- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

Traditional Colonial-style homes, while still representative of the tastes of residents of the Washington area, are now sharing streets and neighborhoods with a more eclectic mix of housing types. Builders, responding to demographics, land costs and the desires of buyers, are adjusting their floor plans accordingly.

"It used to be that, in this area, you could only build what I call 'five, four and a door' houses," says Mark Leahy, president of Pinnacle Design and Consulting, referring to designs based on Federal period buildings with five windows on the second floor and four windows and a door on the first floor.

"Stylistically, up until a few years ago it seemed that only traditional Colonial houses were acceptable, but now things have changed and buyers are more willing to look at innovative floor plans," Mr. Leahy says.

Pinnacle Design and Consulting designs homes for seven out of 20 of the nation's largest home builders, and has a thriving custom-home division, as well.

"It used to be that the foyer always had a coat closet, powder room and staircase," says Mr. Leahy, "but now people are willing to change that configuration, which means that the whole floor plan can change. By simply moving the main staircase, you can create a unique floor plan and expand the home in different ways. The flow of a floor plan is what gives a home a different feel."

Pinnacle often designs homes with a central staircase or one closer to the back of the house.

"Now that most people have a garage, it's more functional to move the stairs closer to where most people enter the home," Mr. Leahy says. "Placing the stairs along on end wall allows us to design windows for the stairwell and fill it with light. Of course, homes with 4,000 or more square feet usually have more than one staircase, which has become almost an expected feature in homes of this size. In even larger homes, with 5,000 or 6,000 square feet, the first level will also include two powder rooms."

At Southhampton in Prince William County, the Hylton Group is building the Wyndamere, priced from the mid-$200,000s, with the only staircase placed between the garage and the family room. The foyer is open to the dining room and living room, which are defined by columns. Also there is the Renoir II, priced from the mid-$200,000s, with the staircase placed toward the back of the house, helping to divide the living room and dining room and allowing the foyer to be open to the living room.

At Morgan Chase in Dunn Loring, the Christopher Cos. is building the Meadow model, priced from the mid-$500,000s, with the only staircase at the rear of the home between the kitchen and family room.

John Laing Homes is building a Pinnacle Design home, the Vernon Panton model, at Lansdowne in Leesburg, priced from $569,990. This model has two staircases: one in the center of the home but not visible from the foyer, and the other in the rear between the family room and the library.

Besides moving the staircases, many architects are creating plans with fewer two-story spaces.

"Ten-foot-high ceilings are pretty common on the first floor in homes these days, so there isn't as great a need for the drama of a two-story room," Mr. Leahy says. "I've noticed a trend among our custom-home buyers, who have usually lived in homes with a two-story family room, that they don't want one in their new home. They feel there's a lack of intimacy in the room, plus there can be a problem with the noise level of a television rising to the second level."

The Inverness model, built by Classic Community Corp. at Lakelands in Montgomery County and priced from the mid-$400,000s, has a central staircase invisible from the foyer, and no two-story rooms. The Medinah model, also by Classic Community Corp. and priced from the mid-$400,000s, features the staircase against a central wall away from the foyer and all one-story ceilings.

Another area of the home that is changing is the first-floor study.

"The library, office or study was a formal space in most homes, almost a third room besides the dining room and living room which had to be furnished formally but wasn't really used," Mr. Leahy says. "Now that people are working at home more and using their computers more, the study has been moved to the back of the house to the less formal area."

For example, the Kendall model, available for about $600,000 from Pulte Homes at Fallsgrove in Montgomery County, and also at Clifton Grove and the Ridings at Blue Springs in Fairfax County, has a private corner library in the back of the house separated by a hallway from the rest of the home.

This home also includes two powder rooms on the main level: one near the garage and laundry room, and the other near the library.

Architects are often placing a powder room next to the library for the added flexibility of changing this set of rooms into a guest suite by expanding the bath into a full bath and adding a closet to the library.

For example, Washington Homes' Augusta model, available at Woodmore South in Mitchellville and priced from the $400,000s, features a corner library in the back of the house with an adjacent powder room. The library is labeled as an optional fifth bedroom, and the bath can be converted to a full bath.

The ultimate home office one that's becoming more popular, according to Mr. Leahy is placed behind or near the garage with a separate entrance for clients.

