Markets are depressed, your mutual funds tanked, and you’re considering having your mattress double as a safety-deposit box spring. If you think of your home as your most reliable asset—at least in the long haul—you may be right on target.
That’s why we’ve asked local architects and builders to weigh in on five trends that together point to a paradigm shift in the way we think about where we live. Here’s the inside scoop on how homes are changing—and how you can stay on top of these right-on residential transformations.
To correspond with the housing bubble, houses themselves grew to the bursting point. But today, due to the market downturn and a greater consciousness of energy efficiency, rambling square-footage is on the wane, according to a recent American Institute of Architects (AIA) Home Design Trends Survey.
Soaring utility costs and a grim housing market are certainly behind shrinking American homes, but some experts feel it goes beyond that. “Even before the weakening of the economy, homes at the upper end of the price spectrum had stopped growing,” says Kermit Baker, chief economist with the AIA. “It had all begun to feel a bit formulaic: the grand foyer, the living room off to the left. People want homes that are more customized to their needs.”
Open-concept main floors, a development that finally recognizes the kitchen as the congregation point of choice at any party, are becoming increasingly popular. Formal living rooms and dining areas are making way for family rooms and home offices that see daily use. “Living rooms and formal dining rooms may be still be a reality in some homes, but today they often take on a more casual feel and are truly lived in, sometimes incorporating more comfortable seating or a game-table area,” says architect Carol J. W. Kurth, AIA, of Bedford. Today’s development is toward appreciating spaces that are thoughtfully designed and finely executed, rather than simply, well, huge.
If you think you might be able to reconfigure your floor plan instead of expanding, you’ll find a passionate advocate of smaller homes in Sylvain Côté, owner of Absolute Green Homes in South Salem (914-977-3088). While she designs both very large and small homes (not to mention large and small renovations), architect Carol J. W. Kurth, AIA, of The Office of Carol J. W. Kurth, AIA, Architect, PC (914-234-2595) also is tops at finding creative ways to capture existing space that wasn’t utilized when the home initially was built.
Figure out how much space you really need to be comfortable, suggests Sylvain Côté, then consider how long you’ll need it. Are the kids heading off to college in a couple of years? A smaller home will save on maintenance costs, insurance, property taxes, and utilities.
Sarah Susanka’s The Not So Big House series (Taunton) champions beauty in detail (think Frank Lloyd Wright) over sheer size.
If you haven’t noticed that green is hot, then you must be living under a very hefty rock. Reasons to join the eco-friendly movement abound, and those interested in joining could enjoy major savings. Bank of America, for example, offers up to $1,000 off closing costs on newly constructed homes that meet efficiency requirements. Tax breaks and rebates for homes that successfully undergo an energy audit are now commonplace.
So how do you make your home more efficient and reap some of the rewards? If you’re building a house from scratch, most architects will tell you that orienting your house correctly is one of the smartest (and cheapest) things you can do. In a county like Westchester, with its hot summers and cold winters, you want to have the long sides of the home facing due south or due north, according to Raymond Beeler, a Pelham-based architect. “Putting a lot of glass facing south and protecting it with overhangs and sunscreens lets the sun in during the winter and keeps it out during summer,” he explains. Meanwhile, the window-stingy north side acts as protection against blustery northern winds. All this adds up to serious savings in terms of energy.
Realistically, however, most people are working to make an existing home healthier. Interest in photovoltaics and geothermal heating and cooling systems is growing steadily, but Carol J. W. Kurth sees a cautious approach to these evolving technologies. “People are still a bit gun-shy about the payback return on those types of investments,” she says. “I think a lot of people are waiting for the next generation of less expensive products.” For the moment, her clients are more likely to make green choices that don’t cost much more than standard products, such as choosing paint with low VOCs (potentially harmful chemicals) or winterizing by sealing cracks.
Raymond Beeler, AIA, (914-738-6094) is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-accredited professional architect and an authority on green building practices. Stephen Tilly, AIA, principal owner of Stephen Tilly, Architect, in Dobbs Ferry (914-693-8898), and his team are prime players on Westchester’s green scene. Headed by architect Richard Granoff, AIA, Greenwich, Connecticut-based R.S. Granoff Architects (203-625-9460) have become leaders in the green designing/building field, incorporating human-centered sustainable design principles into all of its projects. LEED AP-accredited Stuart Markowitz, AIA, of SMA Architecture Planning Interiors in Croton-on-Hudson (914-271-2712) is another go-to guy for green design.
A new energy bill has mandated that starting in 2012 stores can no longer sell the incandescent light bulbs that are fixtures in most homes. Why not get a head start? For information on choosing CFLs (and other energy-saving tips), visit energystar.gov.
