Farmhouse designs, open floor plans, and green features are today’s building blocks.
Story: James Combs, Leigh Neely, Chris Gerbasi, and Theresa Campbell
Between retirees moving to Florida and more millennials entering the market, plenty of new homebuilding trends have emerged. Homeowners are requesting must-haves in their homes, placing added pressure on homebuilding companies to be more innovative and adaptable.
Joe Ziler, owner of Eustis-based Kevco Builders, is familiar with some of the homebuilding trends across the state.
“What I’m seeing now in Florida are all things I saw happening in Tennessee when I was working in home construction,” he says. “People are bringing their influences from up North here to our state.”
He shares a list of homebuilding trends that likely will become even more popular in the coming years:
Down on the farm
You may not see goats, sheep, and cattle, but homes with a farmhouse design are in high demand. In this fast-paced, high-tech world, farmhouses conjure up memories of simpler times and give homeowners a feeling of being connected to the country’s history.
“People love contemporary farmhouse looks that have hardy siding, metal roof accents, front porches, vintage lighting, and rustic beams,” Joe says. “They gravitate toward that to get away from the typical Florida stucco look, especially in this part of Florida where farmhouses blend in beautifully with the scenery. What’s old is new again.”
Are you fur real?
One of the more fun trends in homebuilding is the addition of pet-washing stations. That’s right, homebuyers are expanding their laundry rooms to add extra space where a dog can step over a low curb and into a small shower. Pet owners use a hand-held shower head to bathe their furry friends.
“I built about six of them last year,” Joe says. “People take great care of their pets these days.”
Fireplaces are hot
Yes, on those rare days when Florida experiences freezing temperatures, a simple touch of the thermostat provides eventual relief. That doesn’t mean fireplaces are functional dinosaurs. Many homeowners are choosing them for décor rather than heat.
“Nearly 70 percent of homes I built last year had a fireplace, and some customers even wanted outdoor fireplaces,” Joe says. “People like the ambiance and use them as the focal point of a room.”
Nearly 70% of homes I built last year had a fireplace, and some customers even wanted outdoor fireplaces.—Joe Ziler
On a high
It is very common to have ceilings as high as 11 feet in the main living areas. A room with a high ceiling has more volume than one with a standard ceiling height.
“Your public space is where you spend the majority of time in your home, so it’s only natural you want to make it feel larger,” he says. “People also like putting ceiling beams in their home, and in order to get the beam features, you have to raise the ceiling. Meanwhile, bedrooms are becoming smaller because homebuyers want the majority of space given to the main living area.”
For high-end countertops, more and more people are choosing quartz, which is hardy, lasts a long time, and is easier to maintain than granite.
“Quartz has become the standard,” Joe says. “People like that quartz produces a smooth, more consistent look than granite. In addition, they also like that it requires less maintenance because you don’t have to seal it.”
Automobiles are steering decisions
Americans’ love affair with their automobiles is influencing homebuilding trends, as there is an increasing demand for three-car garages. In other words, if you’re a car, you’ll never have to worry about a housing crisis in this country.
“Three-car garages have become extremely popular,” he says. “Everyone has at least two vehicles, and they need additional space for their lawnmowers, bicycles, and other stuff.”
Eco Construction Group builds custom homes that are energy-efficient and built to the homeowner’s exact specifications for comfort and style. Bobby Rhodes is president of the company that was founded in 2008. A native Floridian, he has always lived in Lake County and graduated from Florida State University.
“Right now, we’re seeing people who want custom homes with the timeless features that can’t be dated,” Bobby says. “There are certain homes you see, and you know they were built in the ’80s, but we’re trying to help our clients achieve something you can live in a long time that you can’t put a date on.”
With the cost of energy steadily rising and natural resources declining, Bobby and his company have carefully studied what makes a home or project “green.” The Environmental Protection Agency even developed a way to avoid energy waste with Energy Star. This is a symbol, supported by the government, that assures consumers they’re getting information that is correct and precisely developed.
