A trend towards smaller homes and living spaces grows in Fairfield County
In this age of the coronavirus, families want a home in which they can “hunker down,” and feel safe and secure. While the sprawling, elaborate Baby Boomer era McMansions that were built during the booming 1980s and 90s may have met the demands for the “bigger is better” mode of thinking at the time, a movement towards smaller-scale homes, or at least, living spaces, appears to have burgeoned over the last few years. Millennials, in particular, are eschewing oversized homes for smaller, more manageable houses with an open concept (often with one large main living area informally divided into separate kitchen, family room, and dining spaces), and beautiful, high-end finishes that are also sustainable and eco-friendly.
Paulette Dimovski, principal and founder of Thornwood, N.Y.-based Dimovski Architecture, a company that offers a full range of architectural and design services, talks about this trend. “The typical square footage in new homes is 2,500-3,500 square feet,” she says. “Many of our clients are looking for more informal open space concepts and master bedroom suites.” She elaborates on this informal open space concept, noting that there are “more informal open spaces with adjacencies between the kitchen and living areas and smaller ancillary spaces for an office, den, or TV room.” Moreover, “I think the open space concept allows for a more contiguous flow throughout the house requiring less partitions and circulation space. The rooms bleed into one another. Less formal lifestyles where the kitchen is the heart of the house are much more prevalent and allow us to combine spaces more easily.”
Michael LoBuglio, a Newtown-based residential architect with almost 30 years of experience, lends some additional insight. He explains that homeowners are choosing to make better use of space. “People are going with more of an open concept floor plan. Spaces have multiple uses.” Now that there aren’t a lot of separate rooms, people combine different functions within a larger space.
Mark Finlay, founder of Southport-based Mark Finlay Architects, offers his take on the trend towards less square footage and how the space is being used: “The square footage is being allocated more towards spaces for everyday living, rather than entertaining. The focus seems to be more on efficiency and comfort.” He goes on to explain that this trend stems from more efficient planning. “Less wasted space and more used space,” he says. “We design for our clients with a three-generational viewpoint, designing for the next generations of the family and how they will use the home. When you approach the design with that intention, it tends to result in a smaller square footage.”
Finlay mentions that the variety of the company’s work reflects how differently people live. “We are contextual designers and treat each client differently, with a specific set of design challenges,” he explains. This approach is reflected in their designs and includes open concept floor plans. While the concept is still quite popular, it doesn’t necessarily appeal to everyone. Finlay observes that some homeowners still prefer more formal spaces, such as formal dining and living rooms. “You see this in more traditional parts of the country and in traditionally designed homes,” he states.
In addition to the smaller-sized abodes and more open concept interiors, new home construction and renovation includes the latest in technology. Conlan Segerson of Tallman Segerson Builders, a high-end builder in Fairfield, says, “Smart homes have been on the rise. Lutron or Geiger shades, smart lighting, security and Crestron control systems are smart features that have been recently trending.”
Segerson adds that he has noticed a big uptick in modern and transitional homes … homes with traditional exteriors but more modern amenities and features on the interior are on the rise. These features include polished concrete floors, metal siding, stainless steel appliances, and even glass rails. “People are prioritizing less maintenance for their homes with materials such as Caesarstone countertops, which are more resistant to stains,” Segerson says, “and people are choosing nicer finishes and hardware. Folks tend to spend the money downstairs and have more economic, comfortable features on the second floor.” Some other trends he has seen include window walls and bringing the outside indoors. Ultimately, his clients are gravitating towards more modern, less traditional.
Westport-based Robert M. Berger offers his perspective as both an architect and a builder. With 27 years of experience locally and nationally, Berger states, “Things have changed culturally, especially in Connecticut. Primarily, younger families attracted to the area by the school systems are seeking low maintenance and minimalism.” He explains that people don’t want to spend money down the road on upkeep. These preferences are reflected in the growing popularity of man-made components like quartz countertops and porcelain tiles, which don’t stain easily. Clients also want environmentally-responsible and reusable materials, according to Berger, who observes that people are trying to simplify their lives. This means simpler, cleaner designs and smart features. He adds, “People come to me for my design-build formula — none of my projects go over budget. You get 3-D hand drawings up front in the first presentation.” He explains that his philosophy is to keep costs down without giving up quality, beauty, or comfort.
The coronavirus has now required full-time multiple spaces for couples and kids, sometimes separate, along with areas to speak on the phone or video calls without disturbing others within the house, Berger adds. “Although not unusual, this will occur for many more Americans who didn’t necessarily have it in their original house hunting and/or building and renovation plans,” he says.
Another dramatic change? “Until now, millennials, who may have been living in New York City, and downsizers wanted smaller, low maintenance multifamily developments (townhomes or condos) in Fairfield and Westchester counties,” he observes. “In just about two months, however, that has changed and they are now seeking suburban settings due to COVID-19. They have realized their susceptibility to contagions and are rethinking their needs of convenience that urban living brings to that of suburban.”
Areas outside the tighter urban regions have seen a quick shift of demand by people to purchase or rent single occupancy homes, particularly smaller homes with open spaces and yards for kids and dogs. “Existing older and smaller homes will likely see an increase of renovations to accommodate functions such as open space and multifunction rooms with revamped mechanical and technology systems,” Berger explains. “Also, with both adults and children working remotely, for now and in the foreseeable future, homeowners are seeking a place that offers at least one or two home offices — not just a space to work at the dining room table — as well as a counter and sink located in the garage, where people can safely set things down and wash them off before bringing them into the house.”
Separate pantries to store bulk items (so people don’t have to go to the store too often) and a place to house masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and other coronavirus-related items are also at the top of home buyers’ and renovator’s lists, Berger says, adding, “Many homeowners are now feeling a greater sense of urgency to find and renovate a smaller house that meets all of their requirements.”