- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

Space for casual relaxation with friends and family or in private in the master retreat is the focal point for many newly designed single-family homes and town homes in Maryland. While some builders focus on adding a sense of opulence that emulates the features found in custom homes, most also focus on designing homes that are functional as well as fun.

The family room continues to be the central gathering place of the home, with builders offering wide-open family rooms, round ones, angled ones, two-story family rooms and more enclosed versions.

Builders also are developing functional areas for computer work by the adults and their offspring on all levels, along with commuter or family foyers with space for storing backpacks and laptops, keeping household bills and schedules, and recharging the family’s cellular phones.

Master-suite sitting rooms are being built bigger and are more likely to be separate spaces from the bedroom in most single-family homes. On the upper level, most builders offer as a standard or optional feature a private or shared bath for secondary bedrooms.

Lower levels are becoming more elaborate, as well, with builders creating optional designs that include wine cellars, separate exercise rooms, game rooms and home theaters in addition to the traditional wet bar.

More buyers are choosing to finish these spaces when they purchase their new homes because they can wrap the cost into their low-interest first mortgage.

“One of the things we’re finding is that it used to be all about square footage,” says John Lavery, vice president of sales and marketing of Mid-Atlantic Builders.

“Now buyers are looking for more usable space with a better design which also functions well. People want to make a statement with their homes and want them to be excellent in terms of design,” he says. “The average buyer is so much more knowledgeable today. They know great details from watching television and reading magazines, and they recognize it when they see it.”

Design changes are being made in upscale homes, midpriced homes and town homes throughout Maryland’s suburbs.

“Our philosophy at Haverford Homes is that people respond to exciting floor plans or to any exciting product,” says Sevag Balian, president of Haverford Homes.

“We’re designing homes for where we think things are going. In Prince George’s County, there’s definitely a change in direction recently to upscale communities where the homes are more luxurious and are base-priced in the $600,000s and $700,000s,” he says. “For instance, you almost have to provide a large second-floor suite to attract people.”

In Haverford Homes’ St. Alban’s model, the master-suite sitting room is almost as large as the family room downstairs.

The room is “almost like a separate apartment with its own private amenities,” Mr. Balian says. “It has a separate foyer, a large bedroom, a large sitting room and an opulent bath.”

Karen Samoy, vice president of sales and marketing for Caruso Homes, says, “In Maryland, it is almost a necessity that you have a sitting room off the master bedroom in all models, no matter what the price range or size. Even the smallest home, with 2,000 square feet, has a sitting room off the master bedroom.”

“In our Virginia communities, we offer alternate second-floor plans with larger master baths and no sitting room, but that just isn’t as popular in Maryland,” she says. “We’ve noticed that in most new-home trends, Maryland buyers are behind Virginia by a couple of years. For instance, in Virginia, neo-traditional designs with front porches and porticos are popular, but in Maryland, this style hasn’t really taken off yet and everyone wants a brick front with a Palladian window over the front door.”

In Caruso Homes’ Monticello model, the master suite includes a generous bedroom, a separate sitting room nearly as large as the bedroom, three walk-in closets and a bath. This master retreat can be expanded further with a private exercise room added over the garage.

In McDaniels Homes’ St. Patrick model, the master suite covers about half of the upper level, with a 9-by-13-foot sitting area off the bedroom with a set of double doors so it can be closed off.

“The master bedroom in the St. Patrick model can be modified so that if buyers prefer to have a larger walk-in closet, they can convert the sitting room to closet space and use the walk-in closet as a sitting room,” says Susan Reigner, director of sales and marketing for McDaniels Homes.

“You can even add a fireplace between the bedroom and the luxury bath to make the room even cozier,” she says. “This model affords a luxurious lifestyle without being too huge of a house.”

In Mid-Atlantic Builders’ Venezia model, a round vestibule provides the first inkling of the architecturally unusual spaces in the master retreat.

