Hot Merchandising Trends

Trends in home design and fashion come and go, and pendulums swing, so what must your about-to-open models feature for your communities to stay leaders in today's competitive marketplace?

By Meghan Stromberg, Senior Editor | August 31, 2003

Builders sell more homes when buyers can see, touch and feel a model firsthand. Trends in home design and fashion come and go, and pendulums swing, so what must your about-to-open models feature for your communities to stay leaders in today's competitive marketplace? Four of the nation's most prominent model home merchandisers give us the answers.



Red, White and Blue Sells

The Constitution model at Traditions at Historic Southbury in Southbury, Conn. Builder: Spectrum Communities. Merchandiser: Lita Dirks & Co.
Santa Barbara, Waterchase, Tampa, Fla. Builder: Ryland Homes. Merchandiser: Kay Green Design.

Merchandiser Lita Dirks, MIRM, president of Lita Dirks & Co. in Englewood, Colo., notes a return to patriotism, whether it's an antique quilt or a red, white and blue scheme. "Echoing American pride in family spaces works," she says. Hot-selling Traditions at Historic Southbury in Southbury, Conn., by Spectrum Communities, plays to that mood with model names such as The Constitution, The Gettysburg and The Eagle.

But Mary DeWalt, MIRM, of DeWalt Design Group in Austin, Texas, says, "In sophisticated markets, it's better to hint at patriotism in subtle ways, for example, showing World War II memorabilia in an office or den." She agrees that since Sept. 11, consumers focus more on the safety and comfort of home.

Georganne Derick, MIRM, president of Merchandising East in Laurel, Md., notes that Faith Popcorn's predictions in her now-famous book Clicking are coming true. "People are not only 'cocooning,' they are 'bunkering.'"

This could explain why lower levels - what once were called basements - have become so important. Derick reports that builders on the East Coast spend more merchandising dollars on finished basements than on other parts of the home. There buyers can find fully merchandised media centers, yoga retreats and wine cellars.



Dress up the Laundry and Kitchen

Sutcliffe, Fox Meadow, Longmont, Colo. Builder: Engle Homes. Merchandiser: Lita Dirks & Co.
The Biltmore, Cape Harbor, Cape Coral, Fla. Builder: PGI Homes. Merchandiser: DeWalt Design Group.

Our grandmothers washed dishes and ironed clothes in the same tiny space, but today's homeowners want more. "More merchandising effort is going into laundry rooms," DeWalt says. Large spaces for doing the laundry, working on hobbies and gardening impress today's new home shoppers.

In the East, Derick recommends showing in the mudroom/laundry area a bench for pulling off snow boots, cubbies for hats and mittens, and recreation equipment hung on the wall. Kay Green, MIRM, president of Kay Green Design in Orlando, Fla., says buyers there love convenience features such as the new clothes-care systems. "I don't think the trend toward larger, more useful laundry rooms is going to stop," she says.

Well-crafted details matter in the kitchen: stained and coffered ceilings and darker, richer walls. Rope trims, plate racks and European-style cabinetry remain hot, and stainless steel continues to be the most popular appliance choice. Extras such as butler's pantries, wine storage and warming drawers abound.



Outdoor Spaces Still Strong

Nassau V, Serenoa Lakes, Sarasota, Fla. Builder: Arthur Rutenberg Homes. Merchandiser: Kay Green Design.
The Preserve, The Preserve at Beavoir, Montgomery, Ala. Builder: T.H. Taylor Homes. Merchandiser: Lita Dirks & Co.

Dirks says the key to a cohesive model presentation is having your merchandiser and landscape architect coordinate before models break ground. Your landscape architect should have swatches of indoor colors and materials to ensure that interiors complement the outdoor views.

DeWalt sees a trend toward "resort" living, with outdoor wet bars, kitchens, fireplaces and dining gazebos. In a Cape Coral, Fla., parade home, PGI Homes offered two outdoor kitchens, one downstairs and one off an upper balcony. At Regent's Glen in York, Pa., builder Regent's Glen LLC had a table set for four bridge players on a screened porch.

Green says the furniture industry has responded to the growing demand for outdoor living, offering chenille and linen fabrics that resist water, mildew and fading. "Pools are changing, too," she adds. For Ryland Homes at Waterchase in Tampa, Fla., Green's firm worked with the pool contractor to specify a black bottom, a built-in bar and, for a mystic mood, a "fogger."

Derick stresses water features, especially in an urban setting. "The 'white sound' of water gives a feeling of privacy and helps contain the space," she says. Most of all, DeWalt says, buyers want low maintenance outdoors. Be sure your merchandising reflects that.



Colors Are Bolder

Mozart, Encore Monroe, Monroe, N.J. Builder: Spectrum Communities. Merchandiser: Lita Dirks & Co.

'If I don't get a call from the superintendent asking, 'Are you sure this is the right color?' then I haven't done my job," DeWalt says with a laugh. But it's no joke that wall colors have become brighter, more enriched. Look to deeper, warmer woods and bold colors such as ocher, terra cotta, sienna and brown.

DeWalt even notes a few colored carpets creeping back. Dirks points to violet and cobalt blue, neon green accents and shots of persimmon, gold and taupe. In Florida, Green notices the popularity of reds.

"Builders pop a lot of fun colors right now," says Dirks, but she issues a caveat: With darker colors, pump up your lighting. "Without enough lighting, you won't get a second look from a trendy buyer."

If there's one thing we're moving away from, most merchandisers agree, it's wallpaper, especially in view of the persistent mold issue. Green advises that if buyers want wallpaper in your market, opt for a treatment called "wallpaper perforation." This allows the paper to breathe, preventing moisture from accumulating behind it.

An affordable alternative to wallpaper, "faux" finishes grew in the 1990s and still abound. DeWalt reports that in the Cape Coral parade home, faux treatments amounted to approximately $60,000. But is faux here to stay? "I think faux is on its way out," Green says. On its way in are sophisticated glazing processes that emulate the plastered walls of old-world Europe.



Tech Spaces Dominate

Homearama, Stonecroft, Charlotte, N.C. Builder: Simonini Builders. Merchandiser: Kay Green Design.
Santa Barbara, Waterchase, Tampa, Fla. Builder: Ryland Homes. Merchandiser: Kay Green Design.

They're popping up all over - not just in the home office. "We show a computer in each kid's room and one for Mom in the corner of the kitchen," Dirks says. But keep computer props out of the private, romantic spaces, she advises, unless your targeted buyers are career-oriented couples or single.

DeWalt predicts that all rooms will be "plugged in" for technology. Built-in kitchen desks now function as "family command centers." Loft spaces serve as homework centers. "There's almost no place in the house where you can't include a tech space," she says. Green cites this example from Charlotte, N.C.: In its Homearama model, Simonini Builders made the most of a boxy hot-water closet between the kitchen and garage. It closed in the area and added a built-in computer desk, creating a "stop-and-drop" area for a family.


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