With People Staying Put, Designers Say Owners Should Make Most of Their Space
Not many people are anxious to sell their homes these days. Profit margins are just not good enough yet, so it’s rarely a voluntary decision. But area homeowners still want luxury, and they are finding unique — and sometimes relatively inexpensive — ways to get it, transforming the living spaces they might not be leaving anytime soon to at least make them feel like new.
“It is very true that people are nesting more during this recession, and their home has become more important than ever,” said Mary Wilson of Nielsen-Wilson Design in Denver, Colo. “Another change in housing is that the quality of space is the priority over the quantity of square feet.”
People are doing more with less, she adds. “Remodeling kitchens to a chef’s standard with the latest appliances, such as steam ovens, commercial duel fuel ranges, sub-zero refrigerators, dual-temperature wine storage and Miele espresso/coffeemakers have become common in our industry.”
“Luxury products are playing the predominant role in our business today,” said Suzie Williford, president of the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) in New Jersey, in an article for Builder Magazine. “In this economic climate, higher-end remodels and custom homes are the strongest part of the market, and they require luxury products.”
Williford’s organization hosted a kitchen and bath show that showed how people are focusing more on luxurious and functional home upgrades — including everything from heated floor tiles to multiple-head shower stalls. The apparent goal: giving homeowners the sense of feeling pampered in their own home to compensate a bit for the fact that a newer home may be out of reach for now.
Wilson agreed that the luxury market is booming. “Many clients are requesting a stay-at-home spa experience,” the designer said. “This can be done by adding a zero-edge soak tub, dual shower heads, steam showers and flat-screen televisions placed behind custom bathroom millwork.
“A sophisticated color palette can turn your bathroom into a spa retreat,” added Wilson. “Paint the walls in a cool, calm color and add artwork — yes, in your bathroom. Don’t forget aroma therapy candles and new, thick, luxurious towels and floor mats. You will see, feel and breathe the difference by engaging your senses of touch, sight and smell.”
And the bedroom suite luxury experience doesn’t stop there, Wilson said. “Closets are detailed to be used as dressing rooms with custom millwork to hide all the clutter, and upholstery items are added — such as chaise lounges and poufs.”
In the entertainment areas of a home, Wilson said the sky’s the limit. “Home theaters are more prevalent as well, and integrating home automation that can give you the ability to start warming your spa remotely is not out of the question,” she said. “Even doorbells that let you know you have a visitor can be wired to a security camera, which enables one to unlock the front door from any location in the home.”
Luxury on a Shoestring But updates don’t always have to be expensive. In fact, oftentimes, a little can go a long way.
“Any homeowner can make their home more luxurious no matter if their budget is large or small,” said Wilson of Nielsen-Wilson Design. “Never underestimate the power color has on transforming interior spaces. With the right color palette, just painting, adding area rugs, new toss pillows and dimmers to existing lighting, a homeowner can transform a home on a budget of ,000.”
Heather Hilliard of Heather Hilliard Design in San Francisco echoed that sentiment. “Fresh cut flowers, cashmere throws, beautiful crystal stemware, pressed linen cocktail napkins, fresh, fluffy white bath sheets and robes, books and art — these all add luxury,” she said. “Invest in art by both established and emerging artists. And remember, don’t choose art just because it matches the sofa or chair in the room.”
Likewise, don’t just choose items because they’re pricey. Instead, mix it up. “I believe in combining high and low pieces in a home,” Hilliard said. “I find it more interesting when a room has beautiful antiques mixed with one or two pieces from Crate and Barrel or a flea market. The juxtaposition of high and low enables one to see each piece separately for its own unique beauty.”
Comforts of Home Designers also agree that a home must be comfortable to be luxurious. “I think Coco Chanel said it best, saying, ‘Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury,’” Hilliard told The Diplomat. “Be sure to invest in furniture that is as comfortable as it is beautiful. It is more important to have a few good pieces than a room full of junk.”
Take, for example, your sofa. If it’s not comfortable, it’s not worth any amount of money, according to Hilliard. “Meet your designer at the upholsterer and ‘sit test’ sofas for fill, depth, arm height and back height,” she advised.
And homeowners should be selective in what they choose to upgrade, adds Hilliard. “Invest in the items that are touched daily,” she said. “Choose door, cabinet and window hardware that feels heavy or substantial in your hand. Select a combination of luxurious materials, including mohair, wool, cashmere, leather, linen, horsehair, and wood, metal and stone.”
Hilliard also mentioned another important home decorating rule. “Someone once said, ‘The beauty of a place is its empty space.’ Luxury is achieved when a home is pruned and edited of miscellaneous clutter, including old magazines, mail, scent sticks, vacation trinkets, etc.”
Transformative Tiles and Tops Aside from simply buying luxury appliances, furniture and accessories, people are also elevating kitchens and bathrooms with instantly noticeable visual elements in the form of high-end tiles and countertops. Davida Rodriguez, owner and designer at Davida’s Kitchen and Tiles in Gaithersburg, Md., regularly consults with customers who want more than the traditional ceramic and granite accents.
“Handmade glass tiles, metal-embossed tiles, laser-jet marble tiles, slates, marbles, travertines — this is what’s popular today in the high-end tile market,” said Rodriguez. “Something as simple as a glass tile added as an accent to a back splash really makes a difference by adding lush and rich-looking quality.
“People are also replacing builder-grade kitchen cabinets with new cabinets for a quick, new look,” Rodriguez noted. “It’s surprising what a simple cabinet change can do to a kitchen, transforming everyday drab to modern, sleek and just plain beautiful.”
Granite, marble, silestone and limestone counters can add a lot to a kitchen without a complete overhaul, said Ben Ergun of Erin’s Marble and Granite in Chantilly, Va. “You don’t have to remodel your entire kitchen or bathroom; you can give your space a new look simply by changing counters,” he said. “You’d be surprised what a feeling of richness and depth you can bring to your home by merely upgrading your flat surfaces.”
Ergun said the nice thing about changing countertops is that you can come directly into the warehouse and peruse hundreds of different granite, marble and other stone slabs to envision more realistically how to create a completely different living space.
“Whether you like the more traditional black and brown variations of stone, or you prefer to try something different — blues, reds, oranges or greens — viewing the stone slab in its entirety can let you see just how beautiful your home can be,” said the stone specialist.
Another option is built-in, customized cabinets, entertainment centers, shelf units, workspaces and other made-to-order furniture. Raffi Bakarian of Kholanian Custom Cabinets designs and constructs furniture and built-ins based on the customer’s whim. “The client and I discuss such details as fit, color and material preferences,” he explained. “That is what is luxurious about custom furniture — I can build you the perfect fit.”
Bakarian points to a recent experience with a client who had a specific kind of dining room table in mind — one that he and his wife just couldn’t find in the furniture stores. “They wanted a table that seats eight people with a granite top,” the furniture designer recalled. “They went everywhere and finally decided to go with a slab of granite they liked. The problem was they couldn’t find a wooden base strong enough to hold up a very heavy piece of stone.”
That’s where Bakarian came in. He built them a customized dual-color wooden base strong enough to hold the stone table safely in place. “They never would have found a base strong enough — and with such unique beauty — for such an unusual table,” Bakarian said.
Bakarian uses top-level woods, like red oak, cherry and mahogany, to create exactly what the client envisions. “What is considered luxury to one person may not be luxurious to another, so the perfect fit cannot be determined by the price of material alone. Real luxury is achieved when the customer gets exactly what he wants.”
About the Author
Rima Assaker is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.