As the housing market continues to decline, the American Institute of Architects reports that residential architects are seeing a slowdown in business, and demand for high-end materials, appliances and features have started to fall as well.

There is one area where demand has continued to grow: sustainable materials and products. According to the AIA Home Design Trends Survey, renewable materials and energy-efficient products for kitchens and baths have become more popular.

Kitchen recharging

Kermit Baker, AIA chief economist, said that kitchens continue to be the dominant design area in the home. Consumers want eco-friendly products such as bamboo and cork floors, and countertops made of bamboo or concrete. Computer work areas or cell phone and personal digital assistant recharging stations have been identified as an emerging trend.

AIA had earlier polled registered voters and found that 90 percent of respondents would be willing to pay $5,000 more for a house that used less energy and incorporated environmental features.

Other kitchen products and features that increased in popularity in 2007 (compared to 2006) included renewable flooring materials, drinking water filtration systems. Bathroom features that drew more interest in 2007 were accessibility/universal design, doorless showers, hand showers and LED lighting. (See for more information.) Survey respondents reported specific construction segments that grew were kitchen and bath remodeling and additions/alternations. All other market segments related to new construction declined.

Bigger rooms, more features

The number and size of kitchens and baths is continuing to grow, but at a slower pace. Many consumers want radiant-heat flooring, and bathrooms that are more accessible to an aging population.

As kitchens become more important, the number of functions is expanding. In addition to the computer work areas and charging areas, consumers want recycling centers, more pantry space, and wine refrigeration or storage areas.

Interest was also reported to be declining for high-end and duplicate kitchen appliances (refrigerators, dishwashers and microwave ovens), and such bathroom items as towel-warming drawers, steam showers, infrared saunas and double-sink vanities. (I feel like a real rube not wanting towel-warming drawers or infrared showers or knowing that they existed.)

Overall, the architects surveyed indicated that the inquiries for new projects fell, so the weak housing market is not going to turn around soon. And project backlog has fallen to four-and-a-half months of work. Billings were reported to have increased in the Northeast, moderated in the Midwest, and dropped sharply in the South and West, reflecting continued weakness in new residential construction.

While all major residential construction sectors were weaker, remodeling sectors reported gains, although not as strong as a year ago.

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