- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2000

At back-to-school nights across the metro area, teachers and principals are passing along homework tips: Students need a place of their own in which to work where they can easily reach pencils, pens, notebook paper, a dictionary and a computer with Internet access.
Local builders have been listening to this advice, too, and to the desires of home buyers, who often want a separate "children's study" or computer room in addition to the traditional study.
Jim Pohlhaus, design manager for the custom-design program of Winchester Homes, says buyers either want a separate computer room or study for their children, or they want the children's bedrooms large enough to accommodate desks and computer equipment. Also, at least in the more upscale houses, these secondary bedrooms are more and more often expected to have a private bathroom and a walk-in closet.
At Winchester Homes, buyers in every price range have access to the Custom Design Program, where they can make structural and nonstructural changes to the house they have chosen to buy.
"We offer an array of home plans, but we also allow each customer, no matter what the price range, to change those plans as long as it physically works on the lot they've chosen," Mr. Pohlhaus says. "About 95 percent of our customers take advantage of the program, although not everyone makes a structural change. Sometimes they just want a different appliance in the kitchen, which is usually the type of change only a custom builder could make. Other times, buyers will bump out the house 6 feet in every direction in order to have larger bedrooms."
Besides enlarging bedrooms and creating children's studies upstairs, Winchester Homes has modified individual houses with a children's study created out of an expanded adult study on the first floor. Using the knowledge gained through its custom-design program, Winchester Homes will introduce a new standard floor plan that includes a separate media area on the second level at the top of a rear staircase and over the family room.
"Builders are trying to meet the demands of their customers and determine new ways of creating the most value for their clients," says Debbie Rosenstein, president of Rosenstein, Baker Associates.
"One way they can do this is by offering expansion space or bonus rooms, which can be finished however the customer wants. The space over the garage is frequently offered as finishable space, along with attics and, more commonly, basements. Often now, instead of a 'Jack and Jill' bathroom between the secondary bedrooms, you'll see a shared study, which bridges the bedrooms and has space for computer equipment. Loft areas on the second and third levels are often used for the same purpose."
Bonus rooms which can be used as media rooms, children's studies or additional bedroom space are offered not only in larger single-family homes, but often in town houses as well.
Centex Homes has included bonus rooms on all its new single-family-home designs at Dartmoor in Oakton, where the houses will be priced from the mid-$600,000s, and at Lenah Run in Loudoun County, Va., where the houses will be priced from the mid-$400,000s.
"The Barrington model at Dartmoor has a two-story family room, but it's an option to create a step-up game room over the family room or even make the space into a fifth bedroom," says Brad Hughes, marketing and sales consultant with Centex Homes. "All of our models offer an optional conservatory addition. The Huntwell model at Dartmoor has a first-floor master suite, and on the second level, in addition to the three bedrooms and two baths, there is a loft, which can be used as a game room or computer room."
Carrhomes has used the bonus space over the garage on its model home at Carrington Estates in Franconia and added a fifth bedroom. The bonus space on these houses, which are priced from the mid-$400,000s, can be finished for any purpose.
Bonus space is available in the Missouri single-family model, being built by Washington Homes for $170,000 to $180,000 at Holloway Estates in Prince George's County and at Kingsview in Charles County, Md. In this house, a two-story family room can be made into a one-story family room with a game room, computer room or additional bedroom above.
"Builders are taking space and being creative in how it's finished to suit each buyer's individual needs, whether that's a nanny suite, a high-tech room, a traditional playroom, a separate teen-age bedroom or a child's game room," says Sue Martinez, director of sales and marketing for Edgemoore Homes.
At Belmont Greene in Loudoun County, Miller and Smith offers two places for buyers to modify their homes and finish the space according to their personal preferences. These town houses, which will be priced in the low $200,000s, can have a huge finished loft level with a den, a full bath or simply open space. In addition, part of the two-car garage can be finished as a bonus room, leaving a one-car garage.
At King Farm in Rockville, Mitchell & Best is building town houses priced from the low to mid-$300,000s, with a detached rear garage that has an optional finished bonus room above and an optional sun-room addition. The bonus room can include a built-in desk, a walk-in closet and a full bathroom.
Craftstar Homes also will be building town houses at King Farm, probably priced in the $220,000s, says Curt Adkins, vice president of marketing for Craftstar Homes.