"Separate entrances to the home through a home-office entrance rather than the garage are becoming popular even for people without business appointments," Mr. Leahy says. "Often, this second entrance will be connected to the garage by a breezeway, too."

The study in the Lalique model, a Pinnacle Design home built by John Laing Homes at Lansdowne and priced from $589,990, includes an exterior door to a covered porch on the side of the house. The covered porch, next to the driveway, can serve as an entrance portico for business guests as well as for a family entrance to the house.

Washingtonians are not only bringing clients and customers into their homes; they also entertain formally and want their homes to reflect that.

"The national trade magazines say the formal dining rooms are becoming smaller in most homes, but it's just the opposite here," Mr. Leahy says. "The dining room space is not only important but it's getting larger. I think this is driven by the affluence of this area, where people really do formally entertain."

Even the luxury town homes at McLean Place, built by Basheer and Edgemoore and priced from the $500,000s, include large spaces for entertaining. The Aynsley model features a gracious formal dining room at the center of the main level along with an expanded formal living room. The lower level includes a "club room" for entertaining, too.

While open floor plans make for an easy flow when entertaining, many builders are now looking into closing up the spaces to create cozier rooms with defined borders.

"It's an architectural decision, which is also very personal," Mr. Leahy says. "When I go into a house that has a completely open floor plan, I often feel like I don't even need to take off my coat because I've seen it all from the front door. I think a home feels better and the architecture seems right when there's a progression from one space to the next and the rooms are a little more spatially defined. Sometimes this means a solid wall, but it can also mean something halfway between an open and closed space. For example, a knee wall with a column above it, or partial walls."

The Kincaid model, being built by Centex Homes at Lansdowne and priced from $714,990, features all one-level rooms that are well-defined and separate. Even the family room and morning room have a staircase between them and a doorway connecting the rooms. The library is completely private and in the corner, and the formal living room and the large 16-by-16-foot formal dining room are also separate.

Some builders still offer step-downs as optional features and occasionally as standard features, but they are becoming less common.

"Step-downs used to be there to create higher volume ceilings, but now 9- and 10-foot ceilings are standard, so builders don't need to go to the expense of adding step-downs," Mr. Leahy says. "On top of that, there are 'aging' issues, which some builders and a lot of custom-home builders are working on, which means allowing for wheelchair access and putting in a first-floor master suite."

At K. Hovnanian's Four Seasons active adult community in Prince William County, where prices begin in the low $200,000s, all of the homes have a first-floor master suite. The Captiva model includes a master suite with two walk-in closets and a large bath with a soaking tub and separate shower. The first floor also has an open living room and dining room, a family room off the kitchen, a second bedroom and bath, and a den or third bedroom. The home can be expanded with a basement level and a sunroom, as well.

At Southhampton in Prince William County, the Hylton Group is offering a one-level floor plan, the Aspen, priced from the mid-$200,000s. The Aspen includes a large family room, a formal dining room next to the kitchen, and three bedrooms with two full baths, including a large master suite with a walk-in closet and private bath.

Van Metre Homes is building patio homes priced from the upper $200,000s to the mid-$300,000s at Broadlands in Loudoun County, with first-floor master suites and secondary bedrooms upstairs. The Evergreen model includes Palladian windows and a glass door to the patio, while the first-floor master suite has a bay window and an optional patio door. The master suite also includes a luxury bath with a corner soaking tub and separate shower, and a walk-in closet.

The Tazewell model at Farrcroft in Fairfax County, priced from the $500,000s and up, includes a first-floor master suite with a tray ceiling, two walk-in closets and a luxury bath with a corner soaking tub, two separate vanities and an oversized shower.

"Completely one-level homes have not been as popular in this area because of the high cost of land," Mr. Leahy says. "This is definitely a two-story house market. People have shied away from the first-floor master suite because they didn't want to have to give up other main-level living space and were concerned about the expense of creating a home with a larger foundation and larger roof to accommodate an expanded first-floor plan. I think as the market matures, we'll see more and more first-floor master spaces."

Luxurious master suites are nothing new to this market, but they are being expanded a bit more with even more amenities.