“We work with a higher standard than Energy Star,” Bobby says. “People are building with sustainability in mind, using solar power and being sure their homes are energy-efficient.”
Bobby says every home built by Eco Construction is designed with the family and all of their daily routines in mind. It means the homeowners must be a part of the process; they must be involved in thinking about how the home is built and what is essential to family comfort.
“Most of our homes are a blend of old and new. I would say rustic/modern, meaning clean lines with rustic appeal,” Bobby says. “People like to go rustic and finish it with that minimalist look. Ornate has fallen to the wayside.”
Since the kitchen is usually the heart of the home, Bobby says there are always new features going into kitchens. Many people are looking for a more open kitchen and adding more natural lighting.
“Instead of having everything on the counter, people are having places built to put everything,” he says. “It’s the same with bathrooms, so there’s no clutter around.”
It looks like stone until you touch it, and then you realize it’s not. It’s more rustic with a modern flair.— Bobby Rhodes
A new trend that Bobby especially enjoys is concrete countertops. They’re one of the biggest trends for homebuilding and remodeling in 2019. Homeowners can choose rough-hewn or refined. Many companies offer sustainable versions of concrete with a high percentage of recycled content.
“We do concrete countertops with fiber optics built in,” Bobby says. “You can have lights and music for different seasons and holidays. It sets a nice atmosphere when you’re having a party. The fiber optics provide color and a different texture to your kitchen.”
Back-lit stair risers using black onyx and LED lighting is another favorite feature of Bobby’s.
“It looks like stone until you touch it, and then you realize it’s not. It’s more rustic with a modern flair that’s more than the typical farmhouse décor,” he adds.
Many of the homes Eco Construction Group is building are ultra-custom. People want a modern home but with traditional colors like the dark woods that bring warmth into a modern house that sometimes can be viewed as cool.
With the rise in hurricanes and storms, more people are looking to include backup power in their custom homes. Whether it’s solar or generators run by diesel, propane, or natural gas, they want to know they don’t have to go extended periods without power.
Bobby understands building a home is more than creating a structure in which to live. It’s important in these times to be aware of the family needs along with the home’s environmental impact.
Every customer who walks in the door at American Family Homes represents a new design opportunity for owner and president Mike Neace and his homebuilding team. And those customers come well-prepared with ideas from a variety of sources.
“We’re constantly seeing everyone’s ideas and they’re always changing,” Mike says. “They’re piecing together their ideal home, and that’s how we’re able to stay on top of what’s coming and what’s here. It seems that typically we know about trends before they become real popular.”
American Family Homes, based in Eustis, designs and builds custom homes primarily in Lake County, along with Sumter, Orange, Seminole, and Volusia counties.
While the “modern farmhouse” design continues to trend, Mike says it’s more often in combination with a “craftsman” style to create a different look. The farmhouse look typically includes plenty of wood, paneling, plank floors, whitewashed palettes, and vintage touches, while the craftsman style is noted for tapered columns, lap siding, stone porch supports, and low-pitched roofs.
“It’s two styles kind of coming together with certain aspects of each,” he says. “I believe the past 12 months or so, we’re seeing people looking at that. I think, like most trends, it’ll last five years or so and then we’ll start seeing something else emerge.”
White exteriors with brick are making a comeback after years of grays, greens, light yellows, and beiges, Mike says. On the interior, the concept of an open kitchen with a large island and a great room has been a trend for the past two to three years and remains alive and well, Mike says. Tile that looks like wood has become a popular choice in the past year or so.
Customers are also seeking “greener” energy-efficient features, such as solar panels, and ways to keep their families safer. Mike usually sees a cyclical interest in severe-weather safe rooms after major storms, such as Hurricane Irma, which seriously impacted Lake County in September 2017. His company constructs safe rooms based on plans provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“More typically, they’re a master closet or a pantry,” he says. “We can incorporate one of your rooms that you already have (designed) and fortify it to be a safe room.”
