2018’s Top 5 Design Trends Define Our Future & It’s Not What You Think

A review of the years top design trends reveals a sweeping paradigm shift for interior design


They say hindsight is 20/20, and a look back at 2018’s commercial interior design trends shows that the industry is undergoing a sweeping paradigm shift. At the start of the year, industry icon Interior Design magazine predicted five major design trends: maximalism, terracotta, comfort spaces, monochrome palettes and purposeful materials. Instead, the trends that were, and continue to be, dominant, are more serious and far-reaching.

Gone are the days where commercial interior designers focus on color palettes, design styles and furnishings at the inception of a project. We design public and private spaces in residential developments of every ilk, and found this year that our primary focus is on ESG—the environmental, social and governance aspects of a project. This benchmark for investment performance is now front-and-center in the commercial real estate industry, a development substantiated by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) in its 2019 Emerging Trends in Real Estate report.

What that means for our industry is that there are many more fundamentals to consider before we get to the fixtures, materials, specific aesthetics, and furnishings. Instead, the design trends we focused on this year have been far more all encompassing, cerebral, and analytical than ever before—namely psychographics, sustainability, wellness, community and authenticity.

Taken together, these trends signal that not only commercial interior designers, but also developers and builders, need to embrace design thinking, the solutions-based approach to our craft. While our 2018 projects put increasing emphasis on these five fundamentals, many builders and developers don’t realize what that entails, especially when it comes to commercial interior design. Here’s how each one impacts the projects we design.

  1. Psychographics

Psychographics are qualitative rather than quantitative. They describe the attitudes, values, interests, and lifestyles of residents, which can be informed by where they’re from such as family background, culture and type of education. Taken together with demographics—gender, age, income, educational level, marital status and race—these help us understand whom we’re designing for, and what they need and want.

This past year, psychographics have been more important than ever as we designed model homes and apartments, amenities, hospitality areas and community spaces. That’s because when a home doesn’t sell or rent, or an amenity or community space is unpopular or underused, that means something about its design doesn’t resonate with its target markets.

  1. Sustainability

Every structure or development we work on today is built with leaner, greener building techniques. But it’s only part of what goes into making structures sustainable. Today’s homebuyers and renters expect an entire array of sustainability-focused measures, from green building materials to smart home technology, to be integrated into all new construction residences. In every project we do our focus has been more stringent than ever on creating healthy environments that embrace renewable, recyclable and low-waste building materials and systems that won’t compromise residents’ health. The goal for all is to create homes and communities that allow people to live better now and in the future.

  1. Wellness

“Green” may be the new “black” in our homes, but the global green building materials market is estimated to reach $377 million by 2022; peanuts compared to the $3.7 trillion wellness industry, which has a new frontier: residential real estate. A 2018 report from The Global Wellness Institute says, “our homes, communities and surrounding environment…determine up to 90 percent of our health outcomes.” That means the homes and communities we design must encourage proactive behaviors and habits that drive wellness, such as inspiring residents to be active, forge social connections and embrace healthy behaviors. Our efforts in this area were as elementary as making stairwells pretty so residents will use them for the strategic design of amenities so they could be multipurpose, have multigenerational appeal and bring residents together to increase community.

  1. Community

Loneliness is a public health crisis, more critical than obesity and as significant as smoking and drinking, The Hill notes. In fact, the American Socierty on Aging points out that social connectivity has a deep and positive impact on health and wellness, and physical environments set the stage to inviting or impeding social interaction. That makes the notion of home as a private sanctuary passé. Our focus this year has been on designing amenities and public spaces that cause residents to interact with each other and build community. One way to do that is with programming, especially since many of these spaces have been underused in the past. This year we have focused on making the amenities we design more multipurpose, durable and engaging than ever before.

  1. Authenticity

In today’s increasingly digital world, we seek balance between the artificial connections forged online and the natural experiences of live relationships and activities. Millennials especially—the first generation of digital natives and now the largest generation to ever live— helped spawn the maker movement and have not only embraced the DIY ethos many of their Boomer parents once espoused, but taken it to new heights. Not surprisingly, residents of all ages crave authenticity as an antidote to what they see as an impersonal world, and establishing authenticity in projects has become a critical part of making houses and buildings feel like true homes. It has meant finding the right character-rich yet relevant design elements to integrate into each project, and has ranged from incorporating local materials and vernacular features into structures to commissioning murals for community spaces that pay homage to a community’s history.

Mary Cook is the founder and principal of Mary Cook Associates (MCA), a full-service commercial interior design firm that focuses on the homebuilding and hospitality industries. She may be reached at www.marycook.com

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