What’s hot and what’s not: Iowa designers say pandemic, nature are shaping design trends in 2022

This kitchen in Marion is an example of a return of lighter wood finishes. Completed in September 2021, this kitchen shows how finishes are being mixed and is an example of a level island surface. (Stonegate Custom Homes)

A discussion about trends with Iowa designers or builders invariably begins with or references the design lag in the Midwest.

“The joke is the Midwest is always about five years behind the coast on trends,” said Amy Pretorius, builder and owner of Elevation Home Builders in Iowa City.

Amy Pretorius, builder and owner of Elevation Home Builders in Iowa City.

Does this still hold true? Or has it been repeated so often that the idea has taken root?

Pretorius and Lori Dickson Wiles, principal and registered interior designer, believe this has changed. Wiles, founder of Lori Wiles Design in Cedar Rapids, has seen trends “move way faster than they used to” in her 38 years of designing. Before the internet, “there used to be three looks a year,” Wiles said, referring to color palettes such as hunter green, burgundy and navy. Now, Wiles said, the amount of variety is amazing.

Lori Dickson Wiles of Lori Wiles Design

Many of this year’s trends are versions of ones seen before, writes Sarah Buder in Dwell magazine. That jibes with Wiles’s view of trends. “We keep part of this trend and let the rest of it go,” she said. From midcentury came the appreciation of clean shape, and an embrace of textural walls came from the “Fixer Upper” Texas farmhouse style, Wiles said.

This master bath features a floating vanity with undercabinet lighting designed by the Melanie Olson Design Group at a home in Palm Springs, Calif. The Cle Tile flooring material is concrete, which is becoming popular. Mixed finishes appear throughout. (Nathan Cox Studios)

Wherever people live, it’s likely “people care more about their homes,” Wiles said, pointing to the pandemic’s influence.


When it comes to new construction, Iowa City builder Pretorius has noticed homes are getting larger. People are doing more activities – working, learning, exercising – at home and that creates a larger footprint, she said. More owners are planning to ensure their homes could be multigenerational now or in the future, she said.

Andy Becker, president of Stonegate Custom Homes, said homes he has designed, including this one in Marion in 2018, are around 2,000 square feet, have a three- to four-car garage and offer plenty of space for storage and entertaining. (Corridor Home Photos)

Similarly, Andy Becker, president of Stonegate Custom Homes of Cedar Rapids, has been building forever homes on land clients own. Around 2,000 square feet, the homes have three- or four-car garages and generous spaces for storage and entertaining.

Stonegate Custom Homes added elements to an existing patio. An open stone fireplace and bar add spaces for entertaining. Andy Becker, president of Stonegate Custom Homes, said outdoor living has become a must-have item in home design. (Stonegate Custom Homes)

Andy Becker of Stonegate Custom Homes

Becker has seen multiple factors influence his clients’ home designs. First, there’s the pandemic. “Clients are approaching us with detailed plans where you can tell they spent a lot of time thinking about how they will use each space,” Becker said. Along with an in-home office or sometimes two, he said, clients are asking for large walk-in pantries and flex rooms that allow for a variety of uses.

Large, walk-in pantries grew in popularity because of the pandemic as people needed space to store non-perishable food for a potentially long time period. This pantry is in an Anamosa home completed in May 2021. (Corridor Home photos)

Laura Harreld, store manager of KBD of Cedar Rapids, agrees about pantry size. She said utility cabinets are popular for people who don’t have space for a separate pantry. Frequent cooks and bakers have lots of ingredients to store, she said, but don’t need to use them every day.

Next, there’s the derecho damage. Because of the power outages caused by the storm, Becker said, clients are inquiring about wiring and natural gas lines for generators. On the building side, Stonegate Custom Homes has shifted shingle products to allow for a higher wind and impact warranty.

Now, homebuilders have to contend with supply chain issues. Lead time has ballooned. Rather than delay construction, “we are getting creative,” Becker said. That might mean mixing siding colors based on availability and cost effectiveness.

