Design Trends for a Brand New Market

We speak with Kay Green and Ashley Jennings,
Kay Green Designs.

Kay Green Design, in Orlando, FL, specializes in model home design and merchandising- the art and science of studying buyer behaviors and preferences and incorporating those trends into model homes so that the home has maximum appeal to your targeted audience.  Today, that function is perhaps more important than ever as we see new generations of buyers emerging with different tastes than their parents.

We asked the mother/ daughter team of Kay Green and Ashley Jennings what to watch for in terms of trends and colors, and what to do to keep older models up to date with new buyers.  The following are their comments:

Kay: There is a lot going on.  What we’re seeing in terms of style right now is a turn toward a more kind of clean line, less clutter look, and we’re seeing it in all the furniture lines, in the fabric lines – just across the board.

It’s not the contemporary look that we saw in the 80’s; it’s a softer look but still cleaner.  You see it in all the catalogues as well… IKEA, Pottery Barn, all of the catalogues are showing that look as well.  This is particularly the case with the younger people, like my Gen-X daughter, but we’re also seeing that the empty nesters are trending towards a clean line look.

Home Technology
Ashley: There is also a lean certainly towards technology.  One of the things that we found recently in doing some research is that especially with the younger Gen-X and Gen-Y buyers, technology is a large part of their life.  So we’ve been doing sales centers, for example, that feature touch screen computers to navigate the community.  Your buyers have already explored your community before even coming onsite.  So they have checked you out.  You’ve obviously done well enough to get them there.  Oftentimes, using technology onsite to explore the floor plan options, different features and upgrades is a way they’re able to do the discovery process at their comfort level.

Also, as far as this lifestyle goes, we designed a sales center in Florida where we included a coffee station and some high top tables.  So rather than having your new home buyers come and have to squeeze into a little office space with a small window and feel like they’re committing to the sales process, you can have a conversation with them at a high top table over a cup of their favorite coffee.  that really does provide that comfortable environment in order to continue to share information about who the buyer is and how the home builder’s product fits their lifestyle.

Kay: We  are starting to design spaces that are kind of ‘stop and drop’ charging spaces for your cell phone or you iPod.  Usually they’re located close to like the backdoor so you come in from the garage and you put your cell phone down and you throw your keys there instead of the island in the kitchen with all the clutter.  We normally feature either just a floating desktop and then we put two or three outlets above that so that everybody has room to charge their personal communication devices there.

Ashley: One of the other ideas that we came up with for enhancing the sales process is to incorporate a docking station for an iPod so buyers are able to dock their own device in the model home.  This allows them to customize their experience by having their own music play while they’re touring the home.

Also, we’re not having the heavy built-ins as an entertainment center and the family rooms.  Instead we’re seeing console pieces so that the flat screen TV can fit and then all the storage for DVD players and so on is within that furniture piece.

Using Design as a Sales Tool
Ashley: It’s really important that people can translate their current furniture into the model home that they’re walking through.  That’s part of the interior designer’s job, but it’s also part of the sales representative’s job.

We published an article in 2009 that talked about the team effort between the sales team and the interior merchandiser making sure that they are able to work together from the beginning to the end in order to know what the ‘story of the buyer’ was that was created as design for the home and that story is translated at the point of sale.

Kay: The other advantage of having the sales staff and the interior merchandiser work together is that the onsite salesperson can then tell another story.  For instance, if we’re showing a bedroom instead of a den they could tell the story of how it could be a den.  Or, they could tell the story of how the dining room table can enlarge and takeover some wasted foyer space so that you can seat 13 instead of 8.  Just showing the flexibility through the story that the on site salesperson tells.  This translates to realtors as well.

If a Realtor goes into a home and they want to be able to help people imagine how those spaces could be used to better fit their lifestyle, and if they’re prepared for that presentation, then they can more easily present it.

