A few months ago executives at Home, the new UK television network dedicated to all things domestic, asked me what I thought the house of the future might look like. I’m a global trendspotter, as well as a marketing professional with experience at five advertising agencies, and I’ve written 15 books on a variety of subjects, including The Future of Men, an early analysis of the “metrosexuality” phenomenon, and Next Now, a look into how everyday life will play out in the near future.
I was intrigued by the idea of forecasting how our homes might change. I grew up in the New Jersey suburbs, in a cookie-cutter colonial, with two parents, two younger sisters and a dog that romped in the backyard. We all ate dinner together at the dining room table – pot roast at least once a week and Chinese food on Sunday evenings. It was totally conventional. And I couldn’t wait to get the hell out
Today I live near New York in a renovated barn in Silvermine, Connecticut, in the woods outside a small city called Norwalk, with a housekeeper and two golden retrievers. The rooms are funky, full of books and art, but I also have a modern gym and a sprawling patio with a hot tub overlooking a golf course.
There are no similarities between my childhood home and how I live now – except dogs. (My mother loved them and so do I.) Where the colonial was a busy house of small rooms and family rituals, my barn is a quiet, open-plan oasis, a library for research and a venue for large-scale entertaining.
So what sort of dwellings will those of us in the developed world occupy a decade or even four decades from now?
My first step in any project like this is to employ research tools – Google and blog searches, questions posed to people on the Twitter social network, online focus groups and quantitative analysis of published data. I also look at recent news, surveys and studies – what is happening in the real world. I note the patterns that emerge and then ask what they might mean for my subject.
I ended up with several categories of home trends, each focused on a different way in which our domestic lives are changing. These include the meltdown of the nuclear family, bedroom privacy, powerful practicality, kitchen connections, home working and multi-tasking rooms.
The way homes look and operate depends first and foremost on the people who live in them. And today it’s increasingly unlikely that you’ll find a traditional family (father, mother, two-point-something kids and the family dog) behind the front door. The nuclear unit is disappearing as a result of everything from economics to education, technology to health care.
So, knock-knock, who’s there? First, single will be the new normal 20 years from now, when, according to the UK Office for National Statistics, only two out of five adults will be married. More people will be living alone or with platonic housemates. The sharers might be young, successful professionals who want to share costs and stay social without any sort of relationship commitment. Or they might be elderly widower pals keeping each other company. The young will live on their own to show economic independence and indulge more peripatetic lifestyles, while seniors will be encouraged into living by themselves for longer with the help of smart gadgets, including video monitoring and electronic pillboxes.
Across the road from the singles, however, we’ll see a second and opposite trend: multiple generations living under one roof. Growing numbers of retirees will move in with their adult children, as seen most recently at the US White House, where Michelle Obama’s mother, who often helped out with childcare during the gruelling campaign, now lives alongside the first family. At the same time, older kids will be putting off college and staying home to save money or returning after graduation for a spell while they get their careers off the ground. In this house, the nuclear family is exploding, with grandparents, parents, young adults and children sharing the dining-room table and the wireless router.
Whether a person is married, partnered or single, young or old, one of his or her primary concerns will be carving out a private nook in the house. The US National Association of Home Builders predicts that by 2015 60 per cent of custom homes will have two master bedrooms. Couples might sleep apart not because they’re heading for a breakup but to give themselves individual space and even to inject passion back into their relationships – like dating again. The blueprint is also perfect for platonic adult housemates who are sharing resources equally. And it’s a modern take on the mother-in-law suite – for baby boomer grandparents or as a mini-flat for a young adult starting out.
The rejection of mega-consumption is the mega-trend of the moment and it will influence our design aesthetic for years to come. Buying to impress no longer moves us because, frankly, there are no bragging rights in acquisition anymore. For those with extra money to spend on their homes, clean lines and classic, well-constructed furniture that’s beautiful but not ostentatious will have the greatest appeal. Environmental responsibility will be a top concern and homeowners will pay up for the latest technology that serves up convenience along with peace of mind.
