Amhad Freeman, an interior designer based in Nashville, reports that clients are reclaiming tables from their previous temporary incarnations as ersatz work desks and bringing back a trusty old favorite: the dining room. “Why is it a room that just kind of sits in the corner?” he asks. “Our attitudes can change. It can be formal, but it doesn’t have to be.”
Orlando Rodriguez of New York City–based firm Whitehall Interiors has been advising clients to reinvent unused areas, creating amenity spaces like podcast rooms. “The room is a small, simple space with acoustic treatments, a counter which houses microphones and speakers,” he says. “It taps into the social media zeitgeist of our time, while enabling the utilization of cramped spaces that would otherwise be ‘dead space.’”
Little Wing Lee’s clients similarly want to take advantage of what they have. “We’re always thinking about flexibility of spaces, so that a stool in the living room can become an extra seat at the dining room table,” she says. “If the kitchen is also a gathering place, it’s functioning as it should.” And designer Becky Carter’s clients want that functionality to also feel familiar. “Across the board, clients are prioritizing ways that their homes accommodate personal rituals,” she says, “whether it’s a portion of their kitchen that is engineered for making a perfect coffee, an immaculately considered bathroom vanity, or a very specifically designed reading nook, clients are homing in on their homes as an extension of their daily practices.” Designers who are able to tune into the nuances of their client will separate themselves from the competition.
Puttin’ on the Ritz
Freeman and Mellone say their clients still long for a five-star hotel bathroom of their own—one that leans into warm neutrals and high-end fixtures. “The biggest ask I get is them wanting a nice toilet,” Freeman laughs. Other designers hear that their clients want bathrooms with up-to-date, top-of-the-line functionality, but still look like a traditional bathroom, free of futuristic interfaces and technology. “Our clients are now requesting very traditional plumbing,” says Huh. “It’s a bathroom that looks like a bathroom, and a really pretty one versus something minimal.”
When it comes to kitchens, clients are asking Mellone for the usual luxe travertine and Carrara, of course. “But also things like Caesarstone and Corian, because they’re so functional. And it becomes a challenge to sort of make those things cool.” The secret, he says, is to use it for texture.
Clients are definitely moving towards the decorative, designers say. “Pre-COVID, you wanted your space to be a refuge from the outside world, something more neutral and less chaotic,” says Le Whit principal Corey Kingston. “Now, people are tired of staring at white walls. They want more comforting and more personality-driven homes.” Those clients whose personalities drive them to collect art want rooms that integrate, not just archive, their collections. “We’re seeing requests for lots of walls in a home, to best display art,” says Hollis. And everywhere, they want color—on those walls, within furnishings, in the very veins of materials. “People are really open to color clashing,” Huh says. “They’re prepared to mix wallpaper and patterns and go high octane. Louis XVI chairs and Victorian chairs, fringe and tie-backs, all in salon-style layouts with different groupings and darker, more saturated colors.”
Mellone is best known for his luxurious minimalism, “but even I am losing a little of my color intimidation,” he says, working with clients to bring in accents of primary colors derived from their contemporary art collections. “Everyone is trying to differentiate their rooms,” says Beckstedt. “They want there to be a surprise from room to room. Color and pattern can change to give that difference, unified by a mix of furniture that still remains consistent throughout. It’s definitely on a huge upswing.” And relevant all through the house too: “People are willing to be bolder,” says Lee. “In the neutral bathroom, look up: there’s wallpaper on the ceiling. It’s about color and texture, in very curated areas.”
Even in kitchens, those traditional bastions of white-on-white and metal, clients are “taking more risks, 100 percent,” reports Beckstedt. “Especially with marble, they’re asking for veining in lavender and other colors. Even granite.” Freeman says his clients are responding to “moody colors” for countertops and in marble choices. “Warmer tones, but not necessarily gold. There’s a new finish called Titanium that’s black, polished nickel—and it’s beautiful, quite stunning.”
In the end, it’s about a bit of joie de vivre in the home sweet home. “COVID has taught people that they really want to live their lives,” says Huh. “There’s this resurgence of passion for living.” If that passion encompasses a design education, designers can incorporate that. “The market for design can seem abstract, says Charlap Hyman. “My goal is that the client really loves seeing everything that they have, and that it gives another texture to their life that is compelling—and also that they’ve been able to support galleries and made a good investment.” And if that passion means bringing together styles and movements that once might have clashed, or colors previously beyond the pale, all the better. “Design allows for that,” says Huh. “Lots of cushions, a little bit of clutter, your aunt’s old chair that doesn’t quite match. It’s an eclectic openness to living.” Or, in the immortal words of Dorothy Draper: “The Drab Age is over.”