The prospect of making any major home design decision — picking out flooring, cabinets or counters — twists my stomach into knots. And that’s just one design choice. When new-home buyers have to make all those design decisions at once, they might as well just plan on dissolving into sobbing puddles of self-doubt.
At first, you think, Wow! Cool! I get to pick out everything I want for my own house! Next thing, you’re as frozen as a pigeon-covered statue in the park.
Ironically, the pandemic has helped folks get unstuck, said Gena Kirk, head of the design studio for KB Home, the national home builder. For 20 years, Kirk has helped new home buyers through the daunting design decision labyrinth, a process she says is both “exhilarating and exhausting,” especially for first-time buyers.
“COVID pushed more customers to use the online studio tools we have available,” she said. So rather than stand stymied in the showroom, they go through the design process at home and take as long as they want to mull their options before committing.
“The in-studio experience is still essential,” Kirk said, “because there, customers can touch the counters, feel and open the cabinets and put their feet on floors. But if they come in better prepared, they don’t feel so overwhelmed.”
If you’re choosing finishes or fixtures for a new home or a remodeling project, here’s what Kirk says is in, out and likely to stay:
Cabinets: Customers still like white cabinets, but the whites are getting warmer, leaning toward bone and beige. Gray is fading, and dark espresso and cherry wood cabinets have been out for a while. Buyers also want natural wood finishes in taupe and beige tones.
Counters: Quartz counters, especially ones with open veiny patterns, lead the field; they’re what almost 75 percent of KB buyers choose. The rest go with granite, which traditional buyers still like. “We’re moving away from stark black, white and gray counters, toward shades of creamy white, beige and taupe,” Kirk said. In higher-end homes, marble is still strong. Counter edges are more often square. Fewer have rounded bullnose edges.
Flooring: Luxury vinyl plank ranks high among buyers because it offers the look of wood for a lower price and less maintenance. Floor colors are also getting warmer, as buyers steer away from gray and even greige toward taupe and natural wood tones. Flooring that has red or cherry undertones are out, though black floors are hot among high-end buyers.
Appliances: Stainless steel remains a strong choice for appliances. Black stainless, which is prone to scratching, briefly gained popularity until the supply chain curbed its availability. “I steer buyers away from plain white or solid black appliances, which feel dated,” Kirk said.
Lighting fixtures and hardware. That said, black lighting fixtures are everywhere. Today’s customers like round light fixtures, open cage styles, ’70s retro fixtures and midcentury modern looks. Brushed nickel remains a popular finish, while oil-rubbed bronze fixtures are o-u-t, along with heavily embellished ones.
On windows, black hardware is also a current favorite, said Betty Brandolino, founder and creative director for Fresh Twist Studio, a Hunter Douglas window-covering gallery, in Illinois. “We are seeing less wood, and no more carved, fancy finials. Buyers want clean and classic.”
Brushed nickel remains home buyers’ first choice for faucets, because it pairs well with black light fixtures and drapery hardware.
Technology: COVID has given touchless technology a huge boost, as customers overwhelmingly choose touch-free doorknobs, faucets and lights, and smart appliances that they can control from their phones, Brandolino said.
Biggest mistake: “My main advice to all new buyers is to not get swept up by the trend du jour,” Kirk said. “Choose neutral finishes you like that also have staying power.” Later, if your home needs an update, look for inexpensive changes. Updating paint, light fixtures, backsplashes or drawer or drapery hardware can make a significant difference and cost a lot less than replacing cabinets, counters or floors.