The Home: Generational Trends - Feb 2015

By Kaye Gosline


Here we are at the start of another year, and the web and magazines are chock full of design and color predictions. Will the color of the year really be Pantone Marsala? Or perhaps Benjamin Moore Guildford Green?

Psychologists believe that humans are “wired” to more easily recall information that matches what they expect to see. So if you think grey is the new color of the year, you are likely to see grey everywhere you turn (and of course, you would be right). It’s a kind of confirmation memory mixed with a bit of selective recall that makes the prophecy self-fulfilling. 

Internet research on color and trend topics just adds fuel to the fire of debate. One source says bold and another pastel. Every blogger has an opinion, and some are actually thought provoking and well researched. On the other hand, some of the information is just noise or a rehash of old news. And thus the dilemma: who do you trust to know what’s in, what’s out and what is truly “new” to the market.

This dilemma is especially true in flooring. In residential projects, the floor is a difficult challenge for even the most savvy consumer or professional designer. There are so many choices of materials, all with proprietary names and confusing claims. In renovation projects, the budget can quickly get used up on appliances, granite countertops and custom cabinetry. Thus floors, which need to be durable and timeless, are chosen near the end and often get squeezed for cost reasons. We all recognize, as well, that regional design and color preferences remain strong across North America. Fortunately for the consumer, there are so many gorgeous choices and popular price points that the result can still be amazing.

Tarkett Western Europe did some research in France to identify patterns in the buying habits of consumers when it comes to home decoration. These are not the lifestyle trends that we normally discuss, but more about how the consumer views interiors in general, which encompasses flooring, of course. See if you agree that the same categories apply here:

• Essential Buyers are not influenced by trends, brands or anything to do with marketing. They just want the basics with no frills, but good value. Affluent Essential Buyers want quality and will pay for it. At the lower end, we suspect there are those who just need flooring and they need it fast. Perhaps there’s been a flood, or they need to move quickly, or they just need to get that house rented now. 

• Authentic Hunters are searching for a meaningful story about each material in the home. It could be any “real” material, but it has to be one that has history and creates a narrative. Patina and some flaws just add to the value. It’s as much about the search as it is about the final product. They respect the tradition of local cultures.

• Techno Modernists seek what’s new and hot, and they want it to look just like the Pinterest image or the picture in the magazine. They do not color outside the lines. They want beauty and style with the assurance that it’s really going to work in their home.

• Deco Hipsters are trend hunters who are daring enough to try something new and fresh. They are curious about materials and love to share design stories and inspiration with others. They embrace things that are different and offer design possibilities, including mixing antiques with IKEA.

Thinking of the world of consumers in these terms, you can understand why it’s important that we always offer new looks to the market, and yet we know that some people just want what’s really safe from a style standpoint. Some folks have a defined vision for their home, and others depend on style experts and displays to help them visualize how it all works together. 

Another complexity in forecasting design and color trends is the changing landscape of demographics in the U.S. as well as globally. The National Association of Realtors issued a report last year called “Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends,” which is a treasure trove of data about the generational shift taking place in America. The table below offers a summary of some of the highlights.

Note that if you add the two Boomer categories together that the percentage of buyers is about the same as Gen Y and Gen X, but the needs of each group are radically different.

Gen Y, of course, are mostly first time home buyers, and they are far more likely to want to be near an urban area. They are concerned about transportation costs and being near to work, friends and family. They are twice as likely as other generations to be an unmarried couple, but still 63% of Gen Y buyers are married. 

According to the report, the Gen X population is hitting its stride as they approach their peak earning years. These are married couples with kids, looking for a great neighborhood with good schools. They are the most ethnically diverse group. Only a third are first time buyers, which means this group is trading up to larger and more expensive homes.

As Boomers enter the retirement zone, the age factor splits them into two groups. Younger Boomers are more likely to be taking care of older parents or having adult children live with them. Older Boomers are more likely to move for retirement and have a desire to be close to family and friends, perhaps in a smaller footprint home. Many have second homes where amenities or resort destination are important. Older Boomers are the most likely of all groups to buy new rather than existing homes.

Over half of the Silent Generation say that they made no compromises or trade-offs in buying their current home because they plan to stay there for 15 to 20 years. One third of them have bought into multi-family units or retirement communities. For active seniors, property amenities are key to their decision to buy.

Across all generations, singles purchased a third of all homes sold. And the growing trend of multigenerational living continues, with 14% reporting that either parents, siblings or adult children live in their households.

So what does all this mean for 2015 and beyond? The older Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation are going to need to sell their homes before they can downsize into that brand new retirement home of their dreams, but they are not going to be able to do that unless they understand the needs of the buyers, who are likely to be Gen X. Gen X can afford large suburban homes, but they are going to want open floor plans with updated kitchens and baths. Because many are busy with career and kids, they are far more likely to buy “as is” rather than tackling renovation. It will behoove sellers to think about granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and large walk-in showers. Of course, a new floor sets the stage and makes every room look new and improved. Think low maintenance and durability meets Pottery Barn.

Those with smaller, more urban homes might want to attract Gen Y. Think about keeping it simple and let the buyers add their own design touches. Budgets are tighter in this category, but inexpensive open shelving in the kitchen is attractive and on trend. Think classic with modern neutral colors like grey. 

