With the economy reeling and real estate in flux, the world of interior design has had to adapt.
Families are reevaluating their needs, whether that means opting for small upgrades rather than complete renovations, installing a home office to accommodate a new work situation, or transforming the family room into a more comfortable place to share time with friends and family. Homeowners now are looking for more green design—for the sake of the environment and for energy efficiency.
To scope out the latest trends in New Jersey design as well as the gadgets everyone will be talking about, we sat down at the Bernards Inn in Bernardsville with nine award-winning members of the New Jersey chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers. Our discussion was moderated by home-and-garden editor Lauren Payne. Here are the highlights:
New Jersey Monthly: The top question on everyone’s mind involves the economy. How do lean times affect the kinds of projects people undertake? Are there more face-lifts than remodels?
Jana Manning (Manning Design Group): People are being a little bit more critical about what they are going to replace in their homes. Rather than starting from scratch they’re saying, ‘What here is still great? And can we build on it without compromising the outcome we want?’ I think there’s definitely a little more consciousness about waste, which is great from an environmental standpoint. People are not just ripping things out without any regard for environmental ramifications. Money and credit were just flying so freely in the past, but people are thinking more now and acting more responsibly.
Karla Trincanello (Interior Decisions, Inc.): Some of my clients who are afraid of losing their jobs end up freezing and wanting to stop the project. I just tell them to calm down and look at the whole picture. You really have to evaluate your situation, but a project that had been planned, we should review it, maybe changing some things. But you have to also understand that when the market was wonderful and everyone was building, the good contractors were hard to come by. I say this is the time to get the bids out, see what you can get, because the better contractors are now available and want the job.
Suzan Globus (Globus Design Associates): I think the economy also has created a great opportunity for consumers because people are reevaluating their lifestyles and asking more from their homes. In times like these, there’s always talk about getting back to what’s really important. I think people determine that what’s important is their relationships, so they want their homes to be a place they can invite their family into. Perhaps they’re not going out to eat as much, so kitchens that were off to the side are now asked to make a meal on a regular basis, and now people want a family room where you could actually have a conversation.
Trincanello: No matter what is happening with the economy, things have to be revised in the home. Bathrooms get used, kitchens get used, paint and window treatments need to be redone—these things are still happening.
NJM: How are those trends translating into specifics? How are desires changing?
Camille Waldron (Camille Waldron Interiors): I don’t think people’s desires are compromising. I think they still want those better products.
NJM: So there’s value in higher-end projects and products?
Waldron: Yes. People may not be able to do the kitchen and the bathroom at the same time [with those better products], so they do one and wait to do the other.
NJM: Are there any deals to be had?
Rona J. Spiegel (Lifestyle Interior Designs Ltd): Yes and no. I think that when you buy smartly and not piecemeal, you put it together and make a package, maybe buy it in a low-tax zone [designated by localities to encourage commerce], you can save several percentages. So there are ways to figure it out. But even if you’re not doing a complete renovation—let’s say you upgrade to a granite counter. That adds value to your home, and down the road when you want to sell it and there’s all this other product out there, it elevates your home if you have kept it up.
NJM: Are people still doing green projects in this economy, and are green products coming down in price?
Spiegel: When they can, they do. Our job is to make them aware of the choices, so they can decide to go green if they want to.
Wendy Cruz-Gonzalez (Grad Associates): I think [the products are] more accessible than they were in years past. We come from the corporate market, and just marketing something as a green product, it makes customers trust the company more.
Globus: I think the manufacturers can’t get to the market fast enough with sustainable products—so there are so many more available, and the price range is really very wide. I think green got a bad label at the beginning because there were new manufacturing processes to deal with and new materials, so there were some costs attached with startups. But now I think more people are asking for sustainable choices, and if they’re not asking for them, we bring them things like recycled carpet for the nursery that doesn’t have any toxins.
Cruz-Gonzalez: It’s so much easier now—it’s easy as just going to your local paint store and saying, “I’m looking for a formula that’s better for the environment.” It’s as easy as that.
NJM: Does the client really understand this, or is it your job to teach them?
Suzan Lucas Santiago (Grad Associates): I think the economy probably helps, because if everyone realized all the energy efficiencies they can consider, it really behooves them to take advantage of green products at this point in their lives. As for consumers’ behaviors, I’m going to say anyone 30 and below is in that mindset: “It’s our environment, we’re going to take care of it.”
