Market dictates newest remodeling trends

As owners stay in their homes longer, they select projects built to satisfy

  • The bathtub in this Bloomingdale home was updated with a custom shower with frameless door. New floor tile, Kohler toilet, custom wood vanity and a Solartube for natural light were also added.

    The bathtub in this Bloomingdale home was updated with a custom shower with frameless door. New floor tile, Kohler toilet, custom wood vanity and a Solartube for natural light were also added. Courtesy of Oak Tree Construction Co.

By Arlene Miles
Posted2/28/2010 12:01 AM

Chances are, you're not thinking about moving in the near future. You're in your home for the long haul, but a few things definitely need updating.

Yet, you wonder, how much can I or should I do?


More likely than not, you're going to play it safe when it comes to remodeling your home, meaning you're not going to skimp on what you buy, but neither are you going to go over the top as people were wont to do before the economic downturn.

"Until consumers feel confident in the markets, our government, and their personal financial situations, I believe that smaller remodeling projects will continue to be where the action is," said Jeff Dyer, showroom and builder manager of Ferguson Enterprises Inc. in Downers Grove.

Not only that, people are also wary of whom they select to perform remodeling on their homes.

"Customers these days are being very thorough," said Bryan Sebring, owner of Sebring Services in Naperville. "They're very likely to go contact referrals now more than at any other time in the past."

Yet Sebring, who is the 2007 winner of the Northern Illinois Builders Association Remodeler of the Year award, indicated that homeowners within the last few months are starting to show pent-up demand to rework their houses.

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"The overriding trend is for people to be more conservative in their budgets," said Mike Dew, owner of Oak Tree Construction Co. in Schaumburg.

Conservative, however, doesn't mean cheap. Instead, think necessary, comfortable, and middle of the road. Here are some current trends that are showing up in the remodeling industry.

Smaller bathrooms

Instead of renovating spaces into lavish master baths, many homeowners are concentrating on hall bathrooms and powder rooms in more public areas of the house.

"Instead of people doing $50,000 baths, we're seeing people do facelifts as smaller bathrooms are affordable right now," Sebring said. "People are also renovating powder rooms as that's a showoff area."

That's not to say that consumers are foregoing luxury altogether. Rather, they are being more selective with what they choose.

"We're seeing people take out the tub in the master bath and put in showers," Dew said. "Also, in concert with that, we're fitting hall baths with body jets for water therapy."


As the master bath is still considered a sanctuary, size often dictates what goes in. Shower and bath combinations are still popular for those who can afford it, as well as shaving sinks, multiple shower heads and body sprays, and radiant heat floors under tile or stone.

On the design end, tile is becoming more patterned while frameless shower doors are gaining in popularity with an oil-rubbed bronze being one of the most popular colors. Dew noted that faucet manufacturers appear to be following a trend started by Moen several years ago where the visible workings are becoming more modular, allowing consumers to swap out handles and the like without changing the inside workings.

Wall sconces are still popular in the bath, Sebring noted, particularly when framing a smaller vanity mirror to replace the long-outdated large wall mirrors of the 1980s and '90s. Can lighting in showers to make the area appear bigger is another popular option.

Medium-cost kitchens

While kitchens cost more to renovate, they are still a popular choice among homeowners who want to update because the projects traditionally provide the greatest return in home value.

"We're seeing a lot of semi-custom cabinetry with maple finishes, which is not as cheap as oak, but not expensive like cherry," Sebring said.

Selectivity is also the name of the game here, with countertops being frequently updated as well as appliances. With regard to the latter, Dew indicated that buyers are going back to more traditional black and white finishes, and eschewing the stainless steel exteriors that had been popular during the last decade.

Middle-of-the-road makes a statement

It used to be that finding middle ground was boring and safe. It's still the latter, but by choosing a remodeling item that's not excessively expensive yet looks good, you're making a statement. Take countertops, for example. They are one of the most frequently replaced items in kitchens and baths. Most installations these days are going toward granite because it's relatively inexpensive, but shows you want your home to look good. Laminate countertops, on the other hand, says cheap; quartz is expensive.

Similarly, hardwood floors are also making a comeback because they, too, are affordable.

"We're even having people put hardwood floors in baths because it's not that expensive and it's something different there," Dew said.

Energy savings

Buzz phrases these days involve going green and reducing your carbon footprint. While many people express an interest in remodeling in environmentally friendly ways, they usually don't do anything about it.

"People often ask about going green, but when they hear how expensive the products are, they don't want to have anything to do with it," Dew said.

Remodeling contractors across the board said that reaction is typical, but when the topic turns to energy savings, homeowners are more interested.

"Anything that can save people money in the long run and has an income tax credit, they'll buy into," Sebring said. "Homeowners are interested in their level of comfort and will spend money in the areas behind the walls to get it."

"What is important is the quality of your windows, particularly thermal ones that will save you money," Dew said.

That's because 30 percent of heat loss in your home comes from outside air infiltrating the home through cracks and crevices. A prime area for energy loss is the rim joist around the basement perimeter of the house. By spraying foam insulation into these areas, heating loss can be cut down significantly. Sebring indicated that spray foam remains slightly expensive, but as people become aware of its benefits, cost will decrease.

Other energy-saving items on homeowners' lists include tankless hot water heaters, low-flow shower heads, low consumption toilets, and Energy Star appliances.


"People are trying to find different ways of making something out of the space that they already have," Sebring said.

Finishing a basement is at least half the price, maybe even less, than putting an addition of the same size on a house. What's going into that area? Specialty spaces, such as home theaters, exercise rooms, and the like are the order of the day. The age of family members, however, plays a big role, as people with younger children tend to opt for play areas, those with tweens and teens want gaming rooms, etc.


"Most individuals want to renovate without many structural changes," Dyer said. "Examples are replacing a vanity with a newer vanity or changing out an old countertop, sink and faucet with newer similar products."

Little changes are popular, too, such as changing knobs and pulls on cabinetry and drawers - in short, updating by swapping modular-type pieces.

Overall design is becoming simpler, too, with lots of clean, straight lines and neutral colors. Mission-style design is one trend Sebring has noted.


One design element that has trended toward clean lines is lighting. It's also an easy one to swap out for a quick update.

"We are definitely seeing a movement on vanity lighting," Dyer said. "We are seeing more chrome and brushed nickel fixtures typically with three or four lamps being the most popular."

Task lighting is another order of the day, with under cabinet lighting in kitchens leading the way.

"Pendant lighting, especially over islands, has become very popular," Sebring said. "It helps make the kitchen the adult room to go to at night."

Backyard living

Although outdoor use is more limited in the Midwest than it is in some other areas of the country, some homeowners have expanded beyond the backyard deck to facilitate staying home, both for eating and entertaining. In this climate, however, one has to pay attention to protecting the appliances with covers at the end of season or even removing them to indoors.

"Customers like cookers and grills built in and customized with tile work around them," Dew said.

Add a warming drawer, a small refrigerator, and an outdoor bar, and you're all set. Although the outdoor scene has dipped slightly in popularity since the onset of the recession, expect to see more outdoor entertaining spaces as the economy improves.