Other severe-weather features include generator systems that run on gas or propane when electrical power goes out, which is when solar panels also come into play. One out of three or four homebuyers are looking for these types of features in his company’s designs, Mike says.
While American Family Homes exclusively builds new homes, Granger-Carter Construction & Development in Eustis does a lot of remodeling work, and owners see many of the same trends in both remodeling and new construction.
“Most of the projects we are doing are modernizing and updating dated looks,” says Mike Carter, who co-owns the company with Rob Granger. “The largest trend that we see is that our projects are going for a ‘large open room’ look. People seem to be moving away from separate ‘living’ rooms back into the ‘great’ room concept.”
Customers also are choosing lighter and brighter colors, and windows for natural lighting on most projects, and basically all electrical fixtures have LED energy-efficient lighting.
Most of Granger-Carter’s customers want to do more “green” building as well, but cost is a factor. Many of the company’s projects contain green properties, Mike says, but obtaining the green rating/certification typically becomes more costly than many customers are willing to pay.
The farmhouse look and décor have been extremely popular, and Joey West, co-owner of West Construction Services Inc. in Eustis, predicts some of the style elements will still be trendy in 2019.
“Pieces of it will remain, like using more natural materials in the home, industrial accents, and an open floor plan, which is swiftly becoming a standard,” he says, adding many customers seek trim work as décor, including taller baseboards, shaker doors, and crown molding to dress up a space.
West Construction has noticed a growing request for smaller cottages with a “homey” feel, and Joey expects this to continue.
“It used to be the bigger the home, the better,” he says. “But with the ‘tiny home’ movement and a focus on fewer, better things, I think we’ll see square footage shrink more and more.”
Of course, some clients want spacious homes.
“We are working on a beautiful Andalusian/Spanish Colonial-style home right now, which hasn’t been as popular but is certainly sticking around,” Joey says.
Open floor plans remain very much in demand.
“We continue to see a desire for an open floor plan that often bleeds into the outdoors,” Joey says. “Quite a few of our current and recent projects include extensive outdoor living spaces that blend well with their adjoining indoor space.”
Colorful walls over neutrals are requested, too.
“We’ve seen a lot of neutral color palettes in the past years, but more and more, we are seeing richer colors joining the palette,” Joey says. “Think gemstone hues, especially greens and darker blues. A lot of colorful geometric patterns are also finding their way into the fold, usually in the form of kitchen backsplashes and bathroom tile. And, perhaps a bit contradictorily, black and white themes are gaining popularity.”
As a custom homebuilder, West Construction works with those clients who are looking to personalize their homes.
“Oftentimes, we begin with a set of plans either we or the homeowner presents, and then we modify to fit their specific needs,” Joey says.
Many building trends are influenced by customers’ wish lists.
“We’re living in the age of Pinterest,” Joey says. “More than ever, the homeowner is able to influence the style of their home by bringing us ideas they’ve found online. Secondly, I’d say the wellness movement is influencing the style of homes by influencing the materials we use to build, and the idea of a ‘healthy’ home is starting to take root.”
Smart homes, “green” building materials, quality flooring, custom built-ins, and outdoor living spaces are top requests.
“Some people want the traditional builder model,” Joey says. “They tell us what they want, and we build it. But more often, clients want to be involved in the building process, and sometimes, they want to do some of the work themselves.”
For do-it-yourselfers who want to be involved, West Construction offers a shell-construction model.
“It’s a cost-effective approach for owner-builder clients who prefer to be hands-on but are more comfortable with a professional handling the structural elements of the project,” Joey says.
He notes a common misconception is that it’s too costly to build a home.
“Sometimes, you can even save money,” Joey says. “With our construction-management model, the homeowner is in complete control of how much they want to spend, and we can often help to keep costs down where applicable. When you buy a home, you are paying for what is already there, regardless of whether you might have chosen something different. With building, you pay for what you want, and none of what you don’t.”