Laurie F. Deliman-Burke (L.D. Burke Designs): I think if they’re planning to stay in their home for a long time, they’re more willing to spend the money on something green and healthy, especially if they have children. Getting products with low VOCs [volatile organic compounds] and things that will save energy, like the lighting and the insulation—those things will help save money down the road. They might not see it at first, but they’re willing to invest at the beginning so it will pay off later.
NJM: What are the coolest new green products out there?
Manning: People seem to get excited at the opportunity to use something green that fits in their budget and meets their needs stylistically as well. I’ve found that task lighting in a modern space is an easy one for me. LED lights are out there, they’re portable, they look great, and people get excited to think that they’re at the cutting edge of what’s happening. These lamps are going to last a hundred times longer than your standard bulbs, and they use a lot less energy.
NJM: So it’s not just morally the right thing to do, it’s also the cool thing to do?
Manning: Fluorescent lights weren’t sexy. If you go to LED, it’s sexy and it’s modern. The replacement cost is down, and the energy consumption is way down.
Waldron: I used a green design for kitchen cabinets, and you can’t tell the difference looking at them. They were made locally, and they have to go through sustainable specifications from the manufacturer. And they’re really great cabinets.
Spiegel: It goes back to the carbon footprint, how much energy it takes to ship. You can get some product from Nepal to here or you can make it in Tennessee and keep the shipping within 500 miles.
NJM: That’s interesting, because the design panel a few years ago said to buy global. So will a new emphasis on the environment bring us back to a more local mindset?
Spiegel: I certainly hope so. It makes sense, I think the gas prices going up so high was a wake-up call to the manufacturing segment. You could buy a cabinet that costs $500, and it would cost you another $400 to ship it, and that’s crazy.
Trincanello: It would be nice to see that the trend is back to American made. Even the difference between transporting from Asia to transporting something from California is huge.
Diane A. Picyk (Diane Picyk Interiors): Look how many fabrics were made overseas. There are not many mills left in this country; the labor cost was so much lower overseas.
NJM: Furniture, too, usually seems to be made overseas.
Waldron: But is the value or the product as good? No. A client will sometimes go on the Internet and see a picture of a $50 chair that looks like the same $150 chair we’re looking at. But then when you get it, the chair doesn’t hold up.
Globus: It seems like the new luxury is handmade. Just as with our food, we’re seeking local artisans and products, and that’s the way we’re moving in our thought process. In the design industry, we’re looking for locally produced materials, and that feels like the new luxury.
Spiegel: One of the things designers do a lot is custom design, and that’s usually with a local crafter, whether it’s glass or wood or stone, and I think it’s beneficial to the local economy. So while you’re getting something that’s good for your client, you’re also helping create something new and individual.
NJM: Let’s move on to home offices. They’ve been the subject of conversation for a while, but are they becoming more important?
Deliman-Burke: It’s not just for the professional, it’s for running a household. I have a client with four children, and the home office is mostly for her. She doesn’t work full-time, but the office is being designed around her needs. It’s beautiful, it’s going to have shelving, and it’s going to have cubbies for each child’s school papers and what they need, and a filing cabinet for all of her house bills and things like that. She wants to be able to shut herself off in that room. Her husband can use it for his work, but it’s hers primarily. A lot of households need something like that.
NJM: What about the aging market? Are they demanding different things?
Manning: It’s about location mattering more than size. It’s about, “I’ve always wanted to be in Manhattan,” and so they buy a place in Manhattan. A lot of our work is assisting in extreme downsizing, in some cases from a big home to something that’s just in their dream location.
Lucas Santiago: Or downsizing to a townhouse or a condo that’s closer to a downtown area, so they can walk to services and dining and a movie. Without children, they don’t have to take care of a yard, and they’re closer to little centers.
NJM: Is there any trend toward building smaller high-quality homes?
Trincanello: I think there’s too much inventory of the large homes still out there.
Picyk: My brother-in-law was building large homes like many of the builders here in New Jersey, and he has reevaluated what he is going to be doing. He’s thinking smaller homes with nice details, quality cabinets and moldings and doors and everything, but not seven-, eight, ten-thousand square feet.
Manning: I’m seeing a different kind of response. In one oceanfront home, [a developer] is marketing it as a shared home, where four families would buy in. The market has contracted so much, four families would now own this home on the ocean instead of just one, and each would have a rotating schedule.
