Chicago Building Must-Haves
From exotic wood to custom laundry rooms, details are all the rage in Chicagoland. One developer insists that a condo can’t sell without a balcony, and everyone can spot international influences. Open space, simplicity and technology hook-ups are other necessary luxuries. From the suburbs to the city, find out the trends Chicagoans crave and what your clients are looking for in their next purchase.
By K.K. Snyder
Simplify, simplify, simplify. This appears to be the theme for residential building trends in Chicagoland, and the same goes for the rest of the nation. Many of today’s home builders are looking for simple, yet classic styles with clean lines and easy maintenance, according to a number of area developers and several building product manufacturers and suppliers.
Indoors, trends continue toward high-end kitchen materials and wood and tile flooring throughout. Much of the influence in home construction is coming from outside the country, says Chicago developer David Katz of Bernard Katz and Associates.
“There are always influences coming from all over,” he says regarding international trends that flow into the U.S. “Different tiles and different wood floors, fancy cabinets and faucets; always something coming in. We’re actually building a mini design center in our Highland Park office so people can get an idea of what’s current on the market.”
Katz, whose company built the second condo building in all of Chicago some 40-odd years ago, says he was also the first developer to put laundry rooms in Chicago condos. Today, laundry rooms are often as finely appointed as kitchens, featuring pedestal washers and dryers in rich colors, as well as custom wood cabinetry and built-in shelving.
Overall, design elements for home interiors are leaning toward natural products made from exotic wood, bamboo and stone.
“We’re working more with alder and eucalyptus,” says Andy Thomas of Thomas and Milliken Millwork Inc. in Northport, Mich., a manufacturer of custom wood doors, moldings, flooring, stair parts, columns and paneling. “The eucalyptus is a hybrid grown on plantations in Brazil and is a nice reddish-brown, deeply-colored grain that is luxurious looking. Alder is another plantation-grown wood, but from Oregon and Washington.”
Thomas says he still fills plenty of orders for the classic woods like oak, maple, cherry and poplar, but as people discover the beauty of other woods, the trend is beginning to shift.
When it comes to flooring, Thomas reports his mill produces a lot of wider floor boards these days, or boards from a wood not traditionally used for flooring, such as walnut.
“That usually comes into play with species or board widths you can’t get from a lumber yard,” says Thomas, noting the company’s recent restoration project in the Palmolive Building, formerly the Playboy Building, circa 1920. The company has customers across the country and has three locations, including two in Michigan and one in the Cayman Islands.
Trends for interior design elements continue to be influenced from outside the country, as well, says Stan Matuzik of Accento Italia on Elston Ave. in Chicago.
“European design, especially from Italy, has a big influence on materials used,” says Matuzik. “Consumers are becoming more daring and trying a modern, simple and clean look.” A supplier of kitchens, baths, furniture and closet systems from Italy, Accento imports products from manufacturers including Scavolini, Altamarea and Pianca.
As for the kitchen, Matuzik notes that homeowners need the room to fit their lifestyles, and be “functional for everyday living.”
Often serving as central headquarters in the family home, kitchens are now being used for a lot of things other than cooking and eating, says Robert Mosky, president of RDM Development.
“We like to have multi-function spaces in a unit, even if it’s an 800-square-foot unit,” he says, noting the trend for easy flow between kitchen, entertainment and work spaces. “People work in their kitchens and might want a computer or desk nook tucked away. We want them [kitchens] to be a functional space and more appealing, like it’s part of the living space, not pushed off into a corner.”
Granite and stainless steel still remain popular in kitchens, though Mosky points out many clients are experimenting with concrete for countertops as well as floors.
When it comes to outdoor living spaces, particularly in the suburbs, the sky is the limit. Homeowners frequently request outdoor kitchens, massive fireplaces, outdoor sound systems and expansive patios.
“Outdoor space has always been important to [our company],” shares Mosky, noting that the feature is one of four mainstays he tries to include in every development. “I want everyone to have a fireplace, an outdoor cooking space, a parking space and hardwood floors.
