Real estate

Today’s top home trends answer call for comfort, efficiency

Some homeowners are putting green roofs on their sheds, greenhouses, or pool houses as an inexpensive way to beautify the space while adding environmentally-friendly insulation.
Gregg Shupe for Flavin Architects
Some homeowners are putting green roofs on their sheds, greenhouses, or pool houses as an inexpensive way to beautify the space while adding environmentally-friendly insulation.

The comforts of home? Today that phrase has a whole new meaning. Think spa retreat in the bathroom, comfortable seating in the kitchen, and a renewed connection to the outdoors.

Area architects and designers report that these are all wish-list items for homeowners today regardless of whether they are building from scratch or tackling a renovation.

Rather than wasting space with formal living and dining areas used twice a year, homeowners are trending toward comfort and function — a fireplace in the kitchen to stay warm on family game nights, a deep bathtub to sink into after that particularly caustic commute, or an outdoor kitchen off the deck where you can cook for your guests and enjoy their company. Imagine that.

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“The changes we’re seeing from 20 years ago are people want houses that are better suited for modern living that’s more transitional in nature,’’ said John MacDonald, a principal with the architectural firm Morehouse MacDonald and Associates Inc. in Lexington. For some people, “there isn’t the need for the formal space we grew up with.’’

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Trends going forward will probably continue to focus on comfort and lifestyle, with additional attention on downsizing and being cost-effectively environmentally friendly.

The top 10 trends homeowners are digging into their wallets for:

COMFY KITCHENS

Table or booth, a restaurant hostess will ask, knowing some diners love to sink into those padded bench seats. So why forgo that comfort when you’re at home? Instead of traditional formal dining tables, many homeowners are turning to banquette seating, comfy chairs, and a fireplace in or just off the kitchen, creating a space where families can not only gather for meals, but chat and tackle homework. “It tends to be the heart of the house, so we’ve decided to make it more comfortable and user-friendly,’’ MacDonald said.

How much? Varies, depending on design and materials

Nat Rea for Flavin Architects

SCREENED-IN PORCHES

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These respites are the answer to outdoor living without pesky mosquitoes, a way to get fresh air without opening up all the windows and bringing in the humidity, which decreases with better air circulation, said Colin Flavin , principal of Flavin Architects in Boston. “It’s a really smart way to be able to enjoy the outdoors in a way that’s tuned into our climate reality.” It’s also economical to build because it doesn’t need insulation, and practical to maintain because it doesn’t have to be heated or cooled down, he said.

How much? $200 per square foot

Michael J. Lee Photography

MUDROOMS

The bigger the better when it comes to mudrooms, it seems. “Functionality trumps size,” however, Medfield architect David Sharff said, and these spaces have become a must-have for nearly all additions and new construction. Sure, they are still storage spots for sports equipment, coats, and book bags, but they are no longer just a dumping ground for those items. Think charging stations and cabinets designed to fit golf bags. “In many cases, especially in the suburbs, the mudroom can be the most used entrance to the house, so these spaces have to look good, too,” Sharff said. How do you do that? With tile floors, attractive lighting, and lots of detail in the built-ins.

How much? $250 per square foot on average

Shutterstock / Ozgur Coskun

OUTDOOR KITCHENS

Summer seems so short here, so New Englanders are eager to spend as much time as possible outside while the gettin’s good. Outdoor kitchens are all the rage and include everything you’ll need to cook an entire meal outside: cabinetry, a stainless-steel refrigerator, a sink, a grill, and a cooktop, said Laine Jones of Laine M. Jones Design in Newbury. Add a fire pit or fireplace for ambiance — and s’mores, of course.

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How much? About $35,000 on average

LUXURY BATHROOMS

Heated floors and floor-to-ceiling glass shower surrounds are what make today’s high-end bathrooms look clean and feel comfortable. “People want their bathrooms to look more like hotels’,’’ Jones said. “A few years back it seemed that 50 percent of people would want and use a jetted or soaking tub in their master bath, but now less and less even want them, opting for larger showers with multiple shower heads, seats, and often steam units.” Laine said he’s also seeing more his-and-her bathrooms as part of the master suite. MacDonald finds that Jack-and-Jill baths — those shared by two adjoining bedrooms (remember the kids’ bathroom in “The Brady Bunch”?) — are less in demand, while en suite ones are popular. New homes may have as many as six bathrooms (yes, six) — a full-size bath for each bedroom in a four-bedroom house and a couple of powder rooms off the main living areas.

How much? Varies, depending on design and materials

ACCESSORY BUILDINGS

Looking for some alone time to garden, exercise, or simply just reconnect with the outdoors? Consider a 20-by-14-foot accessory building. Flavin said traditional New England homes are not necessarily tied into the landscape, but these structures can fix that. “People are asking us for these accessory buildings that are more like summer places,’’ a getaway in their own backyard, Flavin said. He recently completed a greenhouse/meditation room that includes a tea room and has a space in the back with a gravel floor, workbenches, countertops, and a sink.

How much? $385 per square foot

GREEN ROOFS

Some homeowners are putting green roofs on their sheds and pool houses as an inexpensive way to beautify the space while adding environmentally friendly insulation, Flavin said. Wild and ornamental grasses are planted on the roof, making it look like a lawn but taller. “It can be very pretty if you are looking down on that from the home,’’ Flavin said. “It’s attractive, can help the building blend into the environment, and provides great insulation.” And you don’t need to haul your lawn mower up to the roof. “Green roof plants typically require less maintenance and are drought tolerant, but may require additional watering from time to time,” Flavin said.

How much? $25 per square foot

LOW-MAINTENANCE EXTERIORS

Whether it comes to windows, siding, or decking, homeowners are turning to low-maintenance materials. “The initial expense to install will offset the future cost to paint and repair,” Sharff said. Spending money on a paint job only to have to redo it in a few years can be exasperating and expensive, he said. “There is a ‘do it and have it be done’ mentality.” Take decks, for example. The cost per lineal foot for PVC or composite decking is in the range of $3.50 to $4.99, he said, and a nice high-maintenance wood deck material such as fir, cedar, or mahogany could be $1.50 to $3.

How much? Varies, depending on design and materials.

Michael J. Lee Photography

HOMEWORK NOOKS

Rather than sending kids off to their rooms to do their homework, more families are creating a spot near the kitchen. These nooks are practical and inexpensive because they involve using existing space tucked under stairs or in the corner, rather than a separate room, said Nancy Hoit , an associate with Roger O. Hoit Architect in Hingham. It’s just big enough for a computer, bulletin board, charging stations, and storage. “Parents want it near the kitchen area so they know the kids are working and they can help with questions,’’ Hoit said. It can also serve as a workstation for parents.

How much? under $1,000

WALK-IN PANTRIES

Homeowners tired of stretching for hard-to-reach high cabinets are turning to walk-in pantries off the kitchen. Hoit said pantries declutter by providing much-needed storage and eliminate the need for some over-the-counter cabinets. The pantries are used for food, pots and pans, cookbooks, and even small appliances such as a microwave or mini-fridge.

How much? $200 per square foot unless you’re adding on.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.