When it comes to the home and design trends experts anticipate prevailing in the year ahead, the overarching theme will be options in abundance.

While homeowners continue to want their outdoor spaces that offer a safe retreat, that appeal has shifted into other parts of the home, coupling comfort with function. In other words, homeowners want amenities for work and leisure, and they plan to enjoy long them long after the pandemic.

Here are 10 trends to watch in 2021.

1. What it is: Two-for-one kitchen

Why now: Even before COVID-19 spread, many homeowners with an open floorplan were finding that there is a downside to not having walls in the kitchen. Clutter, messiness, and dirty dishes aren’t as easy to hide.

Leave it to the trendsetters to develop a solution: two kitchens in one. Mick De Giulio of de Giulio Kitchen Design in Chicago calls it a “layered kitchen” with separate work and living zones. Cheryl Kees Clendenon of In Detail Interiors in Pensacola, Fla., refers to it as a “prep and show kitchen.” Granted, extra space and renovation funds are needed to complete the concept.

The work area is typically in the back of the kitchen, hidden by a door or wall. This is where the serious food prep and cleanup takes place. The area may be part of a large laundry room or storage room that can be converted into this hidden cooking zone. It may also be used by caterers (when entertaining returns with gusto), Clendenon says.

In contrast, the living or show kitchen at the front remains part of the open floorplan. It’s designed to display culinary delights in an uncluttered way. This is where a roasted turkey comes out of the oven before being carried to the back-work area for carving while a buffet is set out. Some homeowners may designate one kitchen for special needs, such as gluten-free prep, a request from one of Clendenon’s clients. The back-kitchen space could also be used as a beverage center with a coffee station, and include refrigerated drawers or a wine cooler, De Giulio says.

2. What it is: Outdoor heaters and more

Why now: During the summer of 2020, “everybody wanted to turn their backyard into an oasis to be able to eat safely and talk,” says landscape architect Clara C. Batchelor of CBA Landscape Architects in Cambridge, Mass. Now, as temperatures dip—and, dip again—homeowners look to extend safe, outdoor socializing and dining with family and friends.

Two obvious features that make it possible are fire pits and patio heaters. Both offer warmth via electricity, gas, propane, word burning fires, or infrared light. Local authorities are revising codes to permit fire features, says architect Gary Kane, with The Architectural Team (TAT) in Chelsea, Mass.

While fire pits have been popular for years, they’ve become more stylish and are now available in different shapes, sizes, materials, weights, and prices. One attention-grabbing design is the Solo Stove’s portable “Bonfire” pit that uses logs but is smokeless thanks to its airflow system. Hybrid firepits are also available which use gas and burning logs, says landscape architect Marc Nissim of Harmony Design, Westfield, N.J.

Patio heaters are a newer backyard addition, inspired by restaurants using them to coax diners to eat outdoors. Models also rely on different heat sources, and can be stand alone or mounted to a wall or ceiling, says landscape designer Michael Glassman of Glassman Associates, Sacramento, Calif. Stagers find these features show how to maximize a yard for fun, says salesperson Stephanie Mallios, Compass RE, Short Hills, N.J. Besides providing heat, these new designs better withstand bad weather.


3. What it is: Prefabricated flex sheds

Why now: Sheds, once used primarily to store sports equipment and garden paraphernalia, have morphed into spaces that can eliminate the need for an expensive off-site storage facility. They can be outfitted to become an accessory dwelling unit for returning grown children, renters, or quiet work-from-home quarters, as more municipalities approve ADUs. It could also be an escape to recoup sanity—hence the new moniker, “the sanity shed.”

Rather than have an architect or contractor design and build one from scratch, entrepreneurs are developing more affordable, off-the-shelf options. Some are even customizable. Boulder, Colo.-based Studio Shed, which has experienced explosive growth, offers prefabricated, sustainable shed designs that vary in size (starting at 64 square feet), color, door and window placement, finishes, and price ($10,000 and up).

Due to more homeowners taking up gardening during the pandemic, Studio Shed designed its “Studio Sprout” greenhouse ($14,250) and backyard office sheds ($25,000)—customers’ most popular choice. Some municipalities seeking to increase housing density and affordability, and offer residents pre-approved ADU plans, says architect Brian O’Looney of Torti Gallas + Partners, Washington, D.C., in his book, Increments of Neighborhood (OBO, 2020).

4. What it is: Video conferencing living rooms

Why now: With so many meetings, classes, weddings, showers, and even funerals happening on Zoom, seeing and hearing everyone on a small cell phone, tablet, or computer screen can be difficult. Fortunately, videoconferencing technology for large screens exists. What’s needed besides a big screen with high-resolution capability, is a sound system and an area with good lighting. One example is Crestron’s “Hometime” system.

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