“When you open the double doors off the circular vestibule, straight ahead of you is the curved wall of windows, which outlines the entire master bedroom,” Mr. Lavery says. “We put a tray ceiling in the bedroom as well.”

But it doesn’t stop there.

“From the owners’ suite, you pass through a hall with a tray ceiling and his-and-hers walk-in closets to the spa bath, which has a curved spa shower with glass block walls. Even the tub deck is curved around the soaking tub,” he says.

In Mid-Atlantic’s Carlton model, residents enter the master suite through a foyer with a tray ceiling and crown moldings. This suite includes a sitting room with crown moldings and the curving wall of windows, which is separated from the bedroom area by a dressing area with two walk-in closets. The master bath is on the opposite side of the master-suite foyer.

“The sitting room is so important for people who want a private place to read at night or sit at the computer,” Mr. Lavery says. “When the sitting room is completely separated from the bedroom, then one spouse can go to sleep and not be disturbed by the other spouse.”

In Haverford Homes’ Sareen model, double doors lead into a large bedroom, while a columned entrance leads from this room into the octagonal sitting room, which has two angled walls of windows and an optional fireplace.

In Haverford Homes’ St. James model, the separate sitting room is the same size as the bedroom. A dressing area flanked by walk-in closets links the bedroom to the opulent master bath, which includes a corner tub and separate shower.

In Miller and Smith’s Parkside Collection at Springview, a true dressing room with a table and a three-sided mirror is between a large walk-in closet and the bath.

“The master bath at Springview has an enclosed toilet, a soaking tub and a large separate shower,” says Rhonda Ellisor, director of sales and marketing at Miller and Smith.

“People really want a soaking tub; they are very romantic about this,” she says. “If they have never had one, they want one, and if they have had one, they are worried about the resale value of owning a home without one.”

At Caruso Homes, buyers often have a choice of two or three alternate “superbaths.”

“We offer several alternative luxury bath styles in our homes,” Ms. Samoy says. “The majority of people choose the design which has a two-person shower set into a bay window, sort of a walk-through shower with doors on each side, two shower heads and a glass block window.”

Mid-Atlantic Builders has incorporated glass block walls and dramatic design elements into its baths for years. In the Carlton model, the master bath includes two arched entrances into a walk-through shower with a glass block window and a central tub.

In Mid-Atlantic’s Belmont model, the shower is enclosed in a curving glass block wall, and the tub is placed in a separate niche on a raised platform with a Palladian window above.

Perhaps even more dramatic is Mid-Atlantic’s Venezia model, which includes a circular shower wrapped in glass block walls with a curving seat, and a curving platform for the tub deck, which has a Palladian window.

Says Ms. Samoy, “A third bathroom on the upper level has almost become a necessity in homes, with a buddy bath between two of the secondary bedrooms and a private bath for another bedroom. Sometimes this is a standard feature, but often this is an option.”

While the upper levels of today’s larger single-family homes typically have four bedrooms and two or three baths, a few also include some less traditional spaces, which reflect the lifestyles of today’s families.

Laundry rooms are more often located either on the bedroom level or just off the kitchen on the main level, rarely in the basement location of older homes. Computer spaces, reading spaces and family recreation rooms are also sometimes found on the upper level.

At Springview, Miller and Smith has included a surprise space off the midpoint of the stairs between the first and second levels, an open landing that functions as a computer alcove or an upper-level recreation room.

“The upper level at Springview also has a landing overlooking the two-story foyer, which makes a really nice reading space with a comfortable chair, a table and some bookcases,” Mrs. Ellisor says.

“Another nice thing about this floor plan is the optional fifth bedroom and third bath on the loft level, which has sloped ceilings, nooks and crannies, and a more old-fashioned feeling with lots of gables, rather than just a big square room,” she says. “We’ve also made available the option of opening up one of the secondary bedrooms off the hall and creating a family room or kids’ study or recreation room.”

In Miller and Smith’s Manor Home models at Maple Lawn Farm, buyers can add a separate bonus room over the garage with a walk-in closet and full bath, accessible by a staircase off the family room.

