Whether your lifestyle is fast-paced or decidedly more conservative, Americans are spending more time in the kitchen and less in the formal dining room, which is starting to disappear. The reasons behind this shift vary from more Americans deciding to cook their own dinner to save on the costs of eating out or our increasing dependence on a usable kitchen that can entertain family and friends. As a result, spacious, eat-in kitchens that open up to the common room are now a huge trend for homebuilders in 2011, and the dining room, once its own separate space, is now simply designated by a table and chandelier, as people “try to do more with less,” says Mellman.
“You want an open kitchen because when you’re doing the cooking and entertaining, everybody gathers in the kitchen,” McIlwain says, noting Americans’ casual lifestyle and our ongoing obsession with food. “You don’t have a maid in the kitchen, but [when you’re cooking] you want to be part of the action. Cooking has become part of the whole entertainment process. And for couples, cooking together is a team sport, rather than an individual sport.”
But despite being the center of attention, the new American home’s kitchen doesn’t look quite as glamorous as it used to.
“The gourmet kitchen is on the way out,” says Mellman. “You don’t need eight burners” or a Vulcan stove, Mellman says. Americans post-recession are focused on standard appliances that they know they will use every day.
“A great stove, a fridge with an ice-maker and water filters, two sinks, a quiet wash dishwasher, or the equivalent—it doesn’t have to be commercial kitchen grade, but a decent quality kitchen that’s easy to move around in, and therefore cook in, with plenty of counter space and that’s easy to hang out in” is where the homebuilding trend is going, McIlwain says.
To save on kitchen construction costs, Dan Sandoval, a homebuilder with Republic Homebuilders in Fredericksburg, Va., says homebuyers are also forgoing traditionally pricey granite countertops for standard laminate countertops.
“Five years ago, they wouldn’t have sold, but now they’re OK,” he says of the materials. “It’s nice-looking, but very affordable,” unlike the dining room, which buyers now consider “wasted space” and an unattractive feature, says Sandoval.
“What I hear from customers is that they just don’t use it,” he says. “They don’t eat in there every Sunday, like their parents used to do. That’s not their lifestyle.”
Smaller Square Footage
It isn’t your imagination—the new American homes are actually getting smaller, according to a National Association of Home Builders’ report, The New Home in 2015.
In it, the NAHB found that the average size of single-family homes completed in 2009 dropped to 2,438 square feet, and in the first half of 2010, the average size of new homes completed continued its slide, dropping to 2,378 square feet.
What’s more, according to the NAHB study, bedrooms and baths have also downsized as well, as the share of single-family homes with four bedrooms or more has declined for three consecutive years, from 39% in 2005 and 2006 to 35% in the first half of 2010, and most new homes completed in 2008 and 2009 had either 2 or 2.5 baths (68%).
So what’s the story behind all these shrinking homes? “New homes that are being built by and large are tending to be smaller because that makes them more affordable,” explains McIlwain, who adds that “even the very wealthy will buy a home much smaller than they could afford,” just to cut back on living costs or perhaps to funnel their money into retirement savings and other mid-life goals.
As a result, certain rooms, like the formal dining room and traditional living room, are becoming extinct species or taking new forms in the combination spaces that are beginning to crop up, such as the eat-in kitchen and dining area, or the second or third bedroom, which has begun to do double-duty as a home office, McIlwain says. “Whether they’re working at home or having a room to keep personal information, such as taxes, an in-home office is more to take care of personal matters,” adds Sandoval.
Meanwhile, Mellman says stairways are moving from their traditional post in the front of the house, or entrance/foyer, to the back and the side, in yet another effort by homebuilders to curtail construction costs and provide more room.