- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

Town-home and single-family-home floor plans evolve when the demands of land planning prompt architects to adjust their ideas to suit changing family lifestyles. Before computers and home theaters entered the home, there was no need to create a special location for high-tech equipment. However, as Internet access and personal computers encouraged more people to work at home at least part time, home offices became part of the expected rooms in single-family homes and even some town homes.

Recognizing that most families use their garage door far more than their front door, architects have increased the functionality of that entrance, sometimes calling it a “family foyer.”

As consumers began shopping at “big box” stores and buying their staple items in bulk for convenience, architects needed to respond with storage space for these items.

But perhaps more important than lifestyle adjustments, the scarcity and corresponding elevated price of land has influenced the design of homes.

Although consumers still want plenty of living space, architects need to design these homes on smaller or at least narrower lots, which changes the configuration of the interior rooms.

As town homes grow more expensive, particularly those in Washington’s close-in suburbs, buyers expect them to have extensive living space and high-end finishes similar to those of single-family homes.

“Town homes and single-family homes are coming closer and closer together in terms of size and the way they live,” says Debbie Rosenstein, president of Rosenstein Research Associates.

“We’re seeing town homes built wider and wider, almost becoming attached single-family homes. The land plans for town homes are not as often in traditional straight rows, but instead with more green areas in between clusters of homes,” she says. “Some town homes even have rooftop decks and three-car garages.”

While town homes are getting larger, single-family homes often appear deceptively smaller from the outside.

“Single-family homes are being built on narrower lots, sometimes as small as 32 feet wide,” says Miss Rosenstein. “But these homes can be 50 feet deep, so once you are inside, the space explodes. Land is so expensive that builders need to increase the density of homes … . We’re seeing more traditional neighborhood designs where the homes are clustered closer together with rear-entry garages.”

Architects are designing homes to maximize the living space and functionality of rooms in both town homes and single-family homes.

“In town homes, a lot of builders are raising the heights of ceilings in certain rooms on the main level, such as having a family room with 10- or 11-foot-high ceilings,” Miss Rosenstein says. “Then they will add a step-up or step-down in the master suite to define a bedroom and sitting area or even put a step into the master bath.”

In Eakin/Youngentob Associates’ Royal town-home model at Chatham Square in Alexandria, which is priced from $1,624,580, the home has four finished levels with a loft, a bedroom and a roof deck on the fourth floor. This model has a step-down family room for added ceiling height on the main level, and a finished home office in addition to the recreation room on the lower level.

“We’re introducing some town homes at Brambleton which are 32 and 38 feet wide,” says Rhonda Ellisor, vice president of sales and marketing for Miller and Smith. “Both of these are only two levels, but they live big, with as much as 3,000 square feet of living space. One has a one-car garage, and the other has a two-car garage.”

Miller and Smith’s Metropolis town homes at Belmont Bay in Prince William County, priced from the $600,000s, have a party deck over the two-car garage, providing extensive outdoor living space off the main level.

At Victory Lakes, Miller and Smith’s Regent and Windsor models, which will be available soon, have three finished levels with a rear detached garage. The Regent model has the entire second floor devoted to a master suite with walk-in closet, an office or sitting room, and a bath with an optional two-way fireplace shared with the master bedroom.

“These new 22-foot-wide town homes have three levels aboveground, with the main level at grade so there are no outside stairs to climb,” Mrs. Ellisor says. “The third level of the Regent model has a recreation room with a volume ceiling placed between the secondary bedrooms.”

At Victory Lakes, Miller and Smith will also be introducing a 20-foot-wide, three-level town home without a garage but with a walk-out lower level.

Mrs. Ellisor says, “There is a segment of the market that is interested in having the maximum of living space rather than a garage.”

The Villager Collection of town homes, also from Miller and Smith and priced from the low- to mid-$400,000s at Victory Lakes, offers buyers several choices for the upper level.

The standard floor plan has four bedrooms, but an alternative plan has an expanded master suite with two secondary bedrooms. Another choice is to replace one bedroom with an open retreat for use as a play or study area or additional family room. This home also has an optional finished loft level.

Toll Bros. Inc.’s new town-home floor plans, available at Belmont Country Club in Loudoun County, are priced from the $400,000s. The Kingsmill model has a split staircase, which links the foyer and the recreation room to the main level and adds interest to the design.

At Avery Park in Alexandria, Brookfield Homes has introduced three new town home designs priced from the low $500,000s. Each of these homes has three finished levels and the option of finishing a loft level. The Bellhaven model includes an expansive master suite with two closets and a large bath with a corner tub and separate shower.

Miss Rosenstein says she believes that because town homes are becoming so expensive, more builders are upgrading the homes with items such as hardwood flooring and granite counters.

“We’re seeing more town homes with an included finished lower level and the option of a finished loft level to maximize the living space,” Miss Rosenstein says. “Builders of town homes are including or offering the option of a morning room off the kitchen, a two-level addition that usually expands the master sitting room or master bath upstairs.”

Finished lower levels are also becoming more commonly included on single-family homes, Miss Rosenstein says.

“Another change in single-family homes is that every single level is used to create more living space,” Miss Rosenstein says. “The newest trend is to add a small midlevel den or reading niche with bookshelves and a window off the first flight of stairs above the main level.”

Although open floor plans are still very popular and can make a home seem larger, some floor plans are also being offered with a greater separation between rooms.

Van Metre Homes’ Thompson House, part of the Savannah Collection at Stone Ridge and priced from the $600,000s, has a separate breakfast room adjacent to the garage, while the kitchen is open to the family room.

Toll Bros.’ Longwood model, priced from the $700,000s at the Glen in South Riding, has a “hearth room” off the kitchen and a two-story great room, which are divided by a two-sided fireplace.