McDaniels Homes’ St. Croix model includes a standard two-story living room, but buyers can choose to close off the living room and add a loft to the upper level or a master-suite sitting room.

While upper-level innovations involve creating more private space for the master suite and designing recreational or study space for children, the main-level floor-plan changes reflect the desire of buyers for exciting design along with a measure of practicality.

Mid-Atlantic Builders’ three new single-family home designs each include rounded or angled walls with clusters of windows to fill the homes with light.

“We are doing lots more rooms in different shapes than in the past,” Mr. Lavery says. “It used to be a taboo to build anything other than 90-degree walls. Now we are literally thinking outside the box.”

In Mid-Atlantic’s Venezia model, guests and residents enter the home through a circular foyer with a tray ceiling, which offers sightlines through the hall into the two-story family room, where a wall of windows includes a Palladian window.

For more drama, an arched entrance links the family room and the kitchen, breakfast area and keeping room, which are encircled by a curving wall of windows.

In Mid-Atlantic’s Belmont model, striking sightlines are created from the foyer, which has arched entrances to the dining room, living room and hall, where the central staircase has a small balcony overlooking the two-story family room.

This family room angles out from the back of the house, with a fireplace placed in the point of the room and multiple windows on the two flanking walls. Both the adjacent breakfast room and kitchen include multiple windows.

The Carlton model by Mid-Atlantic also features an archway between the living room and dining room, but this home’s more spectacular feature is the circular family room with windows surrounding three-quarters of the room and a tray ceiling above.

The Carlton model also includes a family foyer and commuter station between the garage and the rear stairs, an area where the family can store their laptops, cellular phones and backpacks with ease and that also includes a walk-in closet. A more unusual feature is the Carlton’s two-story kitchen, which has two walls of windows reaching to the top of the house.

All three of the Mid-Atlantic floor plans include two staircases to the upper level, a desirable feature in most larger homes. In each home, the secondary staircase leads from the breakfast area to the upper hall.

In Haverford Homes’ St. Albans model, a central two-story rotunda adds opulence to the open floor plan. A split main staircase at the back of the house is visible from the foyer and the rotunda, while a secondary staircase is located off the kitchen. Haverford Homes has added a bench and closet to the area between the garage and the kitchen for convenience.

Rather than have two sets of stairs in the Ashley model, Haverford Homes has split the main staircase to the upper level so that it is centrally located and accessible from both the foyer and the kitchen and family room.

Caruso Homes’ Monticello model, with 4,500 square feet, has space for an angled staircase in the foyer and a secondary staircase adjacent to the kitchen. This model also has two powder rooms on the main level, one near the library and another near the kitchen and laundry room. The family room has been placed a step down from the kitchen and bumped out from the back of the house to allow for a larger room.

“There’s a tremendous need for this style of home, with the living and dining room at the front of the house and the family areas at the back,” Ms. Samoy says. “People like to have the formal areas upfront, since they give the best impression of the house when guests arrive.”

McDaniels Homes’ St. Croix model, a narrow but deep home, includes a smaller formal living room at the front of the home, which opens onto a library tucked off the side of the house.

“By making the living room smaller, we were able to make all the other rooms in the house more expansive,” Ms. Reigner says. “Buyers can choose to convert the library to a sunroom or create a great room or a solarium by combining both rooms and surrounding them with windows. It’s great to have flexible space at the front of the house so people can do what they want with the space.”

In McDaniels Homes’ St. Patrick model, another narrow but deep house, the library and powder room are tucked between the garage and family room behind the stairs for greater privacy.

Miller and Smith has created several innovative floor plans for its Maryland communities. Perhaps the most unusual is the Manor Home design for Maple Lawn Farm, which has a large “outdoor living room” accessible from three rooms of the house and partially enclosed by these rooms.

The outdoor living room can be accessorized with an outdoor fireplace or a water feature. This home also includes a covered veranda with arched openings leading to the outdoor room, plus a terrace wrapping around the family room on the opposite side of the house.

