2019’s Top 5 Commercial Interior Design Trends Reflect an Industry Sea Change

01/03/2019 By Mary Cook

“The present is pregnant with the future,” Voltaire famously remarked centuries ago. His sage observation holds true today vis-à-vis 2019’s top commercial interior design trends. The most significant developments in the field became evident in 2018 and will dominate the landscape in 2019 as well: the rising importance of psychographics, sustainability, wellness, community and authenticity.

Images courtesy of Mary Cook Associates
Images courtesy of Mary Cook Associates 

 Gone are the days when commercial interior designers put color palettes, design styles and furnishings first. From our firm’s experiences designing public and private spaces in residential developments, hospitality settings and offices, we’ve found that design firms’ primary focus must be ESG—the environmental, social and governance aspects of a project. Gone are the days when commercial interior designers put color palettes, design styles and furnishings first. From our firm’s experiences designing public and private spaces in residential developments, hospitality settings and offices, we’ve found that design firms’ primary focus must be ESG—the environmental, social and governance aspects of a project.

ESG in Commercial Interior Design

Investors use ESG to determine if a company is socially conscious. It has morphed from a benchmark for investment performance to a measure many industries are using to gauge sustainability.

The Urban Land Institute’s 2019 Emerging Trends in Real Estate report showed that ESG is now front-and-center in the commercial real estate industry due to:

Images courtesy of Mary Cook Associates
Images courtesy of Mary Cook Associates 

For commercial interior designers, fundamentals such as target markets, functionality and structural resilience must be considered with respect to usage, and ultimately tied to a project’s interior design long before the structure breaks ground. In truth, doing so helps focus designers and all project team members on “getting it right” to spur conversion and ensure buildings fulfill their potential.

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Take a Solutions-based Approach to Interior Design

Also, these trends signal that all members of our teams—from architects and commercial interior designers to developers and builders—must embrace design thinking, the solutions-based approach to our craft.

At my firm, we’ve developed a codified system that accounts for these five fundamentals. We are required to document our intentional efforts to fulfill each as our work on a project as it progresses. I mention our process because many builders and developers don’t realize what each of these trends entail, especially when it comes to commercial interior design. Here’s how they impact the projects we design.

1. Psychographics

Unlike demographics, which have always informed the design process, psychographics are qualitative rather than quantitative and require a far deeper “discovery process.” What are the attitudes, values, interests and lifestyles of a project’s users, be it an office, restaurant, hotel or multifamily building? Users’ origins, ethnicities, family backgrounds, culture, education levels, professions and more inform these characteristics. Coupled with demographics—gender, age, income, educational level, marital status and race—these help us understand for whom we’re designing and what they need and want. And when a building is unpopular or underused, that means something about its design doesn’t resonate with its target markets.

Images courtesy of Mary Cook Associates
Images courtesy of Mary Cook Associates 

2. Sustainability

Today, green building has gone from an ambition to a standard, and every structure or development we work on is built with leaner, greener building techniques—often executed in conjunction with meeting one or several specific green building standards. But green building techniques are only part of what goes into making structures sustainable. It is also critical to use design strategies that won’t compromise residents’ health and design environments that embrace renewable, recyclable and low-waste building materials and systems. Rather than building “green,” our goal must be to create homes and communities that allow people to live better now and in the future.

3. Wellness

“Our homes, communities and surrounding environment…determine up to 90 percent of our health outcomes,” a 2018 report from The Global Wellness Institute says. Since many of us work outside our homes, it’s safe to say work environments are equally important for our health. And this means that the buildings we design must encourage proactive behaviors and habits that drive wellness, from encouraging users to be active to helping them forge social connections. Strategies can be as elementary as making stairwells pretty so users will forego elevators.

4. Community

“Mounting evidence shows that relationships should be a public health priority,” Scientific American reports. Loneliness is a public health crisis more critical than obesity and as significant as smoking and drinking, as noted by popular Washington political site The Hill. Social connectivity is the solution, and it has a deep and positive impact on health and wellness. And physical environments set the stage to inviting or impeding social interaction, the American Society on Aging points out. This makes it critical for commercial interior designers to create spaces in buildings that cause occupants to interact with each other and build community.

Images courtesy of Mary Cook Associates
Images courtesy of Mary Cook Associates 

5. Authenticity

Today, thanks to our increasingly digital worlds, we crave authenticity as an antidote to what many perceive as an impersonal world. Establishing authenticity in projects has become a critical part of making homes, offices, restaurants and hotels feel warm, welcoming, relaxing and comfortable. To achieve this, we must find ways to balance the artificial connections forged online with the natural experiences generated by live relationships and activities. This means commercial interior designers must integrate character-rich yet relevant design elements into buildings, which can range from incorporating local materials and vernacular features into structures to commissioning art for community spaces that pay homage to a community or locale.

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Mary CookAbout Mary Cook

Mary Cook is the founder and principal of Mary Cook Associates (MCA), a full-service commercial interior design firm. She is nationally known for creating innovative environments targeted to market demands and designed to increase property value. Her projects for single- and multi-family amenities, homes, clubhouses, restaurants, offices and developments emphasize functionality, showcase possibilities and stimulate sales.