The last of home theatres, master suites and showcase kitchens?

NEW YORK • Some real estate amenities are eternal - a sweeping view across Central Park, for instance. Others, though, might prove unexpectedly faddish: What seems like a must-have today could vanish in the developments of tomorrow.

Here are three surprising staples of the luxury real estate market that could soon become obsolete.


The home theatre market in the United States stood at US$1.4 billion (S$1.98 billion) in 2015, up more than 50 per cent since the same period in 2010, according to Cedia, a trade association for home technology companies.

Of course, it is no longer enough to install a supersize screen and digital projector. True cinephiles can build their own US$1-million personal Imax theatre and sign up for Prima Cinema, a Netflix-like service for the 1 per cent that allows rentals of first-run movies at US$500 a pop.

It could prove a shortsighted investment, though, at least according to architect Duan Tran of KAA Design. He says: "Our clients are requesting fully immersive, virtual- reality (VR) environments because they're super-busy and want the highest forms of escapism."

One current project commissioned by "a real techie" involves stripping down the erstwhile maid's room and turning it into a 6 by 6m shell as the venue for the home owner's personal Holodeck.

 "There, he can throw on a pair of VR goggles and immerse himself completely. Imagine taking a walk on the beach in the Bahamas or a walk down to the Arc de Triomphe... before dinner."

Tech advances have propelled this blue-sky idea into brick-and- mortar reality, such as the relatively affordable VR cubes and screens from companies such as Virtalis.

Mr Tran says changing building codes in overbuilt areas could also have an effect moving this forward. "They're starting to restrict the size of houses, so when clients request bells and whistles, we need to be more efficient with space."

"Right now, you might need to have 1,000 sq ft dedicated to a home theatre", but in the future, "it could be a 1.8 by 1.8m room for the same programming", he adds.


Sprawling master suites were once the ultimate trophy asset in a luxury home, but recent developments have begun replacing the open- plan, loft-like rooms with a complex of private chambers, jigsawed together around a smaller, cosy space that is home solely to a bed.

Real estate firm Douglas Elliman's Mr Roy Kim points to Miami's Rem Koolhaas-designed Park Grove as an example. "You'll see an antechamber, like a study, or a library, plus a large dressing area and a spa-like bathroom," he says. "You no longer want to walk unceremoniously into a master bedroom and see the bed - creating privacy is more important than ever."

Mr Jonah Disend, founder of innovation firm Redscout, says: "The concept of a master bedroom is becoming obsolete because we have a different relationship with sleep now that we don't hang out in the bedroom the way we used to."

He notes that millennials are driving this shift. Their relationship with privacy is radically different from those of the generations preceding them - though digitally nonchalant, they are prudish in person.

"Millennials don't like to get naked - if you go to the gym now, everyone under 30 will put their underwear on under the towel, which is a massive cultural shift."

As gym designers are adapting, so are condominium developers. "They want their own changing rooms and bathrooms, even in a couple."

The same instinct is driving the renewed boom in so-called accessory apartments, typically a second, studio home purchased by wealthy couples in the same luxury development where they live, so that boomeranging 20somethings can enjoy full privacy when moving back in with mum and dad.

Even when they live with peers, these new privacy preferences are changing the layout of apartments, according to Ms Teresa Ruiz of SB Architects. "We're seeing a shift in household formation, with a lot of co-habitation by renters," she says.

For one local developer, Avalon, she says the average age of a renter is 30 years old, with an average income of US$300,000. "The private space they want may be smaller, but they want a larger unit as a whole, so we're making two bedrooms with a den and an extra bathroom." Translation: They will share a sofa, but are squeamish if ever asked to split the sink.


According to Redscout's Mr Disend, elaborate, centrepiece kitchens, like master suites, are another amenity on the endangered list in high-end homes.

In part, it is because delivery services such as Blue Apron or Amazon Prime Now will minimise the need to store anything but the bare minimum at home, coupled with new amenities such as centralised cooking and catering within a development. Take, for example, architect Rafael Vinoly's 437 Park Avenue residential skyscraper in Manhattan, where Michelin-starred chef Shaun Hergatt will operate a residents-only restaurant, providing the ultimate in luxury takeout.

Mr Disend also identifies the rise of 3D printing as fundamental to this change. "Soon - I'd expect in two or three years' time - you will be able to create specific housewares for a dinner party when you throw it," he says, minimising the need for storage. He has invested directly in 3D printing start-up Othr for exactly these reasons.

 If 3D printers for food ever pass the gimmick phase, future home owners may be able to dispense with the cooking entirely.

And where would you put that printer? Well, an "appliance garage", which Elliman's Mr Kim predicts will replace the open-plan showcase kitchen. "We're recommending appliance garages in our upcoming projects, a place to put your espresso maker, juicer and anything that might clutter the countertop or cause smells."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2017, with the headline 'The last of home theatres, master suites and showcase kitchens?'. Print Edition | Subscribe