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What I Learned At The 2015 Design & Construction Week

Marketing to Millennials

The building industry's obsession with Millennials was on display in Las Vegas last month with education sessions like "Marketing to Millennials: The Largest and Most Influential Generation." Social media, the purported, preferred communications medium for twenty-somethings, was also a popular seminar topic. The data on Millennials dazzled all in attendance but the interpretation of this data left many of us confused.

This discussion of the largest cohort in history, almost always trends Modern: modern technology; modern methods of communicating and modern design are what Millennials want, according to the industry pundits at the  International Builder's Show and Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, now combined, in their second year of co-habitation. It's great that the two largest construction/ design events are now married, even if Millennials are not. Here's my new industry term which is bound to go viral: "Millennial Modern."

Boasting crisp design lines, Ikea furniture and a white, clutter free aesthetic which calms our anxious minds, Millennial Modern is about to put us traditionalists out of business. But wait, while at IBS/KBIS I read a news feed from HomeSphere who says, "contrary to popular belief, millennials are NOT all about contemporary. Rather, the 'Modern Traditional' style is most popular, followed by style-on-a-budget; casual organic and then...modern."

My flight home from Las Vegas was delayed which gave me time in the airport to have this epiphany: 83 million millennials can't all be the same. So why are we generalizing about a generation's consumer behavior? I like HomeSphere's prediction: "Modern Traditional." It covers all the possibilities.

Millennial Modern? Modern Traditional?

The NAHB economist's prediction at IBS also had people confused, or skeptical: "Housing starts will rise to 800,000 units, a 25% increase in 2015." This follows a tepid 2.7% increase last year with single family units of 637,000. Multi-family housing gained share of the total residential housing market in 2014. Nobody I talked to predicts their own business to correlate with a 25% increase in housing. Twelve per cent was the most bullish forecast I heard from exhibitors. Most builders, remodelers, kitchen designers and architects I spoke to said, "5-10%"

During IBS/KBIS Design and Construction Week my Hoover Dam friends Mark Richardson and Mike Bozich shared interesting data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies who's remodeling market forecast claims, back-to-industry-peak- levels of R&R activity, due to housing appreciation; an improved sales rate of existing housing and better job growth/security. The Harvard Joint Center cites "discretionary spending" trends, an important distinction for housing professionals who are selling in a market that has no urgency. Selling to clients who don't HAVE to spend, requires us to make them want to. Likewise, selling to clients who have schizophrenic tastes, such as "Modern Traditional," takes time and patience.

The style trend moniker that transcends "modern" and "traditional" is "authenticity." New products on exhibition aspired to authenticity, especially products made of synthetic materials. Plastic laminate suppliers Wilsonart and Formica were good examples.

The cellular PVC makers like Kleer Trim and HB&G Columns do a good job with historical accuracy. HB&G even quotes Vitruvius in their catalog. From the right distance Tapco's synthetic roof slate and new vinyl-siding shingles look... old.. Two competing manufactured-stone providers, Creative Mines and Eldorado are dueling in the contest for authenticity.

Phantom Screens, a high-tech solution for bug-free outdoor living, finds a nice balance between old house charm and modern convenience. Phantom Screens CEO C. Esther De Wolde is restoring the Morgan Ford House, a 1906 Arts & Crafts bungalow in Mobile, Alabama. This project called, "Southern Romance" airs 13 episodes on Web TV, and epitomizes what our columnist Russell Versaci writes in the next issue of NEW OLD HOUSE: "Old houses draw from deep roots, tracing narratives that tell the story of particular regions, cultures, and their people...connections that add tangible value to a home. Tradition offers comfort food for the soul, adding the spiritual comforts of the past to create comforts of today."

Natural material product exhibitors who get the traditional design lines right include Sun Mountain Doors and Custom Home Accessories. Kolbe Windows has a triple hung with good application for traditional institutional buildings and Marvin Windows' new double hung won an "innovative award" from IBS Show organizers.

While I was impressed with the faux product "authenticity" I saw, I have a preservationist's bias against their "no-maintenance" claims. Plastic does not rot, but neither can it be repaired. I'm reminded of the Hermes definition of true luxury, "products which can be repaired."

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