This home in Center Point, completed in fall 2018, has a room off the entry suitable for a home office. Andy Becker, president of Stonegate Custom Homes, said clients have been asking for at least one home office and sometimes two. (Corridor Home Photos)

Builders are seeing stained wood finishes returning in lighter, more natural tones, Pretorius said. Warm neutrals have been popular, and Pretorius said they can be mixed with pops of color, such as gem-colored cabinetry or wainscoting. Wallpaper, well, “we never got away from it,” Wiles said. “It’s not like the ’80s.” Pretorius expects to see more light-colored floors, white walls and more wood tones.

A 2020 full remodel in Cedar Rapids by Melanie Olson Design Group transitioned a kitchen to make it flow into the family room. The space showcases using textures, mixing wood finishes and light fixtures. (Dust Studios)

Emily Hughes, who works with area builders as principal interior designer at Emily Hughes Interiors, has seen large-scale materials in kitchens and bathrooms to allow for easier cleaning. Hughes said more clients are choosing slab backsplashes in kitchens to match the countertop. If clients opt for a tile backsplash, she said, they are choosing one that is very similar to the countertop.

Emily Hughes of Emily Hughes Interiors

This powder room in Iowa City, completed in October 2021, features botanical wallpaper. (Emily Hughes Interiors)

As for what will no longer be popular, Pretorius said, gray will be used a bit less. With building materials, Becker said treated lumber is no longer a go-to. Instead, he now uses all maintenance-free decking.


Inside the home, Wiles said, “people are hungry for uniqueness and vibrancy.” Those are qualities she sees in designer Justina Blakeney’s brand, Jungalow, which offers wild patterns, saturated color and the feel of a European flea market.

Clients want their “homes to be a reflection of who they are,” said Melanie Olson, principal interior designer at Melanie Olson Design Group in Cedar Rapids. They are invested more in their homes and that has made the design process more collaborative, Olson said.

Melanie Olson of Melanie Olson Design Group

At the same time, there is a desire for comfort and nature. Enter the pandemic influence. Spending more time at home has made comfort a priority, Olson said. Families want space for kids, she said. That has meant using performance fabrics, choosing soft materials and thinking differently about furniture, Olson said. “Furniture is less for show and more for sitting,” she said.

Wiles has seen the focus on biophilia – the idea that people are drawn to connect with nature and other living things – with her clients. She completed a yoga room in Cedar Rapids in 2021 for a client seeking a sanctuary in her busy home. Wiles turned a previously dark room into a light, soothing space that brought nature in with plants, relaxing ambient sounds and a radiant heat source.

Working with a busy client who sought a sanctuary in her home, Lori Wiles Design turned a previously dark den into a light, soothing yoga room in Cedar Rapids in 2021. Some of the changes included painting the dark paneled walls and brick, replacing carpet with plank flooring, removing unused open bookshelves and changing the blinds. The room’s plants and relaxing ambient sounds are examples of biophilia. Technology appears in The Mirror, an on-demand workout when activated and a mirror when in off mode. Textural finishes are seen in the blinds, cushions and end tables. “I’m a yoga and meditation practitioner and have loved designing spaces like this for our clients. They’re one more layer of personalizing a person’s home to reflect their real lifestyle,” said Lori Dickson Wiles, principal and registered interior designer. (Lori Wiles Design)

Natural materials, textures and organic shapes contribute to bringing the outdoors inside. The textural look of macrame and burlap is showing up in wovens for ottomans, backs of chairs, wall hangings and drapery, Wiles said. Many of this year’s color picks by paint companies reference nature. Described as soft and organic, colors include Breezeway by Behr, October Mist by Benjamin Moore, Olive Sprig by PPG and Evergreen Fog by Sherwin-Williams.

From old to new, Wiles and Olson see renewed interest in integrating vintage pieces as well as technology becoming more entwined with design. Innovation in design has accelerated, Wiles said, as people quickly adopted home security doorbells such as Nest and Ring. She said integrating power into furniture and appliances is routine now.

Hughes expects to see more organic shapes in tables, curved sectionals and sofas, and more channel tufting.

