A Gilded Phase



Despite the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, home sales for the wealthy this summer haven’t missed a beat. As those with means are spending more time at home than ever before, luxury home builders and interior designers have had a busy summer.

“I think COVID has played into the current boom in the luxury home market because somebody who might normally just rent their second home now wants to own their second home because they want to be able to use it any time they want,” said Michael Dubb, CEO of Beechwood Homes

Builders like Dubb, who is currently building the Oak Ridge homes in Saratoga Springs, and John Witt, another high-end builder based out of Saratoga Springs, have seen an increase in demand, especially from those coming from New York City who are spending longer weekends working from their second homes in Saratoga or Lake George.

High ceilings, open floor plans, large outdoor living spaces, home offices and the still-popular free-standing bathtub are all trends that new owners are craving in their homes amid a pandemic.

The idea of a what exactly is a “luxury home” has expanded ever since the internet came along.

Sites like Houzz, Pinterest, and Instagram fling new ideas about what a luxury home can include to all sorts of users, Witt said. And the price point is hard to pin down when defining how much a “luxury” home costs. Witt says size doesn’t matter as much as it used to. He is currently working on a smaller–about 2,500 square feet–home in the $1.3-$1.5 million range that he said is very luxurious.

The biggest change over time has been an open space floor plan where rooms on the lower level are flowing from one into the other, with fewer walls and higher ceilings.

“The house feels bigger and more spacious when it is not chopped up by walls and corridors on the lower level,” Dubb said. “Twenty years ago we had the formal living room, which in many houses was a museum because people looked at it instead of using it.”

Interior designer Lee Owens, who said she has only become busier since the pandemic began, thinks the open floor plan is not necessarily as big as a draw as it has been in the recent past.

“I think people are starting to go back to wanting to have a formal dining room that’s separate from the kitchen, not everybody, but I’ve had homeowners who are interested in that,” Owens said. “I know for me personally, I’d rather not look at my dishes while hosting a nice dinner party.”

Outdoor living is certainly popular as families want to be entertaining outdoors socially distant from each other. This means outdoor kitchens, verandas, firepits, pools, and large seating areas with heaters in the ceilings.

“I think the new luxury is really about how the homes relate to the exterior,” Witt said. “It is super healthy to hang outside.”

Upholstered furniture and a TV under a covered porch are two features Owens said many outdoor living rooms will have.

Whereas before home offices might have been just an afterthought, people are now creating dedicated work spaces since they spend so much of their day at home, Owens said.

“It’s all about the organization in 2020,” Owens said. She points to well designed file cabinets, a flat-screen TV that can make a room feel like a conference room, and custom millwork where a printer is built into the wall with intricate detailing surrounding it, as features that bring a home office to life.

Bowling alleys, theaters, spas, and home exercise rooms are all additional spaces prospective luxury homeowners have always desired that they now want even more, especially during this pandemic, Witt said.

Interior designers and builders alike believe these trends are not going anywhere soon. “These are trends that are going to continue past COVID,” Witt said.