WE RECOMMEND: Using your noodle to reduce energy costs. Raise your thermostat in summer and lower it in winter to reduce energy use (you’ll save about three percent per degree). And if you use a ceiling fan along with the air conditioner, it makes a room feel six or seven degrees cooler.
The surest bet of our five trends is universal design—design that works for everyone, regardless of age. Today, one in eight Americans is 65 or older; by 2050 that number will grow to more than one in five. And, according to AARP, the vast majority of boomers plan to remain in their own homes for as long as possible.
Despite the demographics pointing to a rock-solid investment, people are often reluctant to ask their architects or contractors about “barrier-free” design. They associate it with old age and would prefer not think about it until they feel they must. But universal design doesn’t have to be ugly: there’s plenty you can do to make your home more accessible to older family members or to wheelchair-bound guests without compromising on style. “Often, universal design involves the simplest of things: no doorway saddles, doorways wide enough for wheelchairs, opting against a gravel path or driveway,” says Pound Ridge-based architect Carol A. Cioppa, AIA. “If you start with the basics, you’ll have a good foundation in the plan.”
The open-concept floor plan isn’t only a hot trend, it’s also the perfect layout for a mother-in-law negotiating the space with a walker or a teenager swinging through on crutches. A home with a main-floor master bedroom is also a big draw for those who don’t want to deal with the hassle of stairs. And there are plenty of small-scale improvements you can make to create a more accessible home: swapping faucets with knob handles (difficult for small or arthritic hands) for lever handles, installing a laundry chute on the second floor, or purchasing slip-resistant flooring for the bathroom. All can make your home more convenient and safer—not to mention more desirable to potential buyers, should you decide to sell.
When selecting a builder, look for a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS). Remodeler/Contractor Brian McFarland of Spring Valley, New York-based B D McFarland & Co., (914-425-9300) carries the designation and brings both a technical and business background to the table. Carol A. Cioppa, AIA, of Cioppa Architects, LLC, in Pound Ridge (914-764-1549) has experience designing for different abilities and stages. Interior designer Louise P. Rosenfeld, ASID, of Chappaqua-based Arrangements, Inc. (914-238-1300) focuses on senior solutions with style, incorporating accessibility into her designs.
Front-load washers are easier for smaller and older family members to operate. The machines may cost a bit more, but they’re also a green option: they use about 40 percent less water and 50 percent less energy than conventional top-load washers.
In Westchester, some of the interest in universal design has centered on residential elevators, which now start at around $20,000. (Growing old can be a dignified excuse for purchasing something as fun as a luxe lift.)
Though technologically integrated (or “smart”) homes flopped in the ’90s, the Jetsons-like future finally may have arrived. According to residential electronics architect Mark Britton of Mount Kisco-based Media Stratego, the old technology was still raw and never really matured. “There were horror stories of pressing a button and having your neighbor’s garage door go up and down,” he says. “All that changed with the Internet. Now the technology is much more robust.”
Motorized skylights that open according to the indoor temperature and close when it rains now are available, as are elaborate home-entertainment systems that reflect the current trend toward cocooning. Homeowners are becoming more interested in an interface that allows them to control lighting, alarm systems, and heating and cooling from an easy-to-use display that might hang near the front door. When it’s idle, it could display a slide show of favorite pictures, just like any computer screen.
Though retrofitting for smart design can be a challenge in older homes with thick plaster walls, Britton says wiring for the superhighway in new construction is a no-brainer. “Younger home buyers grew up with technology. People are coming to expect that their home will able to distribute up-to-date services, such as high-speed wireless Internet,” he says. “We live in an iPod nation, and homes with the infrastructure in place will have an advantage.”
Mark Britton, founder of Media Stratego in Mount Kisco (914-864-2018) can help design a complete home-integration solution. Gregg Bilotta of Advanced Electronic Systems in Pelham (914-514-8165) is another pro specializing in total home control, including multi-room audio, video, and controls.
If you’re looking for an installer who’s certified by CEDIA (the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association), giving you an extra boost of confidence that you’ve found a true professional, click on cedia.net.
Looking to arm yourself with knowledge before you arm your home with security, systems, and other high-tech wizardry? Check out electronichouse.com. You’ll find information on everything from the best backyard theaters to affordable energy monitoring systems.
One of the hottest home-building trends of the moment is the blending of indoor and outdoor spaces. About 1.2 million U.S. households were expected to install fully functional outdoor kitchens between 2006 and 2007, according to Consumer Reports, and interest is still growing when it comes to these open-air spaces. Equipped with ovens, refrigerators, fireplaces, and other amenities that can be left en plein air year-round, outdoor kitchens have become functional enough for homeowners to consider seriously.
