An informal poll of some of New England’s housing industry professionals tells us that sensitivity to the environment is growing.
“Our clients are well schooled in matters of energy conservation; they come to us with a high level of knowledge,” says Stephanie Horowitz of Zero Energy Design, a Boston architectural firm that specializes in green architecture and mechanical design. “We are getting requests for root cellars as part of a general goal towards resilience and self sufficiency.”
This is not to say that conservation-conscious homeowners live without refrigerators.
“For gardeners, we are building basement root cellars that augment food storage upstairs,” Horowitz says. High-performance European windows, energy monitoring systems and passive house technology are all strong trends that continue to gain traction. Passivhaus, a ratings system developed in Germany, applies especially stringent standards.
“It’s a great fit in a cold climate when you can get free heat from the sun,” says Horowitz.
The environmental concerns of today’s homeowners include the surface finishes of most products.
“We see a lot of interest in low VOC products; people care about how much their paints or carpets are off-gassing,” says Shannon Alther of TMS Architects of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. “They also like to re-use old building parts, something that was espoused but seldom done until now, especially in commercial buildings.”
Bradford Walker of Boston’s Ruhl Walker Architects sees a new interest in texture that goes hand in hand with today’s strong environmental consciousness.
“People are looking for reclaimed wood, wire-scraped oak, chunky and coarse textiles,” he says. “They are moving away from the look of surfaces embalmed in smooth polyurethane.”
He points out, “My clients are trying hard to not do granite countertops,” as another example of the move away from the smooth and towards the textural.
Kelly Taylor, who operates her interior design firm out of Providence, Rhode Island, says that the shift towards sustainability is driving the biggest design trends.
“We lost 100 watt incandescent bulbs in 2012, which encouraged manufacturers to ramp up innovation with LED lights,” she says.
“Recessed LED lighting is amazing now,” Taylor continues. “You end up with a better look, much better quality, and you replace bulbs every five years instead of every six months. When you look up, you see glass, not a bulb and space around it. And the light is so much nicer and richer.”
“The emergence of energy efficiency and LED lighting makes the world more fun, if you’re in the lighting world,” adds Lucy Dearborn, president of Lucia Lighting in Lynn, Massachusetts. “You get 90% energy savings with very little emission of heat in a small package, and it lasts a long time. And, LED lighting can easily be colored.”
Dearborn sees the new technology driving a creative evolution in which traditional lighting forms reemerge.
“Everything was recessed in the 70s and 80s. Now we are seeing interior designers, architects and homeowners using decorative lighting fixtures again. They are returning to lighting not only for function, but also for decorative elements. I am happy to see wall sconces returning,” she says, “As well as chandeliers in powder rooms.”
Dearborn points out that the trend towards better technology and more decorative fixtures richly benefits home decors.