building for the future
Nix step-in showers, tiny closets, and long, winding staircases. According to industry insiders, easy living is the name of the game.
By Brian Kluepfel
According to research released by the U.S. Census Bureau, the average size of a new home was at an all-time high last year—2,434 square feet, up from 983 square feet in 1950—with significantly more amenities today. But it’s not just the size of the space that’s changing, how we use that space is, too.
Barbara K. Sternau of Barbara Sternau Interiors in
all for one:
WHAT WON’T YOU FIND IN ARCHITECTS’ plans these days? Third-level guest bedrooms, narrow doorways, hard-to-reach cabinets, and spiral staircases—at least that’s what the experts say. “Universal” design construction, which takes into consideration the needs of home dwellers of all ages and abilities, is the hot trend in building right now.
According to a survey by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), 62 percent of firms are building “universal” homes with features such as wider hallways, fewer steps, and single-floor design. The reason? Our country’s population is aging—Baby Boomers make up 78 million of the population and 46 million Americans are 60 and over. And research by the AARP found that 90 percent of Americans ages 60 and older want to remain in their current home or at least in their current county.
This growing trend has become noteworthy enough to affect all professionals in the building industry—architects, builders, and designers. “It’s easier than ever to build aging-in-place features into a new home or modify an existing home to include them,” says Norman Cohen, 2006 chair of the The North American Homebuilders Association (NAHB) 50+ Housing Council.
So what will we discover in these universal homes? We’ll find electrical outlets that are at least 27 inches above the floor (as we age, bending can become more difficult), microwaves no higher than 48 inches above the floor, and bathrooms and bedrooms reached without climbing stairs. We’ll walk through hallways and doorways that are at least 36 inches wide to accommodate wheelchairs. We will find lever door handles and rocker light switches that not only benefit tots, but those with poor hand strength. And whether we have limitations or not, we’ll enjoy walk-in showers, stairways with handrails on both sides, and no-step entries to the front door and main rooms (handy when carrying heavy packages or receiving furniture deliveries, too).
handle with care
Easy-to-grip and easy-to-use
TODAY’S HOMES HAVE GOTTEN SO LARGE that some homeowners aren’t sure what to do with all of the space. Builders report that the answer often lies in specialty rooms, spaces dedicated to a specific interest or activity. According to the AIA, some of the most popular rooms in 2006 were home offices (49 percent of specialty rooms), media/home theaters (21 percent), exercise rooms (6 percent), and hobby/game rooms (6 percent).
While they may not have made it to the top four on AIA’s list, builders report that they’ve seen rooms dedicated to yoga, gift-wrapping, meditation, sewing, and wine- and food-tasting. Ken Skalski of Kaja Gam Design in
Of course, mudrooms are now a must-have, too. Andreas Messis of the closet and storage company Transform in
When it comes to the most useful specialty rooms—the laundry room—it’s not the concept that’s new, but the location. “Everyone wants one upstairs,” says Messis, noting the convenience of having the washer and dryer where one dresses and undresses. Skalski opines that exercise rooms will also be moving on up: from the basement to the room next to where you sleep.
PREFAB CONSTRUCTION (DON’T SNICKER) is causing a revolution in building. Sheri Koones, author of Modular Mansions (Gibbs Smith, 2005) and Prefabulous, which is scheduled to be released by
The idea of manufacturing a house in a factory and shipping it to a site is nothing new. A century ago, companies such as Sears, Roebuck and Co., transported prepackaged kit homes to scores of buyers around the country. What is new: impressive features such as Georgian columns, turrets, and double staircases.
One of the largest single-family homes built from prefabricated segments is a 9,000-foot Greenwich, Connecticut, mansion constructed by Westchester Modular Homes, Inc. Shipped to the site in 20 boxes, the house was 80 percent completed when it left the factory. According to its builder, prefab construction reduced the building schedule by at least three months and saved between 10 and 12 percent of the final cost. Which is one big reason to go prefab: it can save you money—and time. It takes from three to eight months to complete a modular house, compared to a year or more to finish a standard-built home.
Flexible design or, as it’s sometimes called, flex space, is also what we’ll be seeing more of. Flex space refers to an area within a home that has been configured so that it can be used in a number of different ways. “A large space, like one over a four-car garage, can accommodate a lot of needs, both current and future,” says Daniel Divitto, owner of DPD Builders, Ltd. in Bedford Hills. “We encourage putting in a full bathroom and we can run electrical wires or plumbing lines for a future wet bar. Since that space is somewhat removed from the main part of the house, it can double as a place for the kids to hang out.” The space that makes a great playroom now, says Divitto, can be transformed into a pool room or media room later.
call to order:
Owners of older homes often tout their charm but lament their storage space. With chaotic lives and packed schedules, today’s homeowners want their houses to be a haven of order, where everything has its place and everything is easy to find and reach.
New construction has 21st-century storage needs down pat. These homes feature massive walk-in closets, roomy dressing rooms, and an abundance of accessible shelves and cabinets. Garages also are growing, not just to accommodate more—and larger—vehicles, but to provide a home for sports gear, bicycles, garden instruments, and other outdoor equipment.
“Builders of new homes are doing a pretty good job of maximizing storage, creating large bedroom closets and mudrooms,” says Bob Westenberg, owner of the Hawthorne-based California Closets. “One of the biggest trends we’ve seen is the conversion of rooms into closet space in older homes. As people see their children leave, they finally get the closet they’ve been dreaming of.”
Pleasantville-based writer Brian Kluepfel currently serves as assistant editor of Inside Fordham, a