Design Trend Update with Home Depot’s Sarah Fishburne

The home improvement supply retailer's design and trend director spoke with MHN at the National Apartment Association's Education Conference & Exposition in Atlanta to explain how design choices reflect changing lifestyle patterns.

By Sanyu Kyeyune

The Home Depot Design & Trend Director Sarah Fishburne

The Home Depot Design & Trend Director Sarah Fishburne

MHN: What are some emerging trends in interior design?

Sarah Fishburne: There’s been a shift in the mindset of how people want to live. It’s about having a place that’s a little less connected to the outside world. Think about the distractions people face: we have so much sensory overload all the time, with our phones and outdoor noise from things like traffic. More often, the home is a retreat from all of that.

You’re seeing softer, more tranquil, inviting and soothing colors. Blues of all shades. You’re seeing high-contrast colors less often. Increasingly, rooms flow into one another.

We talk about the invisible kitchen, which is huge in Europe, where appliances are hidden behind cabinets. It’s different in the U.S. We don’t want our kitchens to stand out from other places in the home, so if your cabinets are white with a certain type of millwork, you want that to be reflected in bookshelves and crown moulding in other rooms, instead of blocking off the kitchen entirely.

Instead of having visual contrast, the design elements are becoming more tactile. So you no longer need to have an all-white kitchen, but you can vary different textures within the same color profile. 

The recession accelerated the trend of people spending more time at home. That hasn’t gone away, since people are staying longer in their homes than ever before. This shift has had a huge impact on design choices.

MHN: How has the design field evolved in recent years?

Fishburne: The rules of design have become more relaxed. When I was in design school, you learned architectural styles and lifestyle trends. Once you were told you had a certain style, you stuck to it. It was regimented. But now, we have so many influences. When I graduated and started my career, we didn’t have Pinterest. Now, there are so many places to be inspired, from HGTV to other social media websites. We’re so much more connected. You can watch Paris Fashion Week without leaving your sofa in Iowa!

One of the trends in textures and textiles is shibori print, out of Japan. It’s been coming up in the trends meetings, meaning it’s so global now. By going online, you can get inspiration from anywhere.

Our phones are like a designer’s advice. At The Home Depot, we have the Project Color app, which allows you to stand in your house and virtually select the paint colors and the look you want.

Another big change is that, in large part because of the preferences of Millennials, design elements have to be social media-worthy. They’re buying clothes and couches and rugs that can be shared in that social space. This is influencing colors and patterns. A great example would be a bold, floral rug with bright colors and graphic elements. When you shoot that in a space, it shows up nicely on social media websites. So now, when people are designing for outdoor areas, they want accent pillows, planters and even the greenery and flowers to contain those vivid hues that photograph well.

MHN: How can property owners and managers make their communities stand out through design?

Fishburne: It’s a more competitive market than ever. You’re trying to get people to come into your community instead of the one next door. Since people can go online and look for apartments, it’s crucial not to just have a clean property in a good location. It’s necessary to have a community-centric experience. Beyond the right cabinetry and color palette, these communities need to have amenities that set them apart, like captivating outdoor zones for cooking, gardening, lounging and entertaining.

Another way to compete is to give residents options, such as allowing them to choose from a few different color schemes. Even if you give them three options, you’re still giving them a choice. And when they design around that paint color, they may be less likely to move the following year. As a property manager you want to strive for making residents feel like they’re a part of a community.


MHN: Where should property managers start when seeking the highest return on investment through design?

Fishburne: Paint is definitely the most cost-effective way to distinguish a property, especially when you’re incorporate those cool neutrals and inviting color schemes. Using pastels in a bathroom can easily mimic a spa experience.

Your outdoor space is, essentially, your curb appeal. Lighting is crucial here, because it makes residents feel safer and more secure at home. Pet amenities are also a fairly inexpensive addition that residents truly value.

MHN: What are some of the more innovative design choices that you’ve observed?

Fishburne: Taupe, grey and white kitchens are still very popular. What’s new is that more people are trying to create an open, clean, inviting palette that also withstands the turnover of residents. We’re seeing more vinyl planks and waterproof laminate flooring, even in bathrooms. A product we have—Pergo Outlast+—is now water-resistant, which laminate has not been in the past. And there are ways to insulate it and make it float with honeycombing and other techniques.

New technology is making all of this possible, from the flooring to more durable carpeting and even LED lights. You have to stay relevant in order to keep up with the technology, which anyone can access instantly. If residents know about the latest product offerings, then so should property managers and owners. And you can start small, by mixing finishes and fixtures and giving a space a customized look.

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