- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Multitasking: The coping mechanism for people who are busier than ever has now worked its way into the home. Rooms are taking on more than one use or have evolved to take on totally different uses over the years. Homeowners are creatively finding new ways to use traditional rooms, and builders have taken notice by incorporating these new spaces into their floor plans.

Whether it’s an old house or a new house, owners want to feel comfortable in their homes — even if it means turning the formal living room into a music room or forgoing an extra bedroom for a computer center.

Experts say people don’t want to limit themselves to the same old uses their parents had for every space in the house.

More time is spent at home now than ever before, real estate professionals say, and people want just about every feature and amenity available — all within a couple of short steps inside of their homes.

“We here in America are not like Europeans, or anyone else, for that matter. Unlike people in other countries, we entertain at home, amuse ourselves at home, work at home, raise children at home and pursue hobbies at home,” says Patricia Vucich of RE/MAX Realty Services in Bethesda.

The home’s main level has undergone many changes to accommodate modern lifestyles and reflect what is important to buyers today.

Once referred to as a vestibule or hall, the well-traveled foyer — which disappeared for a while — has come back much bigger and more stylish. Realtors say people want to create a grand and welcoming entrance into the home because it offers a good first impression.

“My grandmother referred to the entry of her home as a vestibule, Ms. Vucich says. “I call it a foyer. I once used the word ‘vestibule,’ and my buyer didn’t know what I meant. Foyer sounds good and is short in print, where spaces mean money.”

Not always as formal as in years past, the living room has taken on a new meaning, with homeowners actually wanting to live in this space — as opposed to treating it like a museum, the way it was a generation or two ago.

The living room has also gotten much smaller through the years. The National Association of Homebuilders estimates that the average American living room has been squeezed to only three-quarters the size it was a decade ago.

“Shrinking living rooms have been a trade-off for larger family rooms,” says Ron Sitrin of Long & Foster in the District.

Realtors agree that these supersized family rooms, which often are labeled as great rooms, are popular with homeowners. The family room or great room offers a space the entire family can enjoy at the same time, but the size also allows each person to have a small niche within the room.

“The whole idea of the great room was to bring together everything that was separate. Many older homes, especially, have converted to spacious open floor plans,” says Mr. Sitrin, who adds that a lot of people who live in row houses in the District are removing the walls and creating big, open spaces.

Family rooms that adjoin the kitchen, sometimes called “keeping rooms,” are popular because the kitchen has become a gathering space for everyone. Realtors say a multifunctional kitchen should look as good as it works.

Lois Hall of Bowie has been in real estate for 22 years and says kitchens are increasingly serving more than one purpose.

“Certainly, kitchens are the highlight in the home for many families, not only for the gourmet styling, but for the space they provide families and friends to just be together,” Ms. Hall says. In many kitchens, she says, are “computer stations with the Internet offering access for work-related activities and student homework.”

Mr. Sitrin says flat-panel televisions and computer monitors are among the electronics that no longer take up a lot of space and can easily be used in the kitchen and other rooms.

“It’s a funny thing; we’re creating a need for more room within a room,” he says.

Kitchen islands and the work-space desk, sometimes called a home office or control center, were created to help homeowners entertain and work in the kitchen.

The National Association of Home Builders says respondents to a recent survey most favored island work areas as a desirable in the kitchen, second only to walk-in pantries.

“Kitchen remodels are number one, and people are making them awesome,” says Bob Lipovsky of Kingstown Construction, a firm with offices in Fairfax and College Park.

Among Mr. Lipovsky’s remodeling projects are a kitchen in a Falls Church home with a wood-burning pizza oven and a kitchen in Rockville that is being remodeled to accommodate both of the gourmet cooks who own the home.

“It’s a his-and-hers kitchen with two sinks, each set within a bay window; two ovens; two dishwashers; one central large Sub-Zero refrigerator; and a satellite refrigerator,” he says.

New-home builders and remodeling companies are finding out that people want company in the kitchen and are making them to accommodate two cooks.

A smaller main-level room, once popularly called the den, has made way for what many new-home builders label the library, complete with French doors and extravagant built-ins.

A lot of homeowners also like the idea of having a sunroom or morning room off the kitchen for even more space.

“Sunrooms and morning rooms provide not only extra square footage when you compete for resale buyers, but getaway space that allows you to remain close to other activities in the home,” Ms. Hall says. “If buyers have the choice of a floor plan on a lot that allows for a sunroom, they will select that lot first.”

It can also be the details within a room that makes modern spaces different.

“What’s really important is the proportion of the room,” Mr. Sitrin says. Ceiling height and natural light do a lot to open a room.

Also important is the connectivity between the rooms, known as “flow” — how easy it is to get from one space to another.

The laundry room, no longer strictly limited to the basement, has moved up to the main floor and second level.

The National Association of Homebuilders says that 92 percent of its survey respondents cited the laundry room as an essential.

Today’s laundry rooms are big and bright with windows, double sinks, kitchen cabinets and large spaces to fold and hang clothes.

Realtors have also seen these larger laundry rooms doubling as hobby rooms with sewing centers, craft tables and gift-wrapping stations.

The number of bedrooms and bathrooms has increased.

“Nowadays, buyers want a bedroom and a bathroom per person,” Ms. Vucich says. “At one time in my life, I lived with my brother, three adults and one dog in a two-bedroom, one-bath house. We loved that house, as well as our neighbors, and had a garden where food grew and a basement for storage. We didn’t fight over using the bathroom, and we felt that we had enough room to do what we wanted.”

In most of today’s new homes, the largest bedroom, now called the master suite or owner’s quarters, would be large enough for the whole family to sleep in.

As a space where sitting rooms have become the norm, coffee bars are gaining popularity and the master bath is comparable to a day spa, homeowners are escaping to the bedroom for more than just sleep.

Walk-in closets are a must for many homeowners, according to professionals, and are gradually turning into full-fledged dressing rooms.

“Americans must own more personal property than ever because old houses were built with small closets, and new houses have huge closets, and my clients ask for even more space for their things,” Ms. Vucich says.

Not to be left out of the loop, the basement has also changed and is more commonly referred to as the lower level.

Images of basements used to conjure up either gloomy spaces with no windows and low ceilings or one big open area that occasionally gets used.

Home builders and remodeling companies agree that people are spending more time in their basements and that they want them to be an important and well-used level of the home.

Builders these days often offer basements with main-level-style features, such as 9-foot ceilings and full walls of windows.

These new amenity-filled basements include game rooms, personal gyms, saunas, second kitchens, wine cellars and even home theater rooms — some with large projection screens.

“Any room in the home that can accommodate a large-screen television, such as a home theater and entertainment areas for computer usage, is essential for today’s family,” Ms. Hall says.

When not using the library or spare bedroom for work space, some homeowners are dedicating a room on the lower level for a home office. “Increasingly, we make our living at home and try to avoid commuting to work,” Ms. Vucich says.

Mr. Lipovsky recently built a $100,000 addition in the home of a computer hardware engineer. This high-tech home office was built on the basement level underneath the owner’s front porch. Mr. Lipovsky says it is impressive.

“Homeowners want comfortable living areas,” Ms. Hall says, “because their home is their castle.”

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