- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

If necessity is the mother of invention, then it should follow that the necessity driving the Northern Virginia real estate market is the diminishing amount of available land. And the invention: innovative home designs that offer the maximum amount of living space on a minimum amount of land.

With shrinking availability and rising costs, developers need to create single-family homes that will fit on narrow lots and attached homes that satisfy the desires of most buyers for open rooms with plenty of windows. Buyers also want grand master suites and flexible spaces that can adjust over time to a family’s changing needs.

First-floor master suites and dual master suites are increasingly in demand as architects find ways to incorporate these spaces into homes that still have room for home offices and formal and informal living areas on the main levels.

“In the upper price points, there’s an increasing demand for au pair suites and dual master suites, usually with one on the main level and one upstairs,” says Mark Leahy, president of Pinnacle Design and Consulting.

“For properties with enough land to accommodate them, we are even seeing a renewed interest in carriage homes, both attached and detached, with a bedroom and bath upstairs and living space below,” Mr. Leahy says. “Usually these are used for a home office or hideaway, or for guests or teenagers or an au pair.”

At the Reserve at Rokeby Farm in Leesburg, Va., Centex Homes followed feedback received from focus groups and redesigned the Granville model. The homes at Rokeby Farm are base-priced from $699,900 to the $900,000s. The Granville includes a first-floor master suite with a bay window overlooking the back yard.

The Granville’s first-floor master suite features a foyer with a box ceiling as well as a dramatic box ceiling in the bedroom, separate his-and-hers closets, and a bath with a corner tub and a large glass-enclosed shower.

Adjacent to the master suite is a library accessible from the front gallery and the master foyer. This library also includes a private porch with columns.

“Our buyers told us that windows and light are very important, especially at the rear of the house,” says Elizabeth Morse, product development manager for the D.C. Metro Division of Centex Homes. “We added lots of windows and atrium doors across the back of the house which open onto the patio, so that it brings the outside in.”

One unique feature of the Granville model is a two-story gallery that runs across the front of the home, with a front porch outside. The grand staircase to the upper level comes off the gallery, and then there’s a second staircase off the keeping room, which is a sitting area off the kitchen.

Mr. Leahy says most of the costlier homes “have at least two staircases, but now stairs can be almost anywhere. It used to be the main stairs had to be in the foyer, but now you see them in the middle of the home, some in the back and some on the sides. Sometimes they are almost hidden, and in other homes, they are prominent.”

In American Heritage Homes’ Lexington model, available at the Estates of Chancellorsville in Fredericksburg with a base price of $539,900, the main staircase has been placed on the side of the home with two levels of bay windows flooding the steps with light and drama.

In Washington Homes’ Cardiff I and Cardiff II models, which have been designed to fit on narrow lots at Glenkirk in Prince William County and are priced from the low $500,000s, the central staircase has been split so that there are two smaller sections leading to the upper level. Another set of steps goes to the lower level. The Cardiff model is 40 feet wide and has about 2,700 finished square feet.

Washington Homes has entered the upscale housing market with its Tara model, available at Cedar Crest in Fairfax County and Wright Farm in Loudoun County, priced from the $900,000s to more than $1,000,000. This 94-foot-wide home has 5,200 finished square feet.

“This is a classically elegant home, with dual curving stairs in the two-story foyer and a grand two-story family room at the back of the home,” says Tom Duerig, vice president of construction services for Washington Homes.

The Tara model has a second staircase between the family room and the breakfast room.

In addition to the frequent use of additional staircases, two more practical changes have been made to the main level of single-family homes: an expanded garage and extra space given to a family foyer or mudroom.

Says Mr. Leahy: “We can’t seem to put in enough garage space for people, so three-car side-entry garages, both attached and detached, are becoming standard in many locations. People often want expanded laundry or mudroom spaces, too, and in some homes this is being designed to accommodate a catering kitchen for entertaining.”

In its Granville model, Centex Homes added two entrances from the standard three-car garage into the home, with one entrance into the gallery at the front of the home and one into the large laundry room, which has a large pantry for storing bulk purchases.

In American Heritage Homes’ Lexington model, the mudroom is accessible from both the garage and the front porch, and the space includes two closets along with the washer and dryer.

Washington Homes’ Tara model also has a standard three-car garage with one entrance into the expansive laundry room and mudroom and a second optional entrance onto a front porch. The Tara includes not only the expanded main-level laundry room, but also a room-sized pantry with a window and an optional second laundry room or walk-in closet on the upper level.

In Washington Homes’ Cardiff model at Glenkirk, the Cardiff II model includes an oversize laundry room with a closet and space for plenty of cabinets and shelving. In the Cardiff I model, this laundry room is converted to a studio space and the laundry room has been placed on the second level.