Hot Products to consider.
Kay: There are a lot of new products that I’d like to see start appearing in our houses.  One of the Lutron lighting system that recognizes when someone is in the room and turns the light on and then recognizes when you leave and turns the light off.  A lot of us are becoming more energy conscious and ‘green’ is the thing.  We’re working with a lot of builders that are doing some smart things, especially in Florida, to be able to use better insulation and cut down on the electric bill.

Ashley: Also, GE has a front loading washer and dryer product that allows you to pre-pour your detergent and your fabric softener but there actually two tanks that will carry the detergent so that you have the option to chose between two different laundry detergents.  A lot of people would love this feature because some people actually have allergies related to what detergent they use or just simply preferences and that would appeal to the ability that consumers are used to customizing the products that they use for that.

Kay: I think that the manufacturers are starting to tune in to what’s convenient.  For example, GE also has a smart dispense dishwasher – you put the whole bottle of dishwashing detergent into the dispenser and it automatically dispenses it for you.  So our products within the home are becoming more convenient.

Kay: For the last several years we’ve in the blue-green family.  Originally, when Color Marketing Group brought out the colors, it was all about the vapor colors, so it translated into the soft seafoam blues and kind of a blue-green combination and lighter tones.  After that, they came out with the water colors and so, again, it was the soft seafoam blue and greens and so on.  Then just recently Pantone came out with their color prediction for what’s going to be the hot color … and it’s turquoise.

So, we seem to be hovering in that blue-green kind of group of colors, but we’re also still seeing chocolate brown.  And we’re seeing a return to white – we’re seeing more white sofas, white beddings, white plumbing fixtures and we’re getting kind of turning away from the bisque and the bone and getting more into the bright whites along with citrus colors, like the tangerines and lime greens and colors like that.

Ashley: Color ties back into psychology, fashion, and the economy.  So what’s going on in our marketplace and in our personal lives really does affect our attraction and which colors evoke those emotions for us which is what, as the interior merchandiser, we want to do for our builders because we all know that emotion drives the sale.

The interesting thing about the research is that we are seeing some bolder citrus colors, but turquoise is the Pantone 2010 color.  That is a reflection of a kind of a hopeful optimism.  It’s hope that the economy is going to recover.  It’s your optimistic personality showing up in color.  Alternatively, the neutral colors, like the chocolate brown, the whites and the spa colors, are a refection – almost a retreat – to nature and simplicity.

Kay: We saw a sort of downturn in the 80s and with that downturn came an influx of neutral colors.  So it is interesting to see that this time around people are saying, “no, no, no, no; I’m not going to go to that. I’m going to go to something bright, happy, fun; something that makes me feel good.”  But the other color palette that seems to be important right now is the eco-friendly color palette – the earthy sages and greens with beiges and a lot of texture.  It’s kind of a reflection again of that turn towards the green movement.

How to Update Your Model:
Kay: One of the things that I would recommend to builders is to have neutral colors in your upholstery, because things like toss pillows can easily be tossed out – that’s why they call them the toss pillow – and bring in the brighter and newer colors with things like pillows and window panels and paint.  Paint is the biggest thing.  Paint can make such a big difference for a little bit of money both in resale houses as well as new homes and builder models.  Just repaint, refresh.

Ashley: Then, have a designer come in and design some custom trim and molding details that would really add a level of luxury to the home.  As buyers walk through, they really do notice those things because it’s something that they perhaps don’t have in their current home and that would add to their motivation to move because it’s something that is unique.

Kay: We feel that everything that a buyer sees in the model should be available to buyers, whether it’s through the builder or an outside resource.  One of the things that Ashley has just come up with is a program called Designer Details. When we install a model, she puts together a flyer sheet that explains exactly to the homebuyer how they can duplicate that look.  She gives them a list of what to buy at Home Depot and explains exactly how to do the ceiling treatment with the moldings and tells what the paint colors are.  We even do a little drawing that gives them their dimensions and so on.

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