“We want to give people the feeing that they can have a walk in the park, so to speak, without leaving their homes,” he says, noting that the company is taking that theory a step further with its Trio project, an RDM Development collaboration with the City of Chicago to create a public park adjacent to the development, “to make it more like what a neighborhood is all about.”
To emphasize the idea of outdoor space, one element Mosky includes in his buildings is a glass partition on the balconies, which removes a visual barrier for the homeowner. While it seems like a small feature, it can make a lot of difference in a 650- or 800-square-foot unit, he says, by giving the appearance that the outdoor space is part of the indoor space.
“And everybody likes to have light,” Mosky says. “It gives people a more open feeling, not claustrophobic.” He also uses high ceilings for the same reason. In addition, RDM typically pushes buildings back on a lot to retain more green space for homeowners. “We always want to make it as wide open as possible. We take whatever space we can and make it the best space possible. Buyers are coming to expect it.”
Space is at a premium in the city, so developers have to be creative when designing outdoor living space for residences, especially condos. Green roofs for gardening and rooftop terraces for outdoor seating and cooking remain popular, says Katz, but use of swimming pools is minimal.
“And you can’t sell a condo without a balcony, but I never see anyone on them,” he says. “Just try to sell one without a balcony.”
Mosky agrees, “Even if people don’t use their fireplaces, balconies, outdoor spaces or workout rooms, they want to know they’ve got it.”
Developers continue to see an increase in requests for green building materials and home features, a trend that has been slower to take hold in the residential construction market than on the commercial side. While many building product manufacturers, architects and building owners have bought into the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, residential green building standards have yet to be definitively set.
Skeptics also like to point out that green construction results in higher initial costs to homebuyers. Regardless of the lack of industry standards, there are some residential developers who are taking steps in that direction, even if they have to pave the way themselves.
“We’re moving toward renewable resources and want to be able to try to incorporate green-friendly as much as we can,” says Mosky, such as using concrete floors and counters, electricity as an energy source and energy-efficient hot water systems. “No building can be 100 percent green; it’s impossible.
“We’re always mindful of the energy efficiency of our projects, and we’ve chosen to use local vendors who make smart use of energy when possible. We’re looking at saving buyers money in the long run,” says Mosky.
Manufacturers of green building projects have reported increases in sales, some as high as 40 percent, for products such as expanding foam insulation, fiber-cement siding, attic insulation radiant barrier and paperless wallboard. Experts predict that the “green movement” will occupy 5 to 10 percent of housing by 2010.
Matuzik reports seeing about 3 percent of green products being used in the industry from his company’s standpoint, and receives requests for such products from about 25 percent of his client base.
Practically a standard in new residential construction these days is the installation of electrical and technical systems required for Internet, cable television, sound systems, home theaters and smart home functions, says Mosky, who strives to make those systems as visually appealing as possible. Often, technology sells new homes these days, as buyers want their homes pre-wired to accommodate all their high-tech toys.
Bathrooms are another opportunity for developers to meet today’s trends. Heated tubs and floors, private toilets, dual sinks, heated towel racks; the amenities seem endless. Matuzik adds that buyers are also looking for open, walk-in closets that are architecturally balanced and crafted with high-end features and exotic woods. It also appears that smaller residences are becoming the trend for a lot of homebuyers these days, says Katz.
“We used to build large square footage condos, but today smaller ones are selling first. People are downsizing, and there are still of lot of empty nesters who don’t need big homes in the suburbs.”
Another trend regarding residential living in Chicagoland has nothing to do with construction or design, but rather location, says Katz.
“The trend these days is to be close to downtown and public transportation. People want to be able to walk to the train from where they live so they can get downtown. And they want to be close to shopping.”
With regard to any whispers of things to come next year, Katz is skeptical.
“I don’t think we’re going to be reinventing the wheel in 2008. People still want wood floors, granite counter tops and stainless appliances,” he concludes. CA
Bernard Katz and Associates
Thomas and Milliken Millwork Inc.