Building a sprawling house on unspoiled land isn’t as popular or feasible as it used to be. At least that’s the housing market news as told by The American Institute of Architects (AIA) in its 2011 Home Design Trends Survey. Infill projects, however, remain a rising segment of the residential market with 65 percent of the 500 residential architecture firms’ surveyed reporting higher demand for infill. Respondents indicate that clients want those close-in locations because of existing infrastructure, access to public transportation, proximity to jobs and retail, and more modest square footage. Existing lots in established neighborhoods ideally meet all of those needs and offer neighborhood bonding, which was another prevalent client desire.
Infill projects consistently have grown since 2010, showing that smaller-scale urban houses might be a long-term movement for the industry. Houses may be getting smaller on a permanent basis, but quality and longevity are steadily increasing among custom home clients. Durable materials garnered a 68 percent rating as a frequent request. Other design components that ranked highly include front or side porches, an open plan that invites interaction, and simple detailing. Sustainable products and systems still display increased interest, but not nearly as much as in past years. Another interesting and possibly enduring trend is multigenerational co-habitation. Clients asking for those extended family spaces rose by 44 percent through the third quarter of 2011, which remains fairly even with the 47 percent increase in 2010. According to the AIA’s chief economist, Kermit Baker, architects aren’t the only ones noticing this inclination among homeowners. Baker states in his third quarter survey summary that “a recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 16.7 percent of the U.S. population was living in multigenerational households in 2009, up from 15.1 percent in 2000.”
On the financial side of things, residential architecture firms still note a decline in billings, especially among those in the Northeast. There are several optimistic industry signs, however. Project backlogs are lengthening, albeit slowly, and client inquiries remain just above the magic number of 50, which indicates some positive growth. And while renovations and home improvements remain one of the healthiest sectors, Baker notes that the all new construction segments are dropping except the custom/luxury market, which is experiencing a “substantial easing in decline” to the tune of 15 percent.