Designing Luxury Model Homes To Sell

Interesting interiors must be a staple when designing homes


Just as “60 is the new 40,” $1 million is the new entry-level benchmark for luxury homes buyers—which has proven to be a market segment that’s thriving. Between 2002 and 2018, the number of homes for sale at $1 million or more quadrupled, rising from 1 percent to 4.3 percent, notes Trulia research covering 100 major metropolitan areas. Super-luxury residences topping $5 million are growing at an even faster rate, commanding a market share almost five times higher than 16 years ago.

As home values increase, so does pressure on builders and developers to deliver luxury homes. Simply put, it’s good business. But given the high-stakes nature of these residences, which are time consuming and costly to build, model home interiors that spur conversion are more important than ever. When buyers walk into a home, they need to be able to envision themselves living there. Anecdotal evidence suggests home buyers know whether they like a place almost immediately.

The kitchen went from clean and classic to dazzling thanks to hand wrought artisanal touches that include a hand-forged zinc countertop and stove hood and a beamed ceiling treatment.
The Impossibly High-Stakes for Today’s Model Home Interiors

Looking good isn’t enough anymore. Today, model home interiors must also broadcast their quality, flexibility, functionality and long-term potential to grow with a family or hold their value if a quick resale is necessary. That’s because today’s luxury buyer runs the gamut from millennials to Baby Boomers. Almost 9 percent of millennials have household incomes of $350,000 or more and are increasingly buying luxury homes, notes the Washington Post. In contrast, while Boomers are not necessarily scaling down, they are instead buying residences that meet their changing retirement needs.

Ironically, both of these large and iconoclastic generations have similar wants and needs, but millennials and Gen-Xers are adding another important requisite to the home buying process: model home interiors must be photogenic. Both generations peruse real estate online. To wit, last year 41 percent of millennials and 30 percent of Gen-Xers made offers on homes sight-unseen, according to a survey by online realtor Redfin.

The demographics and demands add up to tall marching orders: today, commercial interior designers must be focused on how model homes look in person and online—and how they stack up across generations in terms of universal appeal, unconditional functionality and future potential financial gain for those who buy them.

Creating a Model Home Interior

Achieving those goals was our mission for Cranbrook Custom Homes, a prestigious luxury builder in Southeast Michigan. We were asked to design the model home interiors at Montcaret, a custom home community on a pastoral tract of equestrian property outside Detroit. Given the size of the model—almost 7,000 sq. ft. with four bedrooms and four baths—we choose to target the home to an active and growing family, while designing spaces that would be timeless, flexible and versatile enough to appeal to all generations. To achieve this, we paid close attention to the tenets of universal design in every space.

The builder also partnered with Restoration Hardware, which added a minor challenge to the design process. Making model home interiors appealing to a wide spectrum of buyers takes imbuing it authenticity, and few of us buy all the pieces in our homes from one source at the same time; instead, we start with the foundational furniture we can’t live without, layer in legacy pieces, splurge on things we find engaging and attractive, and make do with temporary fixes when we’re still considering our options or saving up for a statement piece.

Fortunately, Restoration Hardware offers an astonishingly rich range of home furnishings; using pieces from its many different collections, we were able to create spaces that are timeless and sophisticated in the model home’s formal rooms, and fresh yet relaxed in family gathering areas. We chose comfortable, attractive, and most significantly, livable pieces that amplify the model’s Tuscan Villa-style architecture and each room’s classic bones.

Layers and personal touches, from custom drapes to singular artworks, bring foundational furnishings from Restoration Hardware to life.
Optimizing Model Home Interiors for Authenticity

Special touches—from custom finishes, colors, millwork and trims to compelling or even quirky personal accents— are what make a model home come to life and speak to potential homebuyers. Starting with the retailer’s customizable case goods, we specified cabinets and storage systems that met the home’s broad range of aesthetic needs, and maximized utility in every nook and cranny of the entire house.

To complement the home’s creative and distinctive ceiling treatments, we crowned virtually every room with spectacular fixtures from Restoration Hardware’s impressive array of lighting options. Walls in many rooms were covered in textured or patterned wallpapers, painted custom-mixed colors and embellished with personalized trims, such as raised panels in an alcove under a grand staircase, weathered panels on a fireplace surround and rustic beams on the kitchen ceiling.

As a final piece de resistance, a curated stable of talented artisans were called on to add bespoke touches to the mix, such as a hand-forged zinc countertop and stove hood in the kitchen, and a handmade riveted wood bar and display shelves to show off a collection of exotic spirits in the lower level. These inventive finishing touches brought the spaces to life and gave them character, warmth and most importantly, the kind of authenticity that a model home interior needs to turn potential homebuyers into residents.

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 is nationally known for creating innovative environments targeted to market demands and designed to increase property value. She may be reached at

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