For those who are really into studying the demographics and, more important, the lifestyles in specific markets, check out Tapestry on and enter a zip code. Esri, which develops geographic information systems, has identified 67 unique segments based on the usual age and income data, but then built on it with other socioeconomic characteristics. For fun try 90210 versus 30720 (Dalton). Yes, these are generalizations, but it could offer insight into how customers will view trends.

Kitchens are the heart of every home. In the highly preferred open floor plan, it’s more important than ever for the kitchen to blend with the surroundings in a seamless fashion. The island is no longer just a utilitarian work prep surface, but a lovely accent piece of furniture that just happens to seat guests and store stuff. Because all the space is visible from the living areas, mixing woods in the kitchen makes it flow more 

naturally. The same goes for mixing counter surfaces, with lots of acceptable choices in materials. Anything from wood, marble, soapstone, concrete or solid surface goes. On a budget there are some really nice laminate designs and colors, but granite is still king. The trend of adding warm metals like oiled bronze to play against stainless steel continues to build, with nickel as a good stepping stone in between cool and warm. In cabinets, simple clean lines are the key to the transitional style, where form and function combine, creating a warm welcoming feeling.

The bathroom is also an opportunity to bring in furniture elements for vanities or soft seating. Large walk-in showers with multiple spa-like fixtures make the bath a luxurious experience. At the high end, the free standing tub as a sculpture is making a comeback. Technology is also making its way into the bath with various LED light, video and audio options. 

Once neglected afterthoughts, mudrooms and laundry areas are getting fashion makeovers, complete with smart, stylish storage solutions, pet grooming stations and craft areas. That dead zone from the garage or carport is now a carefully planned hub to store coats, boots, backpacks and all the accessories of busy families.

In terms of patterns, simple geometrics and repetition of elements work well with today’s predominance of transitional style. Organic shapes are rising in importance. Texture remains important on all levels, as seen by the return of crocheted looks and macramé. High shine as a finish is moving toward subtle luster.

Oak is still king of the woods, with oil rubbed finishes gaining popularity. Neutral colors are replacing the red and yellow undertones as the influence of grey continues to grow. The trend toward larger formats has been overtaken by the new interest in variable sizes. Looks are refined rustic and modern vintage reclaimed.

Sustainability is a genuine concern of more and more homeowners. Beyond just energy savings—solar this or that—the smart consumer is looking for the source of materials and has questions about the health and safety of products. Here’s where the Internet is the source of some great information, but also a lot of greenwash and misinformation. 

Fads that will pass through include the current craze to decorate the ceiling and the return of bold wallpaper. Both are fun and wonderful statements, but don’t count on them to help with resale of the property.

For years, trend watchers have yearned for the perfect new color, the “it” hue that will be the quintessence of hip style. The perfect color for everything from fashion to furniture to floors is an impossible dream—unless you love white. No color (except white) is an island unto itself, but colors need to work together in palettes. And moreover, it’s got to be colors that work for you and enhance the things you love. 

One interesting development is the stronger role that men are taking in making style decisions. HGTV has proven that a lot of men are really interested in making decisions about decorating the home. The result is actually a pleasant shift to slightly larger scale, more casual and, thus, more androgynous style. Could this be one of the reasons for the popularity of menswear grey?

So with all that introduction, here are some trends to watch: White on white is not for the busy families or the faint at heart, but it always gets attention in glossy magazine spreads. In real life, white does play an increasingly important role in cabinetry, walls and trim. Its crisp and clean attitude exudes confidence, and it lets small doses of color shine. Layering of whites softens the look and adds depth.

Likewise, black is back in a big way, both as an important accent color and as an element in ceilings, walls and floors. Combined with warm metallic, it’s just short of decadent, and with cool metals it exudes modernity.

For the more mainstream palettes, warm greys work well with tinted greens, buttery yellow, mid tone blues and orange based reds. Dusty softened colors of similar value layer up nicely for easy-to-live-in spaces that feel fresh, especially with white trim.

Feminine pastels are the one exception, where more is maybe better in color palettes. Paired with organic neutrals, bleached out blues, pinks and celadon green have a vintage look that can make relaxed, comfortable rooms.

Indigo blue continues to remind us of the classics and can work with rich tones of red and brown. The key is to not add too many colors, but to let these bold hues stand alone, again mostly against a clean white background.

Metallic tones of bronze and copper continue to show up next to cooler metals. Designers might be tired of stainless steel, but the public is a long way from accepting a change in appliances. The best way to bring in the warmth is through oil rubbed finishes in pulls or lighting. Metallics are also seen in textiles and even in flooring.

So what’s missing? Primary color combinations, boring beige and the mod look of the ’70s are all taking a break.

So the good news is that consumers want their style to be personalized to match their tastes, and as the housing market continues to improve, they have more interest in renovating or moving. Nothing gives a home a lift like new flooring, a product that is easy to customize by the way it’s installed and through the combination of materials. From the research cited earlier, it’s critical that retailers understand the buying habits and lifestyles of the consumers in their market. Design savvy sales consultants can guide anyone into finding something that will work for whatever the consumer needs.

Copyright 2015 Floor Focus

Related Topics:Tarkett, RD Weis