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What Does Today’s ‘Dream Home’ Look Like?

What Does Today’s ‘Dream Home’ Look Like?

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Sarah St. Amand Interior Design, Inc./Mike Chajecki

Forget gingham curtains and a white-picket fence. The “dream home” of today has come a long way from postwar tract homes with cookie-cutter features. Most Americans now want homes that express their individual style and are loaded with modern, high-end finishes, such as solid-surface countertops, spa-like bathrooms and chic industrial fixtures.

To understand what “dream home” means to today’s homeowners, Mansion asked the editors of three home-centric websites—Houzz, BHG.com and HGTV.com—to identify their most popular images from the first half of 2017. These are the photos with the most online clicks, likes and saves.

Defining a dream home can be “an addictive experience, because people can find so many examples that speak to them personally,” says Sheila Schmitz, editor at home-design website Houzz. In many cases, “there’s a sense of nostalgia at work,” she adds.

Right now, the most popular photos on Houzz show transitional interiors, those that mix traditional and contemporary design elements, with daring use of prints, metals and other textures. Glamorous kitchens feature statement lighting, master bathrooms are awash in custom stonework and exteriors show farmhouse-style accented with industrial-inspired fixtures.

Houzz users are also drawn to “high contrast” powder rooms and kitchens, says Ms. Schmitz. The most popular images so far this year feature daring wallpaper patterns or colorful tiles to create kitchens or powder rooms with a unique feel for entertaining. “It’s a place where the homeowner feels they can make a statement with the design,” she says.

Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to dream spaces. When viewing home-renovation projects, consumers often click on photos of small, well-appointed areas that feel somewhat attainable, says Mariel Clark, vice president of home and travel digital for Scripps Networks Interactive, which includes the HGTV network. A clever bunk-bed setup in the shape of a small house inside a child’s room was one of the top images this year.

“Our audience does gravitate toward homes and spaces that they can identify with,” says Ms. Clark. An image of a bathroom with shiplap on the walls, an oversize plant and free-standing bathtub drew in consumers who are eager to add similar details to their own spaces, she explains.

In a home’s private areas—master baths and bedrooms—serene décor is still in demand, says Amy Panos, home editor at Better Homes & Gardens, a Meredith Corp. magazine and website. Lighter bathroom tiles, shiplap walls and minimal bedroom décor can create a Zen-like atmosphere that’s a draw for consumers. “Calm is what people want in terms of their bedrooms,” Ms. Panos says.

Still, some are eager to wow guests with dramatic entrances. Photos of oversize planters, fire pits and colorful front doors are the most-clicked images this year, Ms. Panos says, because consumers see renovating outdoor entryways as an easy fix. “People are getting fearless about their front door.”

Buyers want a dream home that feels one-of-a-kind and sets the home apart from other homes in a similar price range, says Chad Carroll, an agent with Douglas Elliman in Miami who focuses on homes listed for $5 million and above. In the past few years, he has seen homeowners who have invested in a custom-built wood-burning pizza oven off the kitchen, a private spa in the pool house, first-floor wine rooms and a basketball court. When building out kitchens and baths, he sees increased interest for butler’s pantries, additional ovens and refrigeration, and his-and-hers master baths. “There’s an increase in demand for double of everything,” Mr. Carroll says.

Browsing pictures “adds a realistic element to your aspirations,” says Alyssa Croft, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona in Tucson who focuses on gender stereotyping and the home.

Psychologically, people building or buying their dream home are eager to have a so-called optimal distinctiveness, which means that the home is different enough to be considered special by outsiders, while allowing the homeowner to fit in socially with their vision, says Prof. Croft. “We like to fit in and make sure that we have these status symbols—but what we really value is individuality,” she says.

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