The Most-Requested Home Upgrades in 2020, According to Designers and Contractors

updated Dec 21, 2020
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white kitchen banquette with a round table
Credit: Laura Sumrak

Did you take advantage of the homebuying boom that took everyone by surprise this year and subsequently decide to embark on a full-scale renovation? Were you already planning a renovation for 2020? 

Whether it was always a part of the plan or you started decluttering during quarantine and decided your closet space was no longer working for you, 2020 was a year of smart renovations—across all budgets.  

Here are the most requested upgrades for 2020, according to designers and contractors.

Credit: Laura Sumrak

Kitchen banquettes

Alyse Eisenberg, Interior Designer and owner of Studio Alyse, says that the kitchen banquette stole the show this year in most requested upgrades.

“The beauty of a kitchen banquette is undeniable, it makes a space feel cozy and warm, it brings in new tactile materials, and it creates storage solutions,” says Eisenberg. “Banquettes work in larger kitchens to make them feel more intimate, and can add functional kitchen storage in smaller kitchens when creating drawers under the seating.”

She adds that even if you aren’t ready to renovate your entire kitchen, adding a kitchen banquette is a great way to up the value of your space.

The cost of a banquette varies greatly upon location and design elements. Eisenberg said her studio just completed one for around $3,500, excluding the table and chairs, but is also working on a few others that will end up being closer to $10,000. DIY versions can come in at much less—closer to $1,000 or under.

Displays for special memories and moments

Kaitlyn Payne, Principal Designer at Basicspace, says that transforming guest bedrooms into home offices and/or fitness rooms was a clear trend in 2020, but something else stuck out to her about this year.

“I’ve gotten a lot of very particular requests for help with memorabilia or arts and crafts projects that clients have been meaning to do forever but haven’t had time,” says Payne.

She says that while creating an office/exercise room for one of her clients, they revealed that they had a ton of marathon medals just hanging on two hooks in their bedroom, so she created a beautiful display with three long shadowboxes ($170). What better way to decorate an exercise room than to display fitness memorabilia that you’re proud of?

This can also be applied to art projects in kids’ at-home “classroom areas” or other moments of achievement you’ve been meaning to highlight in your home.

Additional outlets and smart lighting

Payne adds that requests for things like additional outlets, as well as smart lighting systems, were also common this year.  She says this can easily be achieved on a budget by switching out your current light bulbs with “smart” ones that you can control from a phone app for less than $10.

Sanitizing stations

The landing strip got a make-over this year. It now includes a sanitizing station.

“This one is very common right now—a “sanitizing station” for the family by the front door with ways to organize hand sanitizer, hang masks, maybe sanitizing wipes, plastic gloves, etcetera,” says Payne.

She adds that even dirty laundry baskets are now finding their place by the front door for those clients who are essential workers or work in professions that put them in a high-risk category.  But there are still stylish ways to have a dirty laundry bag by entryway. Payne recommends this sleek one ($149), as well as these mask-hanging hooks ($49).

Credit: Liz Calka

Functional closets

Another big trend this year: organized closet systems.

“I think a lot of people are purging right now and organizing—especially with ‘The Home Edit’ coming out on Netflix this year,” says Payne. 

While purging and donating is free, creating a full-on closet system is not. “A standard kid’s closet can start at around $800 from The Container Store’s Elfa System,” says Payne.

Fortunately, there are plenty of options to hack your way to an organized closet, if you’re willing to put in some DIY sweat equity.

Passive and environmentally-friendly homes

“One of the biggest trends we’ve seen this year is homeowner interest in passive homes,” says Anna Karp, CEO & Co-Founder of Bolster, a data-driven design-build firm in NYC. Passive homes use much less energy for heating and cooling than traditional homes.

“Passive homes are great for city dwellers because the home is built air-tight and insulated to the highest standards, preventing outside pests, pollution, and allergens from getting in and providing incredibly high air quality,” she says.

Karp adds that they are also quiet and energy-efficient, meaning smaller heating and cooling bills. 

While a custom renovation of a passive home could be (on average) 10 percent higher than the cost of a typical home renovation, they can have significant energy savings and reduced maintenance costs over time (and are sometimes subject to tax incentives). 

She adds that if a client is interested in a passive home, but isn’t ready to check all the boxes that it requires, then an environmentally friendly home is the next best option.

“A build using eco-friendly or responsibly-sourced materials and the highest quality construction standards is a good option for homeowners seeking to preserve their budget while doing good for their home and for the planet,” says Karp.

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

High-end millwork

Karp says another 2020 trend worth noting is interest in high-end custom millwork.

“This type of millwork is beautiful but can be cost-prohibitive, especially in instances where homeowners or renovators need to prioritize necessary infrastructure upgrades as part of their scope and budget,” she says.

Standard millwork (melamine interiors, wood construction, and laminate exteriors) can start at around $500 per linear foot while upscale (shop painted interiors, wood construction, and tropical veneer or high gloss exteriors) could be up to $3,000 per linear foot.

Karp adds, however, that there are several different options for someone who likes the look of custom millwork but wants to spend less.

“For example, you may want to have solid wood in certain areas and a nice veneer in other less visible areas—like cabinet interiors vs. cabinet doors,” she says. “This compromise is totally doable and can result in significant savings.”