"These should be the lowest-priced town homes in King Farm, and we will be building them with two-car rear-entry garages, which is in keeping with the historically traditional architecture of the community. We'll be offering a fourth-level loft which can be a study or a bedroom, or even a complete master suite," he says.
By adding a potential fourth level to the houses, Craftstar Homes is attempting to maximize the use of the land on which it is building. The company also has used this philosophy at Piney Orchard in Anne Arundel County, Md., where its Sonoma model has won an Outstanding New Home award from the Home Builders Association of Maryland.
"At Piney Orchard, the town homes are built back to back, which offers less maintenance for people who don't want a back yard to take care of, and, at the same time, we can maximize the size of the homes being built on that parcel of land," Mr. Adkins says. "The Sonoma is also unusual because it includes a master bedroom, which entirely covers the third level."
The Annapolis model by Mitchell & Best at King Farm also offers an entire private floor for a master suite, or a floor plan with a study in addition to the master bedroom suite.
Maximizing the use of land and ensuring buyers' privacy are two goals met by Miller and Smith in the company's new Magic Collection town houses at Broadlands in Loudoun. By zigzagging the houses on their lots putting the rooms at the back of a house on an angle to the rest of the rooms Miller and Smith has been able to create a 24-foot-wide great room or family room in a 20-foot-wide house. Priced in the low to mid-$200,000s, these houses also have the advantage of private rear yards and additional windows in the master bedrooms and family rooms.
"As long as there are plenty of windows, buyers are less interested in having a two-story family room than they used to be and are often closing off the gallery overlook upstairs to gain more usable space," Mr. Pohlhaus says. "Windows are crucial in the kitchen, too, where buyers are willing to sacrifice extra cabinets to put in extra windows. Then they want to add cabinet and storage space in the center islands, which are getting deeper and larger."
Many builders have offered sun-room additions for years, and they continue to be extremely popular for buyers in every price range. More upscale buyers also enjoy adding a balcony off the upper level or master suite, which, as long as it is 5 feet wide or narrower, can be built without poles for support, Mr. Pohlhaus says.
"Master bedrooms are getting more luxurious all the time, with people adding doors to separate the sitting room from the bedroom to create a space for reading or watching television at night," Miss Rosenstein says. "Besides balconies, people are adding see-through gas fireplaces, too. Another popular item is a coffee bar for the bedroom, with a little sink, a countertop, a cabinet and a small refrigerator."
While finishing touches such as glass fireplaces and coffee bars may mean a lot to home buyers, an initial consideration is how a house and a community look on the exterior.
"Builders are working hard to create more attractive street scapes in town home and single-family-home communities," Miss Rosenstein says. "Buyers are looking at which lot to choose as much as which house and are being more sophisticated in noticing the orientation of the house to its lot."
Placing garages behind the houses, whether they are attached or detached, is one way to make a street scape more attractive. At neotraditional communities such as King Farm and Belmont Greene, all builders are designing homes with rear-entry garages. Washington Homes has placed rear-entry two-car garages in its new town houses at Cameron Parke in Alexandria, where the houses mimic the traditional houses of Old Town Alexandria.
Besides its zigzagged town houses at Broadlands, Miller and Smith is building 32-foot-wide town houses at Belmont Greene. Carrhomes is building 34-foot-wide town houses at Ashburn Village in Loudoun County, priced from the $230,000s.
"Town homes are getting more and more upscale, and many are now including a two-car garage," Miss Rosenstein says. "They are getting larger as well, often with 2,000 to 2,300 square feet, plus expansion options with sun-room additions and finished lofts."
In the luxury home market, features that once were available in only one-of-a-kind houses are finding their way into standard floor plans, Ms. Martinez says. Edgemoore Homes' Briarcliff model, available from the mid-$700,000s at Carrington in Tysons Corner to more than $1.4 million in Great Falls, features a turretlike space, with windows all around surrounding a curving staircase. Other dramatic architectural features of this house include arches in the passageways on the first level and between the living room and dining room.
Whether a glass turret is in the budget or a buyer's priority is simply a place for the children to set up their homework supplies, chances are a floor plan has been designed to suit that buyer's needs or at least one can be modified by the buyer.

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