“In Westchester, a lot of houses built in the twenties and thirties didn’t really open to the outside. There would be a formal side of the house facing the street, but in the back there would just be a few tiny little windows,” Beeler explains. “People didn’t use outdoor space the way we do now.” Today, as homes and lot sizes shrink, creating a living space outdoors may be a way of enjoying what you have to the fullest.
Kitchens are only one of the many features in today’s backyards. Decks and patios, gazebos, swimming pools, sports courts, and upscale landscaping all have high appeal. And with outdoor living come speaker systems and elaborate exterior lighting—even outdoor candelabras. All will help you maximize your home’s potential, both today and tomorrow.
For elegant outdoor decks and poolside landscaping, call garden guru Glenn Ticehurst, RLA, ASLA, who has worked on projects from from modest urban spaces to 500-acre estates (Benedek & Ticehurst Landscape Architects & Site Planners, 914-234-9666). With a BS in the natural sciences from Johns Hopkins and a master of landscape architecture from Cornell, James Lotto of LG Landscape Architects in New Rochelle (914-633-0815) knows how to transform outdoor spaces. A visit to Mariani Gardens in Armonk (914-273-3083) is bound to leave you speechless—and full of ideas and inspiration.
Curb appeal is important when you’re selling a home, Kurth points out. With outdoor space being the focus of the moment, you definitely don’t want a 1970s pressure-treated (read: arsenic-infused) deck with a crib rail to put off prospective buyers. Try to create a more organic outdoor space that feels connected to the land.
Smith & Hawken in Scarsdale (914-722-0690) offers all the backyard essentials, from bocce ball sets to outdoor firepits. For state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen appliances, take a look at the heavy hitters by Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet (sold at Albano Appliance & Service in Pound Ridge, 914-764-4051).
Kate Linda Foster is a freelance journalist based in New York City.
Carol A. Cioppa, AIA
92A Fancher Rd. • Pound Ridge
48 Wheeler Ave., 2nd Floor • Pleasantville
(914) 747-1177 • fivecat.com
Grandberg & Associates Architects
117 E. Main St. • Mount Kisco • (914) 242-0033
The Helmes Group
184 Katonah Ave. • Katonah
(914) 232-4633 • thehelmesgroup.com
Kenneth R. Nadler Architects
103 S. Bedford Rd. • Mount Kisco
(914) 241-3620 • nadlerarchitects.com
297 Knollwood Rd. • White Plains
(914) 686-3359 • maxparangi.com
Mitchell Koch Architects
145 Palisade St., Suite 324 • Dobbs Ferry
(914) 674-0042 • mkastudio.com
The Office of Carol J.W. Kurth,
AIA, Architect PC
644 Old Post Rd. • Bedford • (914) 234-2595
162 Corlies Ave. • Pelham
(914) 738-5658 • osmolskis.com
Peter Gisolfi Associates
566 Warburton Ave. • Hastings-on-Hudson
(914) 478-3677 • petergisolfiassociates.com
R. Barry Goewey Architects PC
239 Lexington Ave. • Mount Kisco
(914) 666-3858 • goeweyarchitects.com
Radoslav Opacic Architects
24 N. Astor • Irvington
(914) 591-4306 • opacicarchitects.com
Ralph R. Mackin, Jr. Architects,
112 Titicus Rd. • North Salem
(914) 277-3152 • mackinarchitects.com
Raymond L. Beeler, AIA
629 Fifth Ave., 2nd Fl • Pelham
(914) 738-6094 • beelerarchitects.com
40 Bedford Rd. • Armonk
(914) 273-1806 • richardkotzarchitect.com
R.S. Granoff Architects, P.C.
30 W. Putnam Ave. • Greenwich, Connecticut
(203) 625-9460 • granoffarchitects.com
Stephen Tilly, Architect
22 Elm St. • Dobbs Ferry
(914) 693-8898 • stillyarchitect.com
SMA Architecture Planning Interiors PC
One Baltic Pl. • Croton-on-Hudson
(914) 271-2712 • sma-architects.com
Sullivan Architecture PC
31 Mamaroneck Ave. • White Plains
(914) 761-6006 • sullivanarch.com
Absolute Green Homes
33 Truesdale Lake Dr. • South Salem
(914) 977-3088 • absolutegreenhomes.com
Boniello Land & Realty Ltd.
10 Country Hollow Dr. • Amawalk
(914) 245-9000 • boniellolandandrealty.com
Cornerstone Construction of Larchmont
21 North Ave. • Larchmont
(914) 834-9700 • cornerstoneoflarchmont.com
33 Croton Point Ave. • Croton-on-Hudson
(888) SEAMLESS/(914) 271-4572
JEM Design, Inc.