The M/I Homes Inc. Chesapeake II model, available at Port Potomac from the upper $600,000s, has a breakfast room separated from the family room, the main hall and the kitchen by the arrangement of the stairs to the upper and lower level and a decorative column.

The Ryland Homes Inc. Pierson and Russell models, both part of the Cornell Collection at Idlewild and priced from the $400,000s, have almost completely open floor plans across the rear of the main level, with a family room, breakfast area and kitchen including either a center island or a U-shaped plan.

“In our Pierson model, we have a U-shaped kitchen, which allows for lots of open floor space in the family room and breakfast area, plus additional countertop space,” says Bruce Nelson, sales counselor for Ryland Homes at Idlewild. “There’s additional space at the countertop for relaxed seating.”

Ryland’s Lockhart model, part of the Wright Collection at Idlewild, priced from the upper $400,000s to the low $500,000s, has an unusual arrangement with the living room and dining room placed diagonally across the hall from each other allowing them to be visibly connected yet physically separated.

Across the back of the home, the family room is open to the kitchen and breakfast area, but the den is privately located in a corner off the breakfast area.

NVHomes’ Knightsbridge model, priced from the $800,000s to more than $1,000,000 at several locations in Northern Virginia, has a narrower connection between the kitchen and the breakfast area created by the rear staircase and cabinet placements, while allowing a visual connection between the rooms.

The breakfast area and kitchen are usually near the garage for convenience. This is a section of the home that has received more attention from builders and buyers in recent years.

“People are expecting a function for everything in their homes,” Miss Rosenstein says. “We’re seeing more built-ins included in homes and offered as options, including things like wine refrigerators and wine bars, spaces for plasma televisions and built-in kitchen desks in every home. Buyers want practical things such as a larger walk-in pantry and huge walk-in closets with built-in organizing systems.”

The Ryan Homes Monarch model, priced from $1,160,000 at Laurenwood Estates in Prince William County, includes a walk-in pantry in the kitchen, a large laundry room off the garage, and a family foyer off the garage with a closet and access to the rear stairs to the upper and lower levels.

M/I Homes’ Williamsburg II model, priced from the low $900,000s at Black Oak Estates in Loudoun County, has a mudroom with a closet and a large pantry between the garage and the kitchen.

At Stone Ridge in Loudoun County, Van Metre’s Thompson House has a walk-in pantry and a closet tucked at the back of the breakfast room near the garage.

Ryland Homes’ Dandridge model, part of the Lafayette Collection at Idlewild and priced in the $500,000s, has a family foyer off the garage with a closet and powder room, with an additional walk-in closet next to the powder room.

Closet space is important on upper levels as well, with many master suites including two or more walk-in closets and more secondary bedrooms including a walk-in closet or double closets.

NVHomes’ Knightsbridge model includes walk-in closets in two of the homes’ three secondary bedrooms, while Ryan Homes’ Monarch model has walk-in closet and a private full bath in each of the three secondary bedrooms on the upper level.

Although luxurious master suites are nothing new, some builders are expanding this living space even further, adding more closet space and dressing areas and additional living space to the suites.

Toll Bros.’ Cary model, priced from the $800,000s at Belmont Country Club, has a separate master-bedroom den in addition to a sitting area off the bedroom. This master suite has four walk-in closets clustered around a dressing area adjacent to the master bath.

Van Metre’s Thompson model has an optional extension over the garage, which includes a separate sitting room and a sleeping porch with a wall of windows at the back.

Some owners may choose to use the master sitting area for a home office, but even the smallest single-family homes today usually incorporate office space somewhere in the home.

“Homes today are more family friendly and reflect what people do in their homes,” Miss Rosenstein says. “Instead of a small formal first-floor study, we’re seeing expanding home offices. A lot of homes are being built with a reading niche, computer niche or even a full-blown study on the second level.”

Ryland Homes’ Canterbury model, part of the Lafayette Collection at Idlewild, has a study on the main level and a second study on the upper level, with the second study open to the upper-level hall.

“The Canterbury model has a first-floor office and then a second study on the upper level, which is more open,” Mr. Nelson says.

Ryland’s Adair model, also part of the Lafayette Collection, has a computer loft with a built-in desk on the second level.

Miller and Smith’s single-family home at Victory Lakes, the Kentbury model, features a library on the main level and a central study loft on the upper level with an optional built-in desk.

Changes in floor plans can also be influenced by the design of a community and the size of the homesites.

“The concept of the Idlewild community is that it is reminiscent of the Civil War era,” Mr. Nelson says. “We are creating a pedestrian-friendly community with front porches and architecture which is respectful of the style of the Civil War. This makes the homes unique, not looking like tract housing. The Cornell collection homes each have a detached, rear-entry two-car garage which makes for a nice streetscape in the community.”

Miller and Smith’s new single-family homes in Virginia have been designed to maximize the living space while fitting onto a smaller home site.

“Our Clara Bow single-family home at Brambleton is designed to fit on a narrow lot, so it has a two-car front-loading garage with the living and dining areas next to the garage, then it opens into a huge family room/kitchen with lots of glass all across the back of the house,” Mrs. Ellisor says.

In addition to expansive living space, the Kentbury model at Victory Lakes has extra garage space.

“At Victory Lakes, we designed a three-car-garage house which fits on a narrow lot, which is only 70 feet wide,” Mrs. Ellisor says. “Normally it would be impossible to include that much garage space, but we divided it into a two-car garage and a one-car garage with a front porch in between.”

Architects and builders have found creative ways to meet the needs of families within the confines of limited land and high prices, rearranging rooms and giving buyers the choice of adding living space on lower and upper levels.

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