- The Washington Times - Friday, September 27, 2002

As local builders introduce their latest floor plans in developments around the Washington area, one thing is clear: The builders and their architects are attempting to be responsive to the way people like to live today.

Home designs reflect a 21st-century sensibility both in broad ways, such as the current penchant for casual entertaining, and in small ways, exemplified by the preference many people have for oversized showers instead of deep bathtubs.

Newly designed homes often include flexible rooms or bonus rooms that can be used for any purpose. Also, optional additions that include sunrooms and finished lofts are offered more often than ever.

Besides trying to build homes that will suit their customers' lifestyles, builders and architects today are refining their designs to better suit the expensive land found in the Washington region.

Luxurious and unusual homes can be found on small lots in urban neighborhoods, close-in suburbs and even some of the more far-flung communities. Not only is land expensive, but planning boards often impose strict guidelines on builders. This, in turn, can prompt some creative home designs.

First-floor master suites have been introduced and talked about for years in this market, but only recently have architects incorporated this floor plan style into homes that still offer plenty of main-level living space. The expectation is that the aging population will want to buy homes with the option of one-level living if they don't have to compromise on family living areas.

"Customers today are looking for uniqueness and customization," says Debbie Rosenstein, president of Rosenstein Baker Associates. "They like to be able to do more with different floor plans, to make their own choices about how to use certain spaces. They are responding to the many options offered by builders for interior finishes like hardwood flooring and Corian and granite counters, and also for exterior styles.

"We're seeing more and more different types of homes, like bungalows and cottages and arts-and-crafts-style homes in addition to Colonials," she says. "We're also seeing more informal spaces. The kitchen is still the center of the home, but now it's all about what you can add to that space to customize it. For instance, most builders are offering sunroom additions that can add one or two levels of living space to the house."

Mid-Atlantic Builders is including as a standard feature on its Belmont model a gracious front porch with four columns. The Belmont, base-priced from the upper $400,000s to the lower $600,000s, will be available at Manning Village, Woodmore North, the Vistas and Riverview Reserve in Maryland. In addition to its distinctive exterior, the Belmont can be expanded and customized with a side sunroom off the living room and library, a morning room off the kitchen, or a master suite extension over a three-car garage.

"If buyers add the three-car garage, they will automatically get an extra master suite closet and an enlarged master bath with an octagonal sitting area or dressing area in the center," says Danielle Rene, marketing administrator for Mid-Atlantic Builders.

At Brambleton in Loudoun County, Miller and Smith is offering its 1920s Collection of single-family homes, priced from the mid-$300,000s. Buyers can customize the main level with a sunroom/keeping room open to the kitchen and breakfast area, or add a screened porch, instead. They can even choose to replace the study and living room with a first-floor guest suite.

Even larger, luxurious homes, such as the Grand Michelangelo model, priced from the $900,000s from Renaissance at Oakton Crossing, Hunting Oaks and Cardinal Forest, can be expanded with such options as a conservatory off the family room and a screened porch off the breakfast area.

Craftstar Homes offers a finished-loft option on nearly all of its homes.

"The finished-loft space can function as a library or home office or as additional bedroom for family members," says Curt Adkins, vice president of Craftstar Homes. "Most of our buyers choose to finish this upper-level space because it's a fairly inexpensive way to add living space to the home."

Equity Homes' Manchester model, to be available from the $600,000s to $700,000s at River Falls and West Goose Creek at Lansdowne on the Potomac, has attic space available for finishing, along with an optional sixth bedroom and an open study area on the second level.

Besides offering optional expansion spaces, builders are offering flexible rooms and so-called bonus rooms as standard features, allowing buyers to use the space as they wish.

At Fallsgrove in Rockville, Eakin/Youngentob Associates is building a variety of home styles. The courtyard-style Bradley I model, priced from the mid-$500,000s, includes a den and a computer loft overlooking the family room, with both spaces available for nearly any function. The Woodmont I model, a patio-style single-family home priced from the low $700,000s, includes a central recreation room or exercise room on the upper level, along with a home office or fourth bedroom. The main level of this home features a great room that can be used as a living room, music room or study.

"The patio homes and the courtyard homes at Fallsgrove were designed to appeal to empty nesters who like living on two levels so they have fewer stairs, but who still need space for their furniture," says Julie Dillon, vice president of sales and marketing for Eakin/Youngentob Associates. "We've found that people really like having the great room available to use as they please."