“People really like interesting outdoor spaces, and the semi-enclosed outdoor living room is cozy and intimate,” Mrs. Ellisor says. “There’s a lot of romance to this design. The covered veranda area is perfect for a grill or a bar, too.”

The Manor Home also includes a large family foyer with a large closet between the garage and the rest of the home with optional built-in cubbies. Another unique feature is the hobby or tech room, located off the family foyer and including a door to the outdoor living room.

“The hobby room or tech room off the back of the house could be a study or a kid’s computer area, but it also functions well for almost any hobby,” Mrs. Ellisor says.

At Springview, the Parkside Collection homes by Miller and Smith include interesting features such as the computer area off a staircase landing between the first and second floors, along with a unique main-level layout.

“This is a narrow product, just 45 feet wide, so we arranged the floor plan in a different way,” Mrs. Ellisor says. “In the front of the house, we arranged the foyer, living room and dining room so they have some separation yet function as a big open space, which is great for formal entertaining.”

“Across the back of the house, we have a completely open family room, breakfast room and kitchen combination, which is a little different because we have the kitchen in the center with a huge 10-foot island to define the space,” she says.

Most builders of single-family homes design a finished lower level that is optional, but these designs have become more elaborate in recent years.

“People are starting to do more with their lower levels now, and we’re offering more elaborate floor plans, including theater rooms,” Ms. Samoy says. “Because interest rates are so low, people have chosen to finish every inch of their basements.”

Mr. Balian says: “The basement has now become a total recreational area. It’s open to the imagination what people will do with the space. It’s become a complete entertainment area for the owners and their friends or for their kids and their friends.”

In Haverford Homes’ St. James model, the optional lower-level floor plan includes a wine cellar, an exercise room, a game room with a large walk-behind bar including a separate sink area, a recreation room, and a den or bedroom with an adjacent full bath.

“Well over half of our buyers are now finishing the lower level,” Mr. Lavery says. “All of our designs include a home theater, which is very frequently purchased.”

In Mid-Atlantic’s Carlton model, the optional lower level includes a den, a recreation room, a full bath and a step-down home theater with three levels inside for optimum viewing.

Most town homes include three finished levels as standard, but today’s new town-home designs are anything but standard and often include as much luxury as single-family homes.

Haverford Homes will be introducing a town-home design at Beechtree in Prince George’s County within a couple of years.

“We’re still working on these homes, but they will include rear-loading garages, a first-floor family room, living room, dining room, a breakfast area and kitchen,” Mr. Balian says. “We’ll also be putting in midlevel libraries off the stairs.”

Caruso Homes will be building luxury town homes in Annapolis, which are likely to be priced in the $500,000s.

“These are not your average town homes,” Ms. Samoy says. “These town homes will have about 2,400 square feet plus a two-car garage and an option to add a three-level sunroom with a sitting room upstairs and extra space on the lower level.”

Miller and Smith’s town homes at Stone Lake include a loft on the upper level for a computer area or reading nook, and a library in addition to the living room, dining room, family room and kitchen on the main level.

However, the most unusual element in these homes is that they include a three-car garage as a standard feature.

“The three-car garage includes a two-car tandem space and one space next to the tandem space,” Mrs. Ellisor says. “We also offer alternative ways to use this space for people who don’t want a three-car garage. Storage can be an issue in a town home, so we can use the third-car bay for storage. People can also choose to expand the living space on this level.”

At Maple Lawn, Miller and Smith offers a 22-foot-wide town home, which has all three levels above ground and a detached two-car garage in the back of the property.

This design has a kitchen, family room, and open living and dining room on the main level, with the second level devoted to the master suite, so there are fewer stairs to climb.

The second level has a bedroom; a large, completely separate retreat; a bath; a walk-in closet; and a laundry room. The upper floor includes two more bedrooms with walk-in closets, a full bath and a loft with a vaulted ceiling.

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