Started before the pandemic, this office completed in 2020 became a highly used space for a Cedar Rapids client who transitioned to working from home. “We gutted this room and started with all fresh finishes, adding the brilliant blue wall to integrate with the highly saturated colors in rest of the home,” said Lori Dickson Wiles, principal and registered interior designer. The client and his spouse also loved natural woods and unexpected combinations, such as modern shapes and handcrafted items. The desk, made of live-edge spalted maple, was crafted in Amana and is an example of biophilia and handcrafted. (Lori Wiles Design)

Kitchens and baths

Technology has entered the bathroom too, Olson said. She has specified backlit mirrors that can become televisions with a phone app. Speakers for music and TV are not uncommon.

Olson sees clients reexamining spaces. They want more open spaces, which means knocking out walls and making an island one level in the kitchen as well as taking out Jacuzzi tubs in the bathroom. “They’re dusty and take up space,” Olson said.

Laura Harreld store manager of KBD of Cedar Rapids

Harreld, of KBD of Cedar Rapids, works with clients on new construction and kitchen and bath remodels. These rooms are becoming open and sleek, she said. Harreld, too, sees people removing walls and opening up spaces. Adding one or two open shelves in the kitchen creates a more updated look, Harreld said. The shelves can be used for display or as cookbook storage.

“Subway tile is still in. It won’t ever go out of style,” Harreld said. Some people are using larger tiles, such as 2 inches by 9 inches or 2 inches by 10 inches, she said, but 3 inches by 6 inches remains a popular size.

Shaker cabinets, which can be a slab door or one with an unadorned frame, are popular and can be a cost saver, Harreld said. She also sees clients installing laminate door fronts, done in dark or white wood, for a durable, sleek look. Clients want cabinets that can roll out, Harreld said. Built-in microwaves also are popular.

A kitchen in Shueyville, completed in January 2020, is an example of several design trends. Natural woven roman shades add organic elements, warmth and texture. The floor and cabinetry show a move toward lighter, stained wood. (Emily Hughes Interiors)

Grays, whites and two tones are frequent color schemes, Harreld said. Examples of two tones are wood/white, gray/white, light/dark gray or dark blue/white. She said she sees solid color quartz countertops paired with a patterned granite on the island. Hughes has seen tone on tone finishes becoming popular in kitchens. An example would be white oak floors with white oak cabinets.

This kitchen in a Marion home shows the trend of mixed finishes. Black hardware in the kitchen is combined with copper pendants and next to a gold starburst chandelier. (Corridor Home Photos)


Gray is mostly fading. Replacing it are white walls paired with bold color, said Hughes, owner of Mix Home Mercantile in North Liberty. Homeowners are bringing black, deep green, charcoal and navy to their kitchen islands, living room built-ins, mud rooms and entertaining spaces such as the dining room and bar. “Some homeowners are also painting rooms like their master bedroom or home offices in darker, moodier paint colors to create a rich, calm atmosphere,” she said.

Started before the pandemic, this office completed in 2020 became a highly used space for a Cedar Rapids client who transitioned to working from home. It includes this seating area for the family to gather and storage in addition to the work area. (Lori Wiles Design)

Hughes sees clients embracing warmer tones in finishes, including creams, browns and earth tones. She expects more earthier color palettes to emerge.

For hardware and lighting, “brass is not what it used to be,” Olson said. It is more subdued and can have a hand-rubbed finish. Open drum shades, geometric and fixtures made of different metals will illuminate homes, Harreld said.

This home in Swisher shows how clients are seeking an increasing amount of space for entertainment. Completed in 2019, this open great room has multiple areas for guests and extends to the deck. (Stonegate Custom Homes)

What’s out

Hughes was definitive when asked about what’s going out of style. “Everything in shades of gray and cool tones,” she said.

Copying one look is out of style, Wiles said.

Wiles and Olson call the future of interior design exciting. Now people have “access to so many examples and inspiration from many more places,” Wiles said.

At the same time, options can become overwhelming. This is where interior designers can help. “I think people often have an idea of what they want and rely on us to get all of the elements and spacing right,” Wiles said.

Melanie Olson Design Group finished a complete remodel of a Cedar Rapids home’s first floor in 2021. The space showcases using textures, mixing wood finishes and light fixtures. (Dust Studios)

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