On the other side of the coin (and for those with less in their pockets), cottage-style comfort will reign. Whether it’s households forged from multiple generations or single friends, the patchwork nature of homes will be be reflected in their interior aesthetics. Antiques from one person will be blended with new technology from another, while a third might add kitchen appliances and cookbooks, with each piece and item telling a story about its individual owner.
In all of these homes, the kitchen will remain the social centre, where people meet to share meals or just gather around the table for a cup of coffee and a chat. On the one hand, it will be an area where the back-to-basics theme continues, as people reject products that come with incremental frills or involve unnecessary transport in favour of more earth- and budget-conscious items. The microwave and ready-meal will be banned in favour of traditional ovens and Sunday roasts. And tap water will regain popularity as people begin bragging about their clean, local, natural water.
On the other hand, technology will help us. Ultra-efficient, carbon-neutral interior gardens will be where we grow our vegetables and herbs. We’ll have devices to monitor our energy efficiency when it comes to cooking, cleaning and heating and we could start competing with neighbours over who can best reduce their carbon footprint. A refrigerator computer will combine databases of recipes and information on the food inside to propose menus based on healthy diet expectations for each resident. We’ll use our mobile phones to read bar codes, allowing us to track expiry dates, nutritional value and even food-pairing suggestions. Homemade goods will get similar labels thanks to at-home printers.
Online and employed
Thanks to the economic crisis, we’ve seen growing interest in the efficiencies of working at home via online networks linked to internal office servers. If your tasks are primarily computer-based and you aren’t needed for hour upon hour of in-person meetings, what’s the sense in commuting several hours a week just to sit in a different room in front of a different screen to do the same things? According to the human resources group WorldatWork, more than 28m Americans now work from home at least one day per month and the number is expected to rise to 100m by 2010.
Telecommuting is eco-friendly too. The Economist magazine recently reported that if the 33m Americans who have jobs that could be done from home were to stay there instead of driving to work, US oil imports would drop by more than one quarter and carbon emissions would fall by 67m metric tonnes a year.
Growing numbers of consultants and freelancers are assembling careers from multiple projects and using a laptop as a business portal. And, although women are still demanding top education and job options, they are increasingly willing to stay in the house more, taking a break for a few years to start a family or to work part-time from a home office, redefining the workday as one that happens during their children’s naptime and after bedtime, for instance.
With so much home work, what’s more sensible than private home offices, carved out to ensure maximum efficiency, privacy and productivity? We’ll start to obsess about getting this atmosphere just right – the perfect ergonomic chair, the perfect desk, the perfect filing cabinet.
Non-work zones will start to take on a variety of functions. Just as the kitchen is a social as well as cooking and eating space and the bedroom is for private contemplation as much as sleeping, other rooms will multi-task.
Outdoor spaces will be transformed into playgrounds or workout areas for power gardeners, with lights strung up and music piped in. The humble garden shed will meanwhile gain popularity as a zen retreat or, perhaps, that expertly designed office.
The traditional family room will become a computer-media centre, for playing, studying and socialising – something for everyone in a complex household. Media is the true “third place” where people of all ages retreat.
Modern families already spend their weekend evenings watching high-definition pay-per-view flims on demand or gathering around the Wii for some competitive bowling. Young women with less cash for shopping and bar tabs go online to find discounted fashion and furniture, as well as friends and romantic partners, while young men stay glued to live athletic event broadcasts on television and fantasy sports leagues on the internet. We all know children love video games but apparently so do seniors. A recent Bloomberg news article reported that, in 2008 26 per cent of people over 50 in the US play them. Watch as that number rises.
There isn’t one cookie-cutter home of the future. Some things you’ll find across the board – shunning of excess, renewed concern for the environment, ground-breaking tech toys and services. But the most important characteristics of our domestic spaces will emerge not in the façade or on the front lawn but in the inhabitants’ relationships with one another, in how they live and love, eat and sleep, work and play. The real embrace of the future will come in the new-fashioned, thoughtful ways people choose to live together. That’s the modern happy home.
The UK’s Home network is on Sky channel 246, Virgin 265 and Top Up TV 2
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