At Lorton Station in Virginia, Miller and Smith is building narrow single-family homes, priced from the mid-$300,000s, with a bonus room over the garage as a standard feature.

"The bonus rooms at Lorton Station have a separate flight of stairs for access, and each one is a big room with 19 by 18 feet not connected to the bedroom space," says Rhonda Ellisor, vice president of sales and marketing for Miller and Smith. "The room is completely flexible and can be used as a home office or exercise space, or buyers can add a closet and bath and create an additional bedroom."

The Chestnut model at Lorton Station also has a great room on the main level that can function as a living room, a dining room or a library.

Flexible rooms have also been introduced in the town homes under construction by Miller and Smith, the Grand Regents Collection at Clarksburg Town Center. The standard floor plan features a great room open to the kitchen and breakfast area, with a front room that can be used for a living room, a dining room or a study. These town homes, priced from the high $200,000s, include a master suite on one entire living level with the upper floor including a family room and two secondary bedrooms. Buyers who want even more privacy can flip-flop these two floors and have the master suite on the upper level.

Renaissance's Grand Michelangelo includes a loft overlooking the rotunda and a nearby study, each of which can be used as play or work space for family members.

Besides wanting to put their own imprint on their homes by customizing them with options and using flexible rooms in a variety of ways, home buyers are responding well to informality in new homes.

"Families today want to live more informally, in more intimate spaces," Miss Rosenstein says. "We're seeing fewer cavernous spaces, particularly in the foyer. Multiple foyers are becoming more and more common, reflecting the way people actually live. New homes have rear foyers for the family to use when they come in off the garage, plus a smaller entry foyer and a midhouse foyer to open up the sightlines to other spaces."

For example, Mid-Atlantic's Belmont model includes a gracious reception foyer with a tray ceiling that adds height but keeps an intimate feeling to the space. In the center of the home is an open hall foyer with the main staircase and a balcony overlook from upstairs. The family entrance off the garage has an adjacent small room with a closet for storing everyday items and coats.

Eakin/Youngentob's Woodmont I model at Fallsgrove includes a foyer with one area open to the second floor and the other area with a 9-foot ceiling. The family entrance off the garage passes through the laundry room into a small foyer with a closet.

The Woodmont I model is one of several new homes that offer an expansive master suite on the first floor. In this home, the master suite has entrance to a courtyard through a glass door set into a wall of windows. The suite includes a cathedral ceiling, an oversized walk-in closet, a dressing area and a bath.

Eakin/Youngentob's Courtyard Homes at Fallsgrove also have first-floor master suites, each with two walk-in closets and a bath as well as a bay window bumped out into the courtyard for extra light.

NVHomes' Falconcrest model, available at Leisure World in Silver Spring from the mid-$500,000s and at Glenbrook from the upper $400,000s, includes a first-floor master suite with a tray ceiling, walk-in closet and bath. The Falconcrest also has a two-story family room along with a formal living room and formal dining room, and a large kitchen and breakfast area.

Miller and Smith has introduced two models, the Peace Rose and the American Beauty Rose, at Primrose at Bloom's Crossing in Manassas with first-floor master suites, priced from the mid-$200,000s.

"We were able to put in first-floor master suites without sacrificing too much of the first-level living space," Ms. Ellisor says. "There's still a two-story great room, a separate dining room and a library."

Builders are adjusting master baths as well as master suites to respond to the desires of home buyers.

"We're seeing more and more his-and-hers baths, with a great shower instead of a soaking tub, creeping into the market," Miss Rosenstein says. "There's always one model available with an oversized shower with dual shower heads and lots of glass block. Often it will be a 'walk-through' shower, rounded and placed in the middle of the bathroom. There's always a more traditional luxury bath available, too, of course, since not all buyers want this new style."

At Brambleton, Miller and Smith's 1920s Collection model includes as a standard feature a bath with a large corner shower with a seat.

"People don't use Jacuzzi tubs as much as they think they will, so we've now put in a huge shower with two shower heads as a standard in many of our homes," Ms. Ellisor says. "The traditional luxury bath with the soaking tub and separate shower is available as an option. We think the oversized shower is more of a reflection of the way people live. About 50 percent of our buyers are choosing this type of luxury bath, with the other 50 percent choosing the more traditional type.

"Some of the buyers choosing the traditional style have said they like the shower but are afraid of the resale value of their home if they don't have a master bath with a soaking tub," she says.

