Don’t Follow Leaders, Watch Your… Building and Design Trends?

green house

We players in the design and building industry are constantly at risk from the “cutting-edge,” emerging trend. Risk-oriented and envelope-pushing by nature, our inclination to grow our businesses leaves us easy marks for the well-hyped (aren’t they always) next big thing.

Green building. Passive homes. Dwell homes. Salvaged wood. Orange is the new black. Now black is back. Don’t forget about grey. Net-zero. LEED. Modern. New old. Micro-houses. And the king daddy of them all — modular.


If a fad is a trend that predictably doesn’t last, a trend is like an awareness of a design momentum whose lifespan is not known — a fad with better survival skills. A new genre or idea with long legs can’t be identified or discerned until you wager the bet and lay the cards on the table.

I saw it a lot during the recent downturn when businesses scrambled to find ways to stem the bleeding, as the tide receded and exposed those without pants. Businesses thrashed around looking for the soup du jour to halt the client famine.

Accompanying many fads, and adding to their danger, is a blast of the editorial echo chamber. Once one magazine or a newspaper’s lifestyle section picks up on a design trick or clever business plan gimmick, all else seem to follow, creating a chorus line, a cascade, boisterous and over-confident prose about this design landscape changing development.

Nary a contrarian voice, nary a voice of seasoned experience, nary a note of caution.

Is there any better example of that of which I speak than the micro-house? I mean, I’m more or less an expert on small home design and living, and I can tell you from a dozen years of building and speaking to literally thousands of potential clients, no one wants to live in a 300-square-foot house, regardless if the Times, 60 Minutes, Country Living, and all their editorial cousins have examples of those uber-cool people who now live in a closet in the Pacific Northwest or outside of Sante Fe. 500 square feet maybe, 700 definitely — but 300? No way.

tiny house

Modular building was to lead the way to more adaptable, more sustainable, more affordable homes. And many building businesses pivoted that way.

Branding yourself a green builder hinted at improved market position.

Dylan had it right when he instructed us “not to follow leaders,” especially when it comes to this creative industry.

The editorial daydreams of the grandeur of the clever trick, the trend, the fad promotes misdirection for us here on the ground actually designing and building. And like a good stock market investor, the market opportunity many times revolves around remaining resolute to the game plan you know rather than be teased, taunted and tricked by those looking to fill pages of a magazine with their amazing insight.

I consider an important element of the success of Catskill Farms is the ability to stay the course when writers smarter than me are revealing the new way I can reinvent myself and my business.

About Catskill Farms

Charles Petersheim founded design/build firm Catskill Farms in 2002 in Sullivan County. Continually inspired wholly by regional architecture, his 180 new old homes dot the Hudson Valley, including Sullivan, Ulster and Dutchess counties. His 20 years of Catskills building have given him broad perspective on how to succeed upstate, be it with farming, building, small business or just relaxing on the front porch.

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