The Northern Virginia home design environment has for decades valued top quality, natural beauty, welcoming hospitality and family living. But today, there are some new twists on these old standards. Our families come in all shapes and sizes. We live outside more than ever. We’re more concerned with sustainability and accessibility. The biggest difference of all: Where staid and conservative tastes once ruled, we’re not afraid anymore to take chances.
The first thing any designer will tell you is they don’t do trends. Instead, the best designers concentrate on what’s right for you both today and in the long term.
To get there, they offer pieces of good design thinking that are emerging in this market and advice that will stand you in good stead wherever you are: a Fairfax brick colonial, an Arlington bungalow, a Pentagon City condo, a Loudoun rock pile or a McLean contemporary.
Here’s a look at five big design directions for 2018 and how they play out in the details.
Let’s start with some real talk: “The biggest challenge for Northern Virginia homes is that many of the homes lack architectural character,” says Lauren Liess, an Oakton interior designer currently appearing in an HGTV pilot production, Best House on the Block. “It was built up so quickly that the houses were often put up with very little architectural thought or integrity.”
The fix is not to cover up with furnishings but to get back to the bones and then add character. Liess works first on floor plans, layouts and details such as woodwork and good natural materials before getting to any interior flourishes.
“There’s a huge trend toward greater simplicity and quality of materials,” says Francisca V. Alonso, AIA, co-founder and CEO at AV Architects & Builders in Great Falls.
“Instead of having a very large house with builder-grade features, people are looking at smaller homes with cleaner lines. It’s not about size; it’s about quality of life,” she says.
“People are tired of large but dysfunctional spaces. They don’t want rooms they don’t use.”
But one thing is getting bigger: windows. Natural light and outdoor views are today’s prized luxuries. In new homes, windows are a priority, and in remodels, the old-school colonial double-hung windows are often the first to go.
Casual entertaining is a way of life here, and between that and families and pets, homes get plenty of wear and tear. Materials have to hold up. Interior designer Byron Risdon of Washington, D.C., says he’s more often using new performance fabrics, such as Crypton, and furniture protective treatments, such as Fiber-Seal (available through designers, it can be used even on silk and Oriental rugs). New products make it possible to have good looks that clean up well.
The same goes for counters. “Caesarstone and Silestone come in some amazing options, and they’re much more resilient and family-friendly,” says Michael Sauri, president at Arlington’s TriVistaUSA. “You don’t have to have the countertop guy back every six months to revive the countertop your last party destroyed.”
Fairfax designer Cynthia Murphy of Murphy’s Design urges clients to check out new luxury vinyl flooring—soft underfoot and highly water- and impact-resistant, it has looks to rival tile. And for wood floors, new materials have cut the refinishing and sealing process down drastically.
Cerused wood and gray-washed finishes on flooring and furniture look fresher and more elegant than the distressed surfaces of years past, and they’re less easily marred than the gleaming white and deep ebony finishes homeowners wanted a few years ago. And the increasing options in wood-look ceramic and porcelain tile have more than a few homeowners relieved that they don’t have to worry about damage to hardwood from toys or a Labrador’s toenails.
With more telecommuting and consulting in this area, “home offices are now a must,” says Andrea Houck of A. Houck Designs in Arlington. Wireless tech, smaller devices and cabinetry that conceals printers or keyboards mean your home office doesn’t have to look like you airdropped a cubicle into your home.
Ask whether your designer or contractor knows how to set up routers and electrical requirements so your office will be fully functioning as well as tie into smart-home technology, Houck advises. And because people are working (and playing) all over the house, more are putting in multiple spots for charging stations, such as on kitchen islands, in mudrooms, in easy-to-reach spots in living areas and even outdoors.
Demand for more real foods means the kitchen garden is becoming the next big landscaping trend, Liess says. Other designers report that more people say they’re cooking and shopping daily or using services like Blue Apron, meaning giant appliances aren’t realistic.
“People want to use every inch possible to maximize kitchen storage,” says Lanna Ali-Hassan, designer with Anthony Wilder Design/Build in Bethesda. A pantry space off the kitchen with a pocket door is more in demand and more versatile than an appliance garage. Another popular space-saver is a coffee station on a column that lowers into a cabinet when not in use.
Getting real also applies to the electric bill. Where homeowners once had to MacGyver mismatched gadgets and apps, it’s now second nature for many designers and builders to program in energy efficiency and sustainability. Architects say that if you get the basics in place, you’ll be able to layer and update any new technologies as they come along.
It starts with a holistic view of the design, says Alonso—mapping out the angle of the sun, considering the position of a home on a lot and the placement of windows. Next, use materials that are cleaner and better quality, and pay careful attention to ventilation. Landscaping makes a big difference as well in controlling water use and temperatures. Then come the ever-advancing remote and smart technologies to monitor and control heat and air, lighting, water and even window shades and curtains.
For instance, the most popular addition in this area is the kitchen bump-out in the back of the house with a master suite on top. When Sauri does such an addition, he often ramps up high-quality insulation to get to “net zero” heating and air conditioning energy use for the new rooms—thus saving homeowners from putting in an additional HVAC just for the addition.