Mid-Atlantic has installed a glass block shower in a serpentine shape in the master bath in the Belmont model. This dramatic shower includes a seat and fills one corner of the bath, while a traditional tub is still placed in another part of the bath.

Equity Homes' Manchester model also features an extravagantly large shower with a seat, but it retains the traditional tub, as well.

While luxury homes still are being built on estate-size lots in some locations, more and more often builders are turning to small lots for building single-family homes, grand town homes and "hybrid homes," which blend elements of both single-family homes and town homes.

Some of these new designs have been undertaken simply to reflect the desires of many of today's empty nesters for plenty of living space along with a low-maintenance lifestyle, while others are designed in response to county- or community-imposed land-planning requirements.

The Miller and Smith homes at Brambleton are an example of designer response to land-planning issues.

"A lot of deep and narrow products are being designed to increase the density of housing within subdivisions, and at the same time there are often requirements for an 'alley product' with a hidden garage," Ms. Ellisor says. "The single-family homes at Brambleton have a unique design in part because the lots are 50-to-54 feet wide, and Loudoun County requires the side yards to be nine feet wide. The house can only be 36 feet wide.

"In addition, we're required at Brambleton to have the garage recessed at least 12 feet behind the front of the house so as not to look like there's a row of garages along the street," she says. "So the challenge was to meet these requirements and yet make an appealing floor plan. In the case of the 1920s Collection, we placed the living room by itself at the front of the house, and emphasized the family room, kitchen and dining room."

At Lorton Station, Miller and Smith is building narrow single-family homes that are only 24 feet wide and six feet apart.

"We took a notch out of the center of each of these homes for an interior courtyard, which allows for more glass inside the house and more privacy," Ms. Ellisor says.

The courtyard is visible or accessible from the breakfast room, the family room and from either an upper-level loft or master bath, depending on the model.

At River Creek, Craftstar designed its Ballantrae and Granville models, priced from the high $400,000s, as "grand town homes," with the living space and amenities of a single-family home but with less maintenance.

"We placed the garage on the main living level, the way it is in a single-family home," Mr. Adkins says. "This allows for a larger lower level, which is finished as a standard feature. The upper-bedroom level has a large plush master suite with a deluxe master bath similar to those found in single-family homes, too. And buyers can add a fourth finished level with a library or another bedroom if they want."

At Clarksburg, Craftstar is building two oversized town-home models priced from the low- to mid-$300,000s with the company's signature stone detailing and a streetscape that looks more like a row of detached single-family homes.

"By definition, these homes are town homes because they are attached, but they are each attached only by the garage," Mr. Adkins says. "This allows for six feet between the homes most of the way, and for the homes to be surrounded by windows. The Middleburg model has 1,920 square feet on two levels and can be entered by either a front courtyard or a rear garage. A third level can be added for a loft.

"The Clarksburg model has 2,900 square feet, which is huge for a town home," he says. "This model has a library which could be converted to a bedroom in addition to the recreation room on the lower level."

Besides increasing the amount of living space available on small lots, builders are recognizing buyers' desires for outdoor living spaces and making them available as both standard and optional features.

Eakin/Youngentob's courtyard homes at Fallsgrove have been designed with a front courtyard, a covered front porch and a rear yard or patio on the main level. On the second level, a covered balcony is accessible from either an upper-level master suite or from the hallway near secondary bedrooms.

Eakin/Youngentob's patio-style single-family homes at Fallsgrove have a similar emphasis on outdoor space, with a courtyard accessible from the great room, kitchen and family room and the first-floor master suite.

A master bedroom veranda or covered porch can be added to Equity's Manchester model for additional outdoor space. Mid-Atlantic's Belmont model has an optional master suite deck, while the Renaissance Grand Michelangelo has a standard balcony off the master suite sitting room.

While changes are being made to floor plans all the time, certain features are still popular and will probably stay the same.

"People are often comfortable with what they had before," Ms. Ellisor says. "Open kitchens and family rooms are still popular because that's what people are used to. We often offer one floor plan with a more separate kitchen and family room so that people have that option if they prefer it."

In the near future, Miss Rosenstein predicts that "we'll see more and more condominiums because of the price perspective and the desire for living close-in to the city.

"More smaller-lot products will be built, as well, particularly in infill locations because of the pricing," she says. "What will stay the same, though, is that life revolves around the kitchen. Buyers want more open and less formal plans because that's the way they live."

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