“We’ve found that people really like that extra study space, so in the Cardiff I there are two main-level studies,” Mr. Duerig says. “This works great for a husband and wife who each want a home office, or one can be used by the kids for their computer and maybe a television room.”

In Centex Homes’ Ashton model, available at Bristow Village in Manassas and priced from the $600,000s, the main-level library has an adjacent powder room so that the space can easily be converted to a first-floor bedroom-and-bath suite.

“The Ashton has lots of flexible space because in addition to the convertible library, buyers can change the two-level family room to a one-level room and add a bonus room upstairs,” Ms. Morse says.

Many builders offer flexible spaces on the second level that buyers can furnish to suit their needs for playroom space, computer space or hobby rooms. In larger single-family homes, buyers have come to expect baths for each bedroom upstairs, too.

Centex Homes’ Granville model includes four secondary bedrooms upstairs, each with a private or shared bath and a walk-in closet. At the center of this level is a large open study or loft for flexible space.

The upper level’s primary focus, however, remains the master suite.

“Buyers are putting even more emphasis on master suites than before,” Mr. Leahy says. “Now they want more his-and-hers bath spaces; juice bars; and larger, separate his-and-hers closets, too.”

In Washington Homes’ Tara model, the master suite includes a separate sitting room with a coffee bar; a large bedroom; a double-size walk-in closet with his-and-hers sections, each with a linen area; and another walk-in closet off the bath.

In Centex Homes’ 34-foot-wide Bristol model, designed for narrow lots at Bristow Village and priced from the $600,000s, the master suite includes two separate walk-in closets and two separate vanity areas for the master bath.

Many buyers looking for more living space choose to finish their attic space in addition to or in place of finishing a lower level.

“The popularity of finishing attic spaces is being driven by lot costs,” Mr. Leahy says. “Builders want to offer more finished square feet, but they are hampered by the high cost of land. Finishing an attic level doesn’t add any land cost to the property.”

Finished attics are often simply open, flexible space that can be used as a home office or a family room or another recreation area. Craft or art studios are also popular uses for this space. Some attics also include a bedroom and bath for a family member or for guest quarters.

In Brookfield Homes’ Annan model, part of the Reflection Series at Braemar, buyers can add an open loft level on the fourth floor with an optional bedroom and full bath. This home is priced from the high $400,000s.

Builders are also adding outdoor living space to the upper level, with two-story porches or decks or balconies, often accessible from the master bedroom.

“This used to be hard to do, because you had a danger of rotting materials over the roof surface, but now there are products similar to vinyl sheeting which come in rolls and so has fewer seams and is more durable,” Mr. Leahy says.

Although architects are often frustrated with the constraints of the lot configurations when they are asked to design town homes, this style of home has been growing in both size and price, allowing for greater innovations.

“We’re seeing more curved staircases in town homes, which creates the possibility of different layouts,” Mr. Leahy says. “On the second floor of town homes, we’re seeing larger master suites approaching the single-family-home style, including larger master baths, which have more luxurious designs.”

For example, at the Town Villas at Lansdowne on the Potomac, Brookfield Homes has introduced three-level foyers and grand curved staircases along with three-car garages and up to 3,900 finished square feet. The Bellini town-home model, priced from the $600,000s, has space on the main level for a living room, dining room, study, center-island kitchen, family room and a breakfast room set into a deep bay window.

The lower level of this model includes a sunroom and recreation room, with an optional fourth bedroom and an optional full bath in addition to the three-car garage. The master suite in the Bellini includes two separate walk-in closets and a bath, along with optional features such as a gas fireplace and a coffee bar. Two additional bedrooms, each with a walk-in closet and private full bath, plus a laundry room, complete the upper level of this town home.

At Victory Lakes in Prince William County, Miller and Smith is introducing new 32-foot-wide town homes with one-car garages that offer the illusion of single-family living. The Villager model, with 2,413 finished square feet, is priced from the high $300,000s.

“Across the back of the main level, we’ve put all the family living spaces together with lots of window and light,” says Rhonda Ellisor, vice president of sales and marketing for Miller and Smith. “Buyers can choose to add a third level of living space with a finished loft, which functions as a secondary recreation room, in addition to the main-level family room. People really like the idea of a finished upper level as opposed to a basement space, and these homes are built on slabs, so they don’t have a basement option.”

At Belmont Bay, Miller and Smith will begin sales in 2005 of urban-style town homes with parapet roofs, each with an upper-level deck of 24 by 20 feet that covers the top of the garage. Although pricing has not yet been established, these town homes are expected to be priced in the $500,000s.

“More attention is being paid to outdoor living space in town homes, including developing more exterior deck space or patios and using some more interesting rail systems instead of the traditional pressure-treated materials,” Mr. Leahy says.

Rising home prices create a desire in buyers to get the most for their money, and builders are looking to meet this demand with expandable, flexible floor plans with as much living space as possible indoors and out.

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