Inside Design: Demographics of design

Home Columns Inside Design: Demographics of design

June 8/15, 2015; Volume 30/Number 1

By Emily Kiker Morrow

During the past 25 years of practicing interior design and 13 years of product development, I have seen many shifts in consumer preferences. Of all these changes, there has been one behemoth move: Homeowners are less likely today to identify with any one specific design style. In the U.S., we have a melting pot of homeowners, design styles and needs. With that, we are seeing a greater need to offer a variety of options in order to meet the various nuances of today’s consumers.

Recently, there has been a great deal of attention on the demographic known as the millennials. What constitutes a millennial? Millennials or Gen Yers make up the group that was born in the 1980s and reached adulthood around 2000. They are quite diverse, representing the largest generation in the U.S., and growing up with technology and valuing creativity. Unlike the baby boomers, this group marries later in life, is less likely to own their own homes and a significant percentage prefer to live in urban areas.

These people are our consumers of today and of the future. We must pay attention to where they will want to live and what they will want to have in their homes in order to offer the right products and services to keep our own businesses thriving.

The most recent U.S. census indicates 64% of the 116 million occupied homes are owned, and of the 36% that are rented, 21% of those renters have plans to buy a multi-family home. A 2015 survey conducted by Apartment Therapy and Furniture Today regarding home decorating preferences of millennials revealed some interesting behaviors. First, millennials have very definite opinions on what they value most for their homes. Twenty-six percent to 33% of those surveyed consider an area rug the primary focal point around which they will design their rooms, second only to a sofa.

We should consider the implications of those findings on the flooring industry. When asked what the survey participants considered must-haves for their next homes, it’s interesting to compare and contrast the preferences of the baby boomers, the Gen Xers and the millennials. The Gen Xers and millennials ranked hardwood floors as their first must-have item, while baby boomers ranked it third.

The millennials and Gen Xers who own homes want to invest in the best quality materials. What they consider quality is something made of natural materials, doesn’t need frequent replacement, is easy to maintain and works with the changing styles as their tastes mature. Baby boomers who grew up during a time when carpet was king and an indication of luxury are returning to the category as it fits well into their need for a comfortable space. The younger generations see hardwood floors as not only natural material but also something that one should aspire toward, more so than the carpet of their parents’ generation.

Our takeaway from these findings is that we have to be savvier in how we address customers’ needs. Offer a wide variety in hard and soft surfaces in the right color palette that works best for the broadest audience. If a homeowner is selecting hardwood floors, she will likely include rugs to soften and define specific areas in the home.

Low-gloss hardwood floors with smooth or subtle character are the millennials’ first choice for their floors, and work with practically any design style. Sharing the story behind a product is key to building a solid consumer relationship.

 

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