Austin Design Week Panel:
How Home Design is Changing and Why
Anyone who has been in Austin for more than a few years can see it is changing rapidly. Every day we’re adding 184 new residents, a new crane on the skyline, a hot new restaurant or a celebrity-designed hotel. We’re also losing a few things; cherished institutions like Threadgill’s and Hut’s, a 10-minute commute and free parking downtown (remember the garage on San Antonio?) And while these changes are not unique to any city going through rapid growth, the added twin hits of the pandemic and Snowpocalypse 2021 are catalysts that are leading to once-in-a-lifetime leaps.
So how does this affect all of us who live in and love this city?
We had the opportunity to bring together a panel of industry experts for Austin Design Week to discuss the evolution of home design in Austin. If you weren’t able to attend the in-person event, read on to hear insights from our panelists.
First, let’s talk about why we should even have this discussion. What does design bring to our lives?
WM: Good design promotes healthy living. It also increases the value of your investment in the built environment.
NP: Good design elevates both the everyday experience of life as well as the special moments. An inspiring environment helps us dream big and energizes us to fulfil our true potential. It is also great for the bottom line. Thoughtfully designed properties always outperform their competition, whether that means that they sell faster and/or for more.
LS: Design is only truly valuable when it is used to help a homeowner or business find an experiential connection within an environment. Extending on improving function, good design serves to push you out of your comfort zone, makes you think and gives you an all-around best feeling. Any type of design that simply exists to serve “the pretties” does not hold its weight in any real intrinsic value.
CC: A well designed space can have impacts on every aspect of your day, particularly when it's your home or work space that you spend the majority of your time in. It can improve your physical and mental health. When a designed space functionally meets your needs, it can have an immense impact.
Photo Credit: Restructure Studio, Michael Hsu Photography
What changes are you seeing right now in residential design?
CC: We are seeing a lot of requests to design multiple spaces to work and school from home - our clients want organized space that is connected but allows family members to partake in different activities at the same time (multiple zoom calls, kids activities, study space, etc.). Families are also always looking for a better connection to the outdoors, but that is especially critical now. Plus more amenities for entertainment at home - we are seeing LOTS of requests for pools!
Many of these changes have been in response to the pandemic; people have realized that they want jobs where they can work from anywhere, they don't need to go into an office anymore. We are seeing that the focus is on entertaining at home rather than going out to find entertainment.
WM: Because of the high value of property in Austin coupled with historically low interest rates, I think most landowners are thinking about whether they’re getting the highest return on their investment. This might result in an extensive remodel or new construction on the property.
I’d like to see more adaptive reuse projects in the Austin area. Some commercial examples of adaptive reuse include the Seaholm Power Plant, Central Machine Works, Native Hostel, and the Contemporary Museum downtown. Some residential examples might include converting a detached garage into a guest house or home office or yoga studio, or it might even mean turning a barn into a short-term rental property.
LS: Thankfully the world has benefitted from an increased inward-looking view into what’s important in our lives. This shift to investing in our spaces much more thoroughly is crucial to our future; affecting consumption rates, how our time is spent, what we prioritize and how we grow as people. From this, our home become the center of our universe in both tangible, but also metaphysical ways. By surrounding ourselves with the things that represent more of who we are versus what is on trend, we focus more on ourselves and less on what is happening next door. I am happy to say: as it should be!
NP: The industry in Austin is experiencing a tremendous boom, largely fueled by the pandemic, and everybody - designers and contractors alike - is working non-stop to keep up with demand, while coping with the ripple effects of supply chain disruptions and the Great Resignation. In such an environment, delays are becoming common, and patience is important for clients to get the attention and quality they deserve. On the bright side though, people are re-evaluating the importance of a quality home and this directly translates to higher demand for good design.
Specifically for landscapes, the pandemic has made everyone appreciate outdoor living more, and we are definitely witnessing a higher demand for more and better designed outdoor spaces.
Photo Credits: Furrow Studio, Turnstyle Design, Restructure Studio/Leonid Furmansky Photography
What changes do you think we will be (or should be) embracing in the long term?
LS: In the future, a drive for inner direction will push us to see a greater expectation; therefore, a higher demand on quality and innovation. As we get settled into new priorities, our human nature will turn us to higher hopes and set higher expectations.
CC: As Austin and Texas move forward, we need to consider our energy sources and how best to be prepared for future energy demands. Almost all of our residential clients are asking for redundancies to be built into their homes, in the event that we have another catastrophic power failure. I think this is something that will continue to be a focus long-term in Texas. As a sustainable design firm, we were already working with clients to incorporate alternate energy sources - solar power, geothermal, etc. However now we are seeing requests for wood-burning stoves and fireplaces throughout the home, gas appliances and space for battery packs and generators.
WM: Because of Austin’s history and current infrastructure, I predict that Austin will be a model smart city. I predict a high level of importance will be placed on everything from smart technologies to indoor and outdoor air quality to noise and night sky regulations to walkability, alternative transit, and alternative workplaces. I predict a high quality of life coupled with (unfortunately) a high cost of living.
NP: I think the future is very promising. Austin is growing fast and is particularly attracting people from areas with strong design cultures. I don’t think that every segment of the market will benefit equally from this but overall, I would expect that it will help propel Austin’s design scene in gaining recognition at a national level.
Photo Credit: Turnstyle Design
Austin is coming to prominence in many ways. What does Austin need to do to become a world-class design destination?
WM: We need an official design district in Austin. (Editor's Note: We concur!) We need to nurture local talent, including artists, artisans, designers, and architects. We also need to make sure that we maintain a global perspective in our local design community.
LS: A greater willingness to push the envelope and think BIG. Any environment looking to benefit from (and compete in) a futuring mindset, will need to be willing to take risks, put their best work ethic and skill set forward to tip the scales to something we haven’t quite seen.
Photo Credit: Ironwood Industries
How can we all embrace the future of design in our homes?
WM: You don’t have to be an early adopter to embrace the future of design. As good citizens, I think we all have a responsibility to at least consider and follow the success (or failure) of new design and building practices. This includes careful decisions about remodeling versus new construction, along with considerations like solar power, rainwater collection, electric vehicles, wood versus steel versus concrete, the list goes on.
NP: Resist trends, stay true to what matters to you and invest in quality and sustainability. If can’t afford it all, do less and do it better.
Be willing to stay open in your thinking as a homeowner and from a tangible and implementable perspective, place emphasis on quality over quantity.
Rather buy less that is better, than more that is not.
Remember, your home serves to accommodate your lifestyle, not someone else’s.
Avoid the pretties for appearances sake. Remind yourself that it is not important what the outward world tells you to do (Instagram etc), instead you’ll find much more fulfillment in seeking to celebrate your own individualism. The right designer helps you do that by guiding you to rediscover your uniqueness.
CC: Be conscientious when selecting items for your home (furniture, finishes, cleaning products, etc.). It's not just about finding products that are good for the environment, but are also good for your health. Also, always check for rebates when making upgrades to your home. The options are always changing, but there are usually rebates to be found from your gas or electric company when you are installing a new energy-efficient system in your home.
Photo Credit: Furrow Studio