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Lowe's identifies consumer trends

Gerri Hunt, Cinde Ingram -- Casual Living, November 1, 2007

Casual living spaces that are functional as well as beautiful reflect the overall consumer lifestyle Lowe's identified through tracking trends for the last seven years.

Melissa Birdsong, Lowe's vice president of trend, design and brand described six lifestyle trend themes – healthy homes, affordable luxury, environmentalism, simplicity, authenticity and diversity – at a presentation during the recent High Point Market.

Each trend impacts how homes are built and how they function, she said.

Birdsong recalled an article she wrote a few years ago about people accessorizing outdoors and noting, “it's not just a deck with four chairs and a grill anymore.”

“The evolution of living outdoors just continues,” Birdsong said. “Now we've evolved a whole mood and mindset around outdoor living. Even in Minnesota, even in Des Moines, wherever you live, people are using outdoor heaters and outdoor fireplaces and moving more comforts from the inside to the outside.”

She noted the rebirth of porches that allow air into the home and are true extensions of indoor living spaces. She also mentioned the development of more weather-resistant fabrics, outdoor rugs, outdoor showers and big backyard television screens, reminiscent of drive-in movies in years past. “Outdoor kitchens are not new, but manufacturers have addressed the desire to have that with more and more products that are available to go outside,” she said. “It is a continuing trend that's very important to a lot of people.”

A related trend is the growing importance of using garages, sometimes as social gathering spaces and other times as hobby or craft spaces. Independent garage organization businesses are growing at a rate of 15-20% a year, she said.

Small space living is a trend Lowe's has followed for the past few years, recognizing not everyone has the luxury of a huge living space and many are careful about using every square inch they can for multiple purposes, Birdsong said. “Some people who live in urban areas are space challenged to the max,” she said. “They have to be thoughtful about the design of storage space, living space and vertical space.”

In addition to wanting a sense of order in their homes, a driving goal for today's consumers is visual calm. “Middle America is most comfortable with a warm familiar palette but new directions are toward cooler hues compatible with contemporary styling,” she said. Coming soon, look for gray shades in indoor spaces.

Consumers are interested in clean air, water and surfaces these days. They also are looking at a wide range of “green,” from products using sustainable materials like bamboo to conserving energy. Awareness of environmental issues is increasing, spiked recently by higher gas prices and water restrictions in many parts of the nation. “It impacts how you think about things and how you use natural resources,” she said. “People want to do the right thing but it really comes back to if it saves them money,” she said, citing weather-stripping and insulated windows as examples. “These are things people can do to make a difference in their own homes.”

Asked about the green trend sweeping through the home furnishings industry, Birdsong said, “Most people are interested to some degree, but it really depends on how passionate they are about 'saving the earth'.”

Patio heaters bring an indoor comfort to areas outside the home.

Lowe's photo illustrates consumer lifestyle trend related to the evolution of outdoor living.

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