834 Scarsdale Ave. • Scarsdale
(914) 723.3655 • jemdesign.com
M.J.S. Contracting Corp.
172 Clinton Ave. • New Rochelle
(914) 636-5262 • mjscontractingcorp.com
Murphy Brothers Contracting, Inc.
416 Waverly Ave. • Mamaroneck
(914) 777-5777 • murphybrothers.com
74 S. Moger Ave. • Mount Kisco
800-730-0213 • myhomeus.com
New Dimensions Remodeling
466 Lexington Ave. • Mount Kisco
282 Katonah Ave., Suite 168 • Katonah
164 Old Route 9 • Fishkill, New York
(845) 896-5496 • peakconstruction.biz
Remodeling Consultants of Westchester Inc.
500 Halstead Ave. • Mamaroneck
(914) 381-6900/(800) 552-2680 • rcwest.com
S & S Remodeling
419 Scarsdale Rd. • Tuckahoe
(914) 274-8933 • sandsremodelingnyc.com
Sunrise Building & Remodeling, Inc.
510 North State Rd. • Briarcliff Manor
(914) 762-8453 • sunrisebuilding.com
Fire Glow Distributors, Inc.
2989 Navajo St. • Yorktown
(914) 248-7775 • fire-glow.com
Kelloggs & Lawrence
26-30 Parkway • Katonah
(914) 232-3351 • kelloggsandlawrence.com
The Fireplace & Patio Shoppe
369 White Plains Rd. • Eastchester
(914) 771-5647 • enjoyyourhome.com
Wittus Fire by Design
40 Westchester Ave. • Pound Ridge
(914) 764-5679 • wittus.com
Absolute Flooring of Yorktown
1735 Front St. • Yorktown Heights
(914) 245-0225 • absoluteflooring.com
A.T. Proudian, Inc.
736 Main St. • New Rochelle • (914) 632-4848
120 E. Putnam Ave.
(203) 622-1200 • atproudian.com
The Caravan Connection
14 Main St. • Bedford Hills
(914) 666-0227 • caravanconnection.com
2349 Central Park Ave. • Yonkers
139 Croton Ave. • Ossining
(914) 762-5068 • carpetgiantossiningny.com
5 Smith St. • Rye
(914) 967-5188 • carpettrends.com
Cornell Carpet & Design
226 E. Main St. • Mount Kisco
(914) 241-1227 • cornellcarpet.com
Creative Flooring Ltd.
145 Kisco Ave. • Mount Kisco • (914) 666-6679
Dilmaghani & Company
540 Central Park Ave. • Scarsdale
(914) 472-1700 • dilmaghani.com
Floor Coverings International
26 Putnam Ave. • Port Chester
(914) 937-2950 • floorcoveringsinternational.com
Fovama Oriental Rugs & Carpets of Westchester
1088 Central Park Ave. • Scarsdale
(914) 725-2424 • fovama.com
The Golden Horn Oriental Rugs
350 Mamaroneck Ave. • Mamaroneck
(914) 670-6666 • rugrestoration.com
Kalaydjian Oriental Rugs
761 N. Bedford Rd. • Bedford Hills
Kanter’s Carpet Service
99 Fulton St. • White Plains
(914) 949-6517 • kanterscarpet.com
Rug & Home Gallery/The Rug Lady
50 Lafayette Pl. • Thornwood
(914) 741-2486/877-RUGLADY • rug-lady.com
Sam’s Floor Covering
285 Central Park Ave. • White Plains
369 Route 6 • Mahopac
(914) 628-4100 • samsflooring.com
1999 Palmer Ave. • Larchmont
(914) 833-3200 • scandecorugs.com
Antique & Vintage Woods of America
2290 Route 199 • Pine Plains
(518) 398-0049 • antiqueandvintagewoods.com
East Coast Wood Floors, Inc.
1 Odell Plaza • Yonkers
(914) 964-7070 • eastcoastwoodfloors.com
Empire Hardwood Floors LLC
120 St. James Ter. • Yonkers
(914) 776-5832 • empirehardwoodfloors.com
Savino Brothers Hardwood Flooring Contractors Inc.
633 Saw Mill River Rd. • Ardsley
(914) 693-0360 • savinobrothers.com
13 Columbus Ave. • Mount Kisco
(914) 666-6166 • suburbanfloors.com
Westwood Flooring Supply, Inc.
3 Nelson Ave. • Ossining
(914) 762-5600 • westwoodflooring.com