Globus: I think there’s an opportunity in the housing market that I don’t see being addressed. The baby-boomer population, after taking care of parents as they age, is vowing to never go to a nursing home. I overhear groups of women saying, “If our husbands predecease us, we want to live together.” So there seems to be an opportunity for communal housing space for people who hit the market after a certain age.
Deliman-Burke: Like The Golden Girls.
Globus: Yeah, just like The Golden Girls. I don’t see that hitting the market now because the baby boomers aren’t there yet, but in the future.
NJM: What about product trends?
Picyk: Flat-screens are everywhere. In business, people have them in executive offices, conference rooms, and lunchrooms.
Trincanello: I think efficient lighting-control systems—whether they are in new homes or retrofitted—are trendy. It is a little costly to put in, but it is also efficient and, in time, it pays for itself. The motorization of windows to save the heat and energy you lose in the house is big. It’s all smart technology.
Spiegel: There’s what’s called scene lighting. There are locations in the home where you have multiple levels of lighting—for example, in the kitchen, where you have perimeter lighting, you have task lighting, you have ambient lighting—and you set up a system instead of this ungainly long line of switches. You have what’s called a scene.
Manning: And you can recreate that particular mood without having to hit three different switches. So if you’re in entertainment mode and you just want the lights over the island and over the dining table and maybe some perimeter lighting—as opposed to your recessed lights taking away all the interesting shadows—you have one switch and you can create that mood.
Spiegel: There are all kinds of sensors. There’s one for the water heater—if it were leaking, it would alert you like a burglar alarm.
Picyk: You can also, for a second home, program and change the temperature of the heating and air conditioning from a remote location. Which is perfect if you have a house at a ski location, you can change [the temperature] from 60 to 68, so by the time you get there it’s warm, or vice versa—if it’s a beach house, it’s cold.
NJM: What about flooring?
Deliman-Burke: Sustainable hardwoods, such as bamboo, are big.
Trincanello: I found a green product that is a sheet vinyl. My client finds that even wood floors are hard on her legs, and because she has pets, she wants sheet vinyl. It’s Tarkett, and it’s higher-end, and I was shocked when I got the samples. They’re plank sized, and it has distressing in it, and it looks good. There’s a durability to it, and the maintenance is nil compared to a wood floor. And it’s softer on your feet, which is very important to my client.
Cruz-Gonzalez: Cork and bamboo are green products getting a lot of attention.
NJM: What about soft goods—is there a trend toward certain fabrics or colors?
Spiegel: I’ll give you my determination of the economy. When I go to a showroom, if the colors are jewel tones, the economy is roaring. If the colors are blues and yellows, it’s percolating, it’s good. If it’s beige, it’s terrible.
Globus: There are some trends in textile manufacturing. Nanotechnology is one of them, and it enables textile manufacturers to create goods that can change colors depending on who’s around them; some of them are set up like mood rings, some of them are set up according to time of day.
Trincanello: I think in well-designed rooms you can’t pick out a specific color trend. If it’s well designed and well coordinated, there isn’t something that gives a date to it. The neutral factor is part of that. You try to always be on the mark and never in a trend, yet anyone who’s looking at the room feels like it’s up to date.
Manning: I think it’s almost our job to avoid the trends, so that it doesn’t become this thing that was definitely done in the 1990s or the early 2000s. Recently, you might have been seeing the light blue and dark brown combinations. And I think it’s our job, if they want to incorporate that in there, to help them do it in a way that’s undoable—it’s pillows, it’s throws, it’s blankets, but it’s not the fabrics on the sofa.
Spiegel: It’s the manufacturer who puts out new books for the season, and you’ll find the brown and the blue or the brown and the light green or the brown and the pink—that is their way of introducing freshness to the marketplace. It’s our job to say, “Resist it.” Because it’s only going to be there for a short period of time. Remember, the ’80s were all about mauve and gray and teal, and you can’t even find that today.
Globus: I think it’s hard to separate the color from the occupant and space. Because, what time of day is the room used, if it’s being used by someone who’s older who may need more contrast, all of those things—contrast, tonalities, culture—play into the colors that are used. So fashion and trend is part of it, but we look at all of it.
Lucas Santiago: It really has to do with the environment you’re in. Someone who lives at the shore will have a different view than those who live in North Jersey. And the trends are really created by the manufacturers trying to get something fresh.
Manning: As soon as something saturates so fully—for example you’ve got these silver tones really saturating the market—all of a sudden what was old looks really fresh again. I’m sure there’s some business plot to it, but I think it’s also human nature to look for something fresh.
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