“Wellness is the new luxury,” says Jonas Carnemark, owner of Carnemark design and build firm in Bethesda. While spa-inspired flourishes such as vitamin C-infused showers (said to filter chlorine and help skin feel better) and circadian rhythm lighting (said to coordinate sleep cycles) are just beginning to make their way into this area, more down-to-earth spa and relaxation features are in big demand.
“People in this area are working crazy hours; they’re driving their kids around—when they get home, they want to disconnect,” says Alonso (Vacation Style Living is the tagline for her firm). Adding or renovating a screen room, porch or deck is a good move to up your comfort level now and for years to come.
Homeowners are ready to lose the drama: A sweeping foyer or a deep espresso finish is just too much. They want to get cozy again.
For instance, comfy couches are back. If this gives you flashbacks to the early 2000s—when it looked like the Ghostbusters Stay Puft Marshmallow Man had crashed in some living rooms—relax. We’re not going that far again. But the recent trend toward slim and even spindly midcentury modern furniture is shifting into softer, more inviting forms.
Judiciously placed, many homey, artisanal and even shabby chic details are like the mom jeans of interiors—the style may be from decades ago, but they look fresh in a contemporary setting, and they’re blessedly comfortable.
Experiencing natural beauty, encountering natural elements and bringing the outdoors in is an enduring part of the retreat-life trend. For many, this starts with the hearth. A fireplace is “a trend that will never go away,” says Houck. “Everyone wants that fireplace feeling.”
Homeowners may remodel a fireplace to strip down or freshen up an ornate design from decades ago, add built-ins around it or create a partial wall around it to subtly divide spaces—but no one wants to get rid of it.
And the fire element is just as popular outdoors. Interior designer Casey Sanford of Alexandria likes to add the welcoming warmth of an exterior fireplace on a patio or a gas lantern at an entrance.
Baths are a natural space for the spa retreat feel, but the giant jet tubs once ubiquitous in luxury baths are becoming dinosaurs. Homeowners are replacing them with beautifully tiled showers with clear doors—or floor-level showers, some with no doors—and multiple spray options. Demand for steam showers keeps going up, and new technology makes them more accessible.
Fitness spaces are more naturally integrated, with bikes proudly hung from walls or ceilings and workout equipment placed where it’s convenient and useful instead of always being tucked away.
Want serenity now? “If you can work on only one thing, make it your bedroom design,” says Risdon. “A nice rug under your toes, some softness on the windows, a nice piece of art—your bedroom should be your sanctuary.”
Uncluttering is a national trend. People make a ritual of downsizing and organizing. Yet few homeowners want true minimalism, designers say; they don’t want a sterile, dull space. So a “clean classic” look that strikes a balance is the trending solution here.
“Even people who want traditional design want cleaner lines,” says Carnemark. “This generation created a new traditional look—they’ve grown up watching Mad Men, reading Dwell,” and now they’re taking the streamlined midcentury modern aesthetic to the next level. “They want a classic style but with simpler, richer finishes.”
Getting to this style takes some planning. With the popular back-of-the-house bump-out addition, many end up with an awkward mashup of style and form. Save some budget for modernization elsewhere around the house and to finesse the transitions, says Sauri. “I like to make it so that only a construction specialist could tell where the old stops and the new begins,” he says.
But it doesn’t mean throwing everything away. Designer Lauren Liess has a whole portfolio section labeled “Clean Collected,” for instance, showing how you can have things you love around you while retaining an uncluttered look and feel.
“Spaces are defined first by horizontal surfaces, so floors, countertops, even a table or mantel are very important,” Sauri says. The large-format floor tile trend keeps gaining, using anything from the typical 12-by-12 up to massive slabs of 40-by-120—the bigger the tile, the smoother and cleaner the surface.
Large-format tiles are also found topping tables, wrapping architectural elements and lining walls. And touch-control panels, not only in kitchens and baths but also all over the house, further simplify walls.
In kitchens, the clean classic look shows in how the once-dominant demand for pure white is softening to include warm grays, buff stone, blues and even some bright colors. Matte blacks and wood coverings are edging out surgical stainless steel. Serene marble and unadorned quartz options are gaining fans in part because of granite’s assertive natural variations, which are beautiful but often too busy for classic designs.
Appliances, too, are getting streamlined. Ali-Hassan says she rarely puts in a full-size microwave with a swing-out door anymore; drawer styles are gaining, often tucked under an island. And small under-counter fridges aren’t just for wine anymore; add another fridge drawer and/or a freezer drawer, and you’ve got a viable replacement for a pro-scale refrigerator. Fewer are putting a sink in the island, either—they’d rather have a broad swath of counter space.
While open-plan concepts have been popular for a few decades, homeowners now want more than just vast, undefined spaces. The key for the future is that a space has the design flexibility to change identity and function as the needs of the people in the home change. Over the life of a home, a space might go from playroom to home office to man cave. Formerly sacrosanct spaces such as the formal dining room are ebbing in popularity.
