Trends in Luxury Design

For the better part of my 20 years as a design/builder of estates in the Hamptons, the market – both custom and spec – could be summed up in one word: traditional. Gambrel and gabled roofs top exteriors elaborately trimmed with fascia moldings, deep soffits, details around windows, capitals on corners and raised panel columns. And while interiors began to open up over time, with larger rooms and better flow, layouts remained fairly classic. Two developments in recent years, however, have converged to bring significant change to the market, revealing a shift in the desires of affluent buyers.

Where Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends once marked the beginning and end of the season, many Hamptonites are now arriving in early April and staying through Thanksgiving, and a growing number are returning to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s. As they anticipate spending longer periods of time in their Hamptons homes, new buyers are more invested in creating an environment that suits their own particular lifestyle and needs. At the same time, the 2008 Wall Street crash and ensuing financial crisis brought construction in the Hamptons and elsewhere to a five-year virtual standstill. Over the past few years, as building has returned, there has been a much different energy in the marketplace. A few key observations:

Cleaner lines: The biggest trend has been a move away from traditional, elaborate design elements. Today’s luxury buyers want clean lines and a lighter look, with more open interiors and less intricate exterior detail.

More, and larger, windows: While big windows and French doors have always been popular, buyers today want even more natural light and less division between outdoors and in. They’re opting for windows with more glass and less, if any, division for cleaner lines and uninterrupted views.

A lighter look: Heavy paneling, heavy crown molding and darker stains are out. We’re using lighter stone, both slab and laid in elaborate mosaic patterns, and wood – especially quarter-sawn white oak – in lighter finishes. 

Kitchen Efficiency: Kitchen cabinetry is streamlined and efficient. Buyers want self-closing doors and bottom cabinets with trays on rollers so the homeowner can easily access everything stored there – even in the back.

Indoor/outdoor living:  In the warmer months, homeowners are spending a great deal of time outdoors and they seek an integrated indoor/outdoor style of living. There is increased demand for screened porches, sun rooms, multiple decks (in particular second-story decks off master bedrooms) and outdoor kitchens and living spaces. In one current build, for example, we’ve designed a huge foyer leading to an all-glass sitting room with French doors that open to a 2,000-square-foot limestone patio. The patio, in turn, flows down to a pool area with a pool house and outdoor kitchen. A roof system over the pool house protects a sitting area with big televisions and lounges, creating a comfortable space in which family and guests can gather outdoors versus in. 

Expansive master suites: Master suites have moved beyond the traditional bedroom and bath. These greatly expanded suites often feature double bathrooms, dressing areas, perhaps even a steam room, plus a separate space for a home office, weight room or sitting room, essentially creating a second living space.

Flexible flow:  Pocket doors allow homeowners a great deal of flexibility in configuring their space. These can be closed off to create private areas or opened for unimpeded flow from one room to the next. In master suites, for instance, a large sitting room can open to the hall so that family can gather to watch television before bed, then the doors can be drawn so that it’s accessible only from the master bedroom.

First-floor guest masters: These are increasingly popular today, both for buyers who themselves want the convenience of first floor living and for those who seek the ability to accommodate an older parent or guests staying for an extended period. 

Lower-level living: Yesterday’s basement is today’s lower level. In what was historically darker, subterraneal space, 10- or even 12-foot ceilings now create a lot of volume while French doors might line the entire elevation, bringing in plenty of natural light and providing walk-out access to the outdoors. In addition to elaborate gyms and screening rooms, this expansive space can also accommodate everything from sauna and steam rooms to wine rooms, large laundry rooms and staff living quarters.

Energy efficiency: While some are more socially conscious than others, today’s buyers like to feel good about saving energy. They are more aware than they’ve ever been, and are showing more interest in energy-efficient features, from radiant heating, which we’re using in bathroom floors and walls, to geothermic technology and solar electric panels. Making it an easier choice, and a win-win for the homeowner, is the fact that many energy-efficient features can now be incorporated without affecting the aesthetics of the house. 

More involved buyers: No longer content to invest millions of dollars in a cookie-cutter home, today’s buyers are much more involved in creating a space that suits their own lifestyle and aesthetic. And, more than ever, they’re turning to design/build to achieve it. The advantage to homeowners is that rather than consulting separately with an architect, planner, landscape professional and more, they can retain one design/builder to evaluate the property and, in a short period of time, tell them what can be built there, where it can be built, how big it can be, and what it can look like. Buyers are also more interested in the quality of the materials used in their homes. That said, they still do not ask as many questions as they should about the building process and what’s behind the walls. 

Looking ahead, today’s cleaner, lighter aesthetic should continue to trend into the foreseeable future. And while traditional gambrel and gabled roofs are currently the norm, a growing number of buyers are making a more modern statement. Affluent buyers will continue to take an active role in the design and building of their homes, creating environments that give them the space and flexibility they need to live life on their own terms. 

Jeffrey Collé is president of JC Construction Management. He can be reached at info@jeffreycolle.com.

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