"The master bath isn't getting any larger, but we're seeing showers as the main focus. The whirlpool tub still has to be there, but larger showers with seats, multiple showerheads and even steam shower features are more popular," Mr. Leahy says. "There are more his-and-hers components, too, with two completely separate vanity areas. His-and-hers closets are big, too, often with a dressing area outside the closet with a window and built-ins, including a juice bar with a microwave, a sink and a refrigerator. In custom homes, we're getting more and more requests for a second set of a washer and dryer upstairs, often a stacked unit right inside the master bath."

The Bainbridge model, a luxury town home built at McLean Place by Basheer and Edgemoore and priced from the $500,000s, features a third-level master suite that covers most of this floor. This expansive suite includes two huge walk-in closets, a deep bay window sitting area, a two-story bedroom area, and has an optional private terrace. If the sunroom addition is built onto the house, the master suite also has a two-story separate sitting room.

The Christopher Cos.' Kensington model, priced from the mid-$400,000s at Brambleton in Loudoun County, has a breakfast bar just inside the double-door entrance to the master suite. The hexagonal-shaped bedroom has an adjacent wing with two walk-in closets, a linen closet and a luxury bath.

"A lot of homes are being built on smaller and smaller lots as the land value escalates, so the extra value is being built into the home in the form of all the bells-and-whistles of luxury appointments," Mr. Leahy says. "We're seeing more and more interior trim work, extra fireplaces and more richly appointed homes. When homes are built on smaller lots, people feel as if they need to jazz them up a lot, so they can say, 'We've only got 3,500 square feet, but we've got all these fireplaces, art niches and a juice bar in the master suite.'"

One area in which the first floor has been expanding is the "family foyer" the space between the garage and the kitchen.

"This part of the secondary entrance is taking on more and more importance, and we're adding benches and closets all the time," Mr. Leahy says. "Sometimes, we'll take the built-in desk out of the kitchen and move it into this space for use as a 'command center' where the family computer can sit or people can hook up their laptops."

Re-emphasizing functional family space is part of what Mr. Leahy terms the neo-traditional style. Garages are detached from the house or hidden to the rear so as to increase the street presence of the home. Usable front porches are added to foster neighborhood relationships, and interior spaces are closed in a bit to create intimacy.

"With the pace of life today, people have a nostalgic view of the home and expect it to be a refuge," Mr. Leahy says. "It's the Norman Rockwell ideal, where there are no cars parked out front, and there are always people sitting and chatting on the front porch."

For example, Classic Community Corp.'s single-family homes at Lakelands in Montgomery County, priced from the mid-$400,000's, include front porches and sometimes back porches, too, with a two-car detached garage in the rear.

John Laing Homes' Lalique model at Lansdowne also has a rear garage, but this one is attached to the house and accessible via a side driveway.

Besides changing the garage placement, builders are creating "courtyard homes," which are either large semidetached town homes or single-family homes placed close together around open space.

Some courtyard homes include a front courtyard created by building in a U-shape with a garage on one side and a family room or study on the opposite side of the open space.

"Builders are trying to create uniqueness and to introduce natural light in unexpected ways with these new designs," Mr. Leahy says. "In town homes, rear-loading garages make the facade more attractive, but it can be a tough floor plan to work with when you want outdoor space. Sometimes you can build a balcony-type deck over the garage. Another issue with town homes is the placement of the interior staircase. End units will often have a side staircase so as to get light and glass over the stairs, and other homes will have angled stairs to vary the plans."

Van Metre Homes is building single-family courtyard homes at Broadlands in Loudoun County, priced from the low- to mid-$300,000s. The Juniper model features a large patio with an optional fountain and flagstones, visible and accessible from the family room, the two-story living room, and the loggia entrance between the front steps and the foyer.

At Farrcroft in Old Town Fairfax, Basheer and Edgemoore are building several collections of homes, including courtyard homes priced from the $500,000s. These low-maintenance attached homes offer luxury appointments, along with space and privacy. The Clairidge model has a portico entrance next to the courtyard, which is visible from the morning room and the central formal dining room.

This model also has a corner library with an adjacent powder room, a separate formal living room and a large family room with an optional balcony.

From an upscale courtyard home, such as those available at Farrcroft, to such charming neo-traditional single-family homes as those at Lakelands and everything in between builders constantly revise their floor plans to meet the demands of today's buyers and their changing tastes.

Chances are, no matter what look you like, you'll find it coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

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