, and is a recipient of the 2017 Jesse H. Neal Award for excellence in journalism. 


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