2020’s Top 5 Residential Real Estate Trends Were Born in the Roaring ‘20s

Consumer habits and generational trends will play a big role in the next decade of home design


Housing and consumerism go hang-in-hand. That’s why apartment buildings and larger yet more affordable houses evolved back in the 1920s, as History.com notes in its summary of the decade. America became a consumer society as a majority of the populace acquired radios, telephones, cars, and more—and needed a place to put them. Just as that decade changed the real estate industry forever, the 2020s will upend the way we live, work and play.

How so? Take consumerism. Americans aren’t forsaking it. Instead, they’re becoming very specific about what they will pay for—or will not.

Cars? Nope. New car sales to individual buyers have been slowing since 2016, a trend that will continue at least through 2021, the New York Times reports. Homes? Not really. Homeownership rates have been flat since the 1960s, as tracked by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Stuff? It’s complicated. Today, “stuff” is experiential and physically ephemeral.

For instance, now Americans want to walk instead of drive, share instead of own, and experience instead of acquire. Consuming isn’t about owing huge homes or lots of stuff, but rather about having the right stuff and really using it. That may mean state-of-the-art tech; incredible equipment for skiing, sailing, or cycling; and functional, comfortable, and accessible homes that are attractive (to them!) and accommodate personalized lifestyles.

Rather than huge, homes tend to be just large enough. Owner have different standards of luxury, which vary by generation, location, climate, backgrounds, interests, professions, and more. We’ve drawn these conclusions based on the dozens of multifamily and single-family developments we work on annually as commercial interior designers for multifamily and single-family developments. Community spaces, hospitality areas, amenities, and model home interiors all require us to do extensive data analysis, design thinking, and strategic branding.

Loneliness is a public health crisis. Residential public spaces must foster interactions and appeal to all cohorts to build community.

All this proves a point we made last year about interior design trends in the housing industry: Gone are the days when designers focus first on color palettes, decorative styles, and furnishings. As we noted at the beginning of 2019, there are now five fundamentals to consider before we get to the aesthetic side of design: psychographics, sustainability, wellness, community and authenticity.

Our 2019 projects put increasing emphasis on these five fundamentals, which are anything but static. In fact, they’ve shifted and deepened this year in response to new trends that will shape not only the coming year but the entire decade. Here’s how things are changing.

Character-rich design that speaks across generations is critical in today’s projects.

1. Psychographics. It’s no surprise that homeowner’s attitudes, values, interests and lifestyles are informed by where they’re raised and their family background, culture, type of education and so on. Last year we noted that builders and developers began mining psychographic data to better understand their target markets. This year we saw the trend deepen with micro-psychographics, which leave
no stones unturned. They let us drill down to particulars to help us understand what site-specific issues will mean to a project’s absorption rate. For instance, will millennials in Charlotte have the same needs as millennials in Dallas? Or how will the “Boomerennials”— Boomers who embrace fitness, wellness, cannabis, sharing, and experiences just like millennials—impact active lifestyle housing?

2. Sustainability. Last year, we stated the obvious: While every structure or development we work on today is built with leaner, greener building techniques, that’s only part of what goes into sustainability. For instance, walking, sharing, and owning less stuff is part of sustainability moving forward. And frankly, there’s always room for improvement in this arena. While the building industry embraces an entire array of sustainability-focused measures, from green building materials to smart home technology, the race is on to make every element of a development as transparent as possible. Consumers want full disclosure on every material in their homes.

3. Wellness. Clearly, wellness and where we live go hand-in-hand, as we noted in our trend roundup last year. In fact, the The Global Wellness Institute attributes 90 percent of our health outcomes to our homes, communities, and surrounding environment. And that means wellness has to do not only with quiet spaces for restoration and reflection or community spaces to promote interactions and ward off loneliness but also inclusive design, walkability, access to nature, and more. This year we paid great attention to accessible design and creating barrier-free spaces in every project—a trend that shows no signs of abating.

4. Community. “Millennials long for community.” the urban planning site New Geography points out. We see them staying home because of JOMO—the joy of missing out. Gen Z is the loneliest generation, reports Yahoo— but why leave the apartment when you’re exhausted at the end of the day and stream five of six different services? Everything you want is at your fingertips. Baby Boomers are less socially engaged than people the same age 20 years ago, Stanford Center on Longevity research shows. loneliness is a public health crisis, and that makes the notion of home as a private sanctuary totally passé—as we noted last year. This year we’ve focused more closely than ever on designing residential amenities and public spaces that foster interaction, build community, and are multipurpose so they will be easy to program today and far into the future. We see this as a permanent fundamental rather than a trend.

5. Authenticity. Special. Unique. Different. Singular. These terms resonate with us today thanks to the artificial connections we forge in the digital world, which can be dehumanizing, and our weariness with mass-produced goods. That’s why differentiating qualities make things authentic. It’s a quality that is prized today, be it in food, art, dress, furnish- ings, travel, experiences, or homes. Yet it’s hard to qualify what authenticity is exactly, in great part because it means something different to each of us. Yet as commercial interior designers, we’ve found it critical to add character-rich design elements that speak to target markets in every project, which demands extensive research, acumen, and creativity. That’s because this is another foundation of the coming decade that won’t be going anywhere soon.

Mary Cook is the founder and principal of Mary Cook Associates. She may be reached at www.marycook.com.