Housewares and home appliances will be smaller and more socially responsible, and interiors will rely on furnishings for distinction since new housing will be Spartan in the 1990s, according to designers' predictions.
Steven Holt, head of a product-design program at Parsons School of Design in New York, says home electronics will become more portable. He says pocket-size telephones and copiers and portable stereos with full-size sound--which are curiosities now--will become the norm. Small kitchen appliances that now clutter countertops will also take less space.
A new product's effect on the environment will be measured before it is introduced, he says, and preference will be given to environmentally neutral or enhancing products. Sectioned garbage containers, for example, will make recycling easier at home.
Packaging will be ecologically more responsible. Recycled paper will replace blister packs, and some items may do away with packaging altogether, Holt said.
"Instead of eating out, people will use microwaves and gadgetry to make eating at home easier, more economical" and more pleasant, says Jack Lenor Larsen, a products designer and president of the American Crafts Council.
In interior design, Larsen says, the new look will be furniture that seems to float away from the wall, bold color statements and fabrics that rely on texture and color rather than pattern. The retro look will be the '50s. Collectors will seek the original pieces, and manufacturers will crank out reproductions.
Because of the high cost of custom homes, there will be more multifamily units and modular homes.
"Thousands of architects and designers are being let go by large firms as commercial construction projects diminish in number and lavishness," he says, "so lots of talent will be freed to design residences, now rejected as not profitable enough."
As a result, he says, we'll see a more creative approach to home design.
Some of the most creative ideas, says Larsen, could come from the mobile home industry allied with designers with new ideas. Holt, meanwhile, predicts that mass-produced homes will be designed as a series of choices around a function, with buyers able to choose from a list of options.
"Everything that makes a home special and gives it color will have to come from the furnishings," Larsen says. "I see fantasy furniture as one alternative, pieces that recall an Eastern European folk or country motif. Since our houses all look the same, we're desperate to distinguish our own look."
Beverly Russell, editorial director of Interiors magazine, says the 1990s will build on the 1980s, when the No. 1 design issue was energy efficiency. "What's coming on for the '90s," she says, "is compassionate, environmentally conscious design."
Some of the impetus for new products in the 1990s will come from marketing factors, she says.
The office furniture market is saturated, according to Russell, so companies will expand into new markets created by an aging American population and consumer interest in living in a healthy environment.
Products for special populations, such as the ill and elderly, will be adapted for everyone's use. Better bathroom design and beds for people with bad backs are two of Russell's predictions for the 1990s.
Some designers are already responding to the new concerns, she says: "They don't specify furniture with toxic glue, carpet with formaldehyde backing or laminates that give off toxic radiation. They see that computer users are provided with safety shields against excess radiation."
"We've been living with the illogic of affluence: Why be rational? We can afford not to be," Larsen says.
Now, he says, it's time to adopt a logic of scarcity.