Part of what’s driving this trend, designers say, is that clients want to stay in their homes longer. Young and child-free millennial couples talk with designers in terms of looking ahead for decades, planning where they’ll install an elevator, for instance. Today’s families range widely in ages and needs, from a grandparent to a toddler. And pets, which many consider part of the family, are often in the mix.
The guiding principle is that diverse companions should be able to enjoy a home together for the long term. To get this result, designers use techniques honed through studying universal design or aging in place; some are getting the Certified Living In Place Professional credential to better serve this need.
Creating a space that can transform over the years requires thinking through not just the size of spaces but also lighting, routers, ventilation and more:
- People don’t want to have to climb ladders and change light bulbs as they get older, so they’re going for long-lasting LEDs.
- One of the top requests Alonso gets is to “un-sink” sunken living rooms and get rid of any steps and changes in levels.
- Adding a master suite on the ground floor is a big trend—no steps for aging parents (or aging you).
- Storage, storage, storage: Open and flexible floor plans can leave you with no place to put anything. Built-ins are a trend with long legs.
- Ali-Hassan of Anthony Wilder shares a tip: If you don’t want grab bars in the bath or other spaces, have the builder install the right blocking in the wall anyway. Then you can install them easily in later years without ripping out hunks of tile.
- And accessibility tools such as grab bars have lost their hospital-esque looks and are becoming beautiful and functional design features.
A design pro can help you develop a coherent flow that defines flexible spaces without boxing you in. One way is through paint—a color change subtly divides a room and hints at flow—or use of an architectural detail such as a column, Houck suggests, or a half-wall, even a standing fireplace or change in floor surface.
With the desire to keep homes longer comes the desire to make a home truly reflect who you are and how you live and less anxiety about resale. People feel more comfortable putting in unusual or even eccentric touches instead of fixing up to sell.
And millennials, designers say, aren’t afraid to stand out. They make a conscious effort to steer away from cookie-cutter floor plans and builder-grade details. “They’ll say, ‘I want something no one else has,’ or, ‘Let’s go with the Carrara marble,’” says Carnemark. “They know it can stain easily, but they don’t care. They like it.”
Bolder strokes in a kitchen design include matte black appliances, near-black graphite on counters, bright colors on a kitchen island countertop or even a brightly glazed stove. A stone sink in the powder room, a custom backsplash tile and incorporating antique, artisanal and recycled pieces are all ways to ensure your home doesn’t look like anyone else’s. Sauri points to fumed wood flooring. It’s a complex process that only a few in the area do, but it results in colors and tones in the wood that are as unique as a fingerprint.
Mixing up eras and materials? No problem. “People aren’t afraid to mix metals, even drastically, to provide some contrast,” Sanford says.
Sanford and others are also seeing a phenomenon of a whole room dedicated to one individual: More houses are carving out man caves. These small, casual and closed-off entertainment spaces, some with a traditional library or lodge design, are a big step up from a garage with an AstroTurf rug and some video games.
But if you dream of a She Shed or a People Porch instead? Go for it.
“People don’t care as much anymore what anyone else has,” Carnemark says. “They want things that make them smile and make them feel good.”
Looking toward 2020, the newest trend may be no trend.
“I’m not really a big believer in following the trends because they can pass so quickly,” Liess says. “I think it’s best to lean toward classic items and staying true to what it is you really love, so no matter if it’s considered in or out, you will always love it.”
Design Dilemma: Information Overload
One minute, you’re checking out a few ideas for a kitchen remodel. Then you look up from the screen to find a cold cup of tea and hints of dawn outside the window. You fell down the Houzz rabbit hole.
It happens to everyone, and it’s changed the way homeowners, designers, architects and builders work together. Homeowners want to be more involved in the process and selection than ever before, yet at the same time, the amount of information available can easily overwhelm.
The old ways of working—doing the whole house at once, bringing in the swatches, strolling the showrooms—don’t work. So designers are shifting into roles as curators and consultants. They provide intelligent and experienced guidance to people who often have defined ideas about what they want, have done a fair bit of learning on their own and want to be full collaborators in the process.
A designer can help you use your Houzz- and Pinterest-surfing time more effectively. They may have access to pro-level technology not only for drawing and planning but also for project management and timetables. And they’re your top source for vetted, accurate information.
Sanford may work out a long-term plan with clients to redo their home in phases to meet their needs as they arise. Sauri asks clients to send only 10 Houzz photos: eight things they love and two that they hate. Murphy offers advice and ideas through her podcast, HomeDesignLabs.com; others write blogs and books. Lauren Liess just floated a new show on HGTV, Best House on the Block. Many designers videoconference with clients or offer evening and weekend hours to accommodate busy schedules.
The drawback to more information is more misconceptions. Designers say they often have to deliver the disappointing news that the magical transformations seen on TV or online might not match the realities of your home or your budget. The good news is they can help find a solution you can afford and that you’ll love to live with.