Modern, clean décor leads trend in today’s homes

It’s been my experience that a really successful interior always develops from the synergy between client and designer, so necessary because homes are so personal.

As a custom designer, I act something like a filter for clients, not just following the trendy or cutting-edge décor that soon grows dull and tiresome. Rather, I try to distill their likes and dislikes in the process of creating beautiful, functional rooms by selecting quality furnishings that are subtle with clean lines, which appears to be the direction design is heading.

It wasn’t too long ago when homebuyers wanted nothing less than two refrigerators and freezers, two game rooms (one for adults and the other for children) and showers at least 7-feet-by-7-feet with granite slabs, not tiles. Stone floor tiles had to be at least 20-inches square, which was certainly true for high-end homes that probably featured stainless steel and glass tiles as well.

Houses built prior to the boom, even if just a year or two, were thought of as out of date, and new seemed to be the most important consideration. The pace was frantic with houses and even entire neighborhoods quickly eclipsed by fancier newer ones. Homes needed to be large, if nothing else, and good design was really only optional and not of any great concern.

Times have obviously changed. Now we’re experiencing a reaction to past overindulgences with the green movement and younger homeowners are attracted to modern design with its characteristic clean lines. Sparse décor, white walls and lots of glass go hand-in-hand in helping to create the fresher and simpler look of today’s design.

Hard-surface floors also are an integral part of the green lifestyle, no doubt, in part, because carpets often hold dust mites, dirt and other allergens. Concrete, stone, cork, natural linoleum and wood remain popular choices in this category. And bamboo, which grows a foot a day, is attractive and sustainable, remains right up there on the top of the flooring choices and is certainly one of my favorite materials. Ceramic tile continues to be a good fit for baths, but it isn’t used much in kitchens today except on floors and back splashes – and never more on countertops, thank goodness.

Even the ubiquitous granite countertops are moving aside in favor of new choices such as recycled glass and engineered stones that are very much in step with the green movement. The organic look of limestone, concrete and marble are now popular as is stainless steel.

Heavy faux and thick texture on walls are definitely out. Red and gold are out. A soft, organic pallet such as cream, white and off-white, along with sisal and raw wool is in. Taupe and gray are often combined with white for a sophisticated look. For wood, a natural bare look and dark stains are used. With a splash of deep color, such as tangerine red, indigo blue, black or orange, you have today’s look.

Homeowners, more than ever, want a connection with the outdoors. To that end, large, wall-sized glass doors that open the whole room to the patio are in great demand, helping bring the outdoors in despite a sometimes small urban lot. Backyard gardens, covered patios and outdoor kitchens all will retain their popularity in 2012.

Open shelving in kitchens and baths are in as are stainless steel appliances. Bathrooms appear to be getting smaller and more sensible, but closets are still large. Flat screens televisions are almost a necessity now and fit well in all types of décor with more of them in kitchens or baths than ever. Recently, I had a client who had four in his office alone, not to mention one in every bedroom, bath and kitchen as well as one over the barbecue.

In a word, the economic slowdown has led to a more efficient use of space in homes. Smaller homes with less clutter is now the way to go. There’s a reduced reliance on stuff. Homeowners have come to realize that with simple backgrounds, furnishings can be eclectic (but edited) so that they remain free to express themselves with their decorating. Many are now more concerned with livability rather than showiness, and that’s a good thing.

This trend is leading to young people buying and updating midcentury homes, choosing geometric patterns and big flower designs from the ’50s and ’60s that are now really in. Even traditional homes are being updated with sleek touches such as industrial light fixtures, flat cabinet doors, hard-surface floors and exposed windows, while modern homes are now a great place to show off period and ethnic pieces.

Casual, lived-in spaces, recycled materials and old furniture used in creative ways are seen more and more, while formal living rooms or media rooms that are unconnected to other areas often go used. They can be converted to studies or home offices as the number of people who work online is growing all the time, requiring work space at home.

Design is everywhere. Makeovers on TV, décor catalogs in the mail and design magazines on the supermarket shelves constantly surround us. The Internet supplies new design ideas all the time that are spread at lightning speed around the world. All this while today’s homeowner is more discerning than ever.

Stephen Leon is a licensed interior designer and president of Soleil Design; he has been designing and manufacturing custom furniture and cabinetry for more than 25 years. He has served on the board of directors of the Central California/Nevada Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers and is a certified professional in green residential design. Questions can be sent to

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