A new trend survey released by the  Institute of Architects says declines in the housing market are also reducing requests for high-end kitchen and bath features, but an aging population has increased demand for greater accessibility and universal design. Also, demand is strong for products related to energy saving and green initiatives.

According to the  AIA Home Design Trends Survey, which focused specifically on kitchens and bathrooms in the fourth quarter of 2008,  the report registered the weakest business conditions in the four-year history of the survey.

"Because of concerns over affordability and resale value, it's not surprising that there has been a sharp decline in demand for high-end kitchen and bath products," says AIA chief economist Kermit Baker, Ph.D., Hon. AIA.

"However, some products and features remain in high demand. Despite the difficult economic conditions, homeowners are extremely interested in renewable flooring and countertops, energy-efficient and water-saving products, as well as having a dedicated recycling center."

Chart: Sustainability - Demand remains strong for sustainable products, such as flooring and countertops made from renewable materials. 

Downsizing kitchens

Current economic pressures are decreasing demand for elaborate kitchen facilities that have expanded kitchen projects in recent years, according to surveyed architects.

"Residential architects report that the increase in the number of kitchen facilities in a home, including secondary food storage or food preparation areas has been declining in popularity compared to levels of the past few years," Baker says.

A similar downward trend was also evident in the size of kitchens.

But there are some kitchen features and extras that still remain strong, according to the survey. Additional pantry space and computer work areas lead the list. Also, still in demand are recycling centers. Architects report a continuing trend to integrate kitchens with family space. Wine refrigeration and storage also scored highly.

Reflecting the aging population, demand in the survey jumped for requests for increased adaptability and universal design features in the kitchen.

Sustainability in the kitchen

Environmental trends continue to boost the drive for sustainability in kitchens, according to the survey.

Flooring and countertops made from renewable materials top the list, with demand unchanged from a year ago. Also, environmentally related demand is up for drinking water filtration systems and from an appearance standpoint, natural wood finished cabinets are on the increase.

On the down side, architects reported declining popularity for built-in coffee/espresso makers, warming drawers, duplicate appliances, pot filler water faucets, natural stone countertops, and upper-end appliances.

Bath trends follow suit

The number and size of baths requested has remained stable, according to the majority of architects in the survey. Following a similar trend in kitchens, adaptability and universal design requests were reported up for bathrooms. Demand for radiant heated floors was also strong.

Chart: Universal design trends. 

Also up in popularity were water-saving toilets, doorless showers and hand showers. On the decline were mostly upscale products such as infrared saunas, soaking tubs, steam showers and towel warming drawers or racks. "Some more upscale products like multihead showers and double sink vanities continued to show some popularity but consumer interest appears to be tapering off," according to the report.

Business trends down

When it comes to national building and business trends, the architects surveyed reported mostly declining trends.

"The AIA billings index for residential architects fell to 19.5 in the fourth quarter of 2008, down from 42.3 in the fourth quarter of 2007 and 60.9 in the fourth quarter of 2005 (the index scores are not seasonally adjusted, so it is difficult to compare fourth quarter scores with other quarters during the year). Since any score below 50 on this index implies that national billings are falling at architectural firms, a score below 20 points to a very significant downturn in business levels," Baker says.

The downturn is being felt all across the country, the report stated.

Chart: Business trends down in all regions. 

"Recently, business has fallen more sharply at firms in the West, which recorded a billings index of 13.9 in the fourth quarter. However, the scores for the other regions 18.5 in the Midwest, 20.8 in the South and 25.0 in the Northeast also point to a steep drop in business levels recently," according to the report.

Similarly, all major market sectors reported feeling the pinch, including custom and luxury homes, which resisted the market decline longest. However, the report suggests some faint signs of recovery in one segment.

"At present, the downturn in the entry-level market looks to have begun to stabilize, and the steepest declines are occurring in the second/vacation home sector as well as the trade-up market. The home improvement sectors are seeing the most modest downturns but until the broader economy and the housing market stabilize, it is unlikely that home improvements will see a turnaround," the report concluded.

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