A home, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, is “one’s place of residence, or domicile.” It’s also where the heart is, and where you hang your hat. Over the years, Nevadans have hung their hats in everything from wooden shacks to cookie-cutter tract homes to golf course mansions. As we enter the new millennium, what trends are shaping the homes of the future, and what changes will houses undergo?
This is not your father’s house…
“I think the trend today is obviously a reflection of the affluence of American society in the last decade of prosperity,” says Jeffrey Lundahl, president of Lundahl and Associates in Reno. “With good times comes a fair amount of building activity. People who are building homes for themselves and who have worked hard want something very special and tailored to their lifestyle, and usually have the money to be able to afford a large custom home. If the economy changes, so do the trends.”
The trend in custom homes in both the north and south is to go larger. Standard custom homes range from 4,000 square feet at the smallest to as high as 20,000 square feet, with the norm between 6,000 and 10,000 square feet. In tract homes, the smallest home is generally at least 1,200 square feet, up considerably from 30 years ago.
Homebuyers come from all age groups, many of them young and middle-aged couples with families, but also baby boomers and older retired couples, who are downsizing while others are upsizing. No matter what age homeowners are, they’re looking for open, airy, informal settings with plenty of windows. “One of the biggest trends is toward informal living,” says Steven T. Sederquist, AIA, a Reno-based architect. “It’s the ‘great room’ concept where the eating area, living room and kitchen are all blended into one space. There may be a formal dining room, but very few people are doing formal living rooms anymore.”
Kitchens are changing in today’s homes, growing larger and combining with living and dining rooms to create a great room. Separate dining rooms are still popular, or dining areas as part of the great room effect. “The kitchen has become a focus in houses today,” says Lee Murray, an architect working in Northern Nevada. “You don’t see as much formal entertaining, where you bring your guests into the living room and then invite them into the dining room. You’re seeing the kitchen become more centralized in the dining and entertaining area, and the kitchens are getting bigger.”
While kitchens are getting larger, living rooms are getting smaller, or disappearing altogether. Most of the homes Suzana Rutar, president of Suzana Rutar, architect, in Las Vegas, has designed emphasize the great room effect: family room, breakfast area and kitchen all in one, so nobody has to miss out on the party when families entertain.
In another move towards informal living, parts of the home are moving outdoors, with many homeowners making the most of Nevada’s climate with patios and barbecues, hot tubs and trellises, places to go where shade and sun are available. A table on the grass may take the place of a sit-down dinner for some families, suggests Jesse Haw, of Hawco Homes. Porches have also regained popularity. “People like the feel of old time, older style houses where they can sit on their porch and talk to the neighbors as they go by,” says Reno architect George Trowbridge, Sr. “It gives them relief from everyday life, from sitting in front of a computer all day.”
With larger homes should come the room to store things, the stuff that fills our lives. But the trend in Northern Nevada is away from basements, because of the cost of digging below the frost line, says Murray. “We don’t have basements anymore, so the stuff we used to store in the basement is in the garage. You’ve got to put it somewhere,” he says. This means larger garages in custom and subdivision homes. Three-car garages are the norm, and some upper-end homes go as high as six garage bays and above. In some homes, the garage even takes away living space. This can be a problem in all homes, but especially in some of the semi-custom subdivision homes.
“If they’re making enough money, the desire [of families] is to not have the mother work. Her staying home is going to require some additional space for the kids to play, and sometimes that’s a challenge in some areas, because while houses are getting bigger, the tract home lot size isn’t,” says Murray. Some tract homes offer playrooms over the garage, which has expanded to meet the needs of the mother who, in order to drive the kids to soccer and other activities, is driving at least a minivan and sometimes something much larger.
…but it may be your father’s Oldsmobile in the garage
Another move in both custom and development homes is demi-suites, or mother-in-law suites, for home owners anticipating having an older family member eventually living with them. Basically a second master suite, these are master-sized bedrooms with attached master baths and typically a walk-in closet. Mother-in-law suites are generally separated from the master suite, on the other side of the home with the other secondary bedrooms or on a different story, if possible, to ensure privacy. In most homes the desire is to have the master suite separate.
The idea of having two master suites is also catching on, especially for homeowners looking at their resale value. One suite becomes a guest suite, and the next potential buyer has the flexibility of using whichever suite is more comfortable to them, says Sederquist.
Home is Where the Office Is
While the great room concept brings everyone together rather than isolating them, one area where people do want to be cooped up is in the home office, which needs to be reasonably quiet. It does not necessarily need to be remote, but it has to have the ability to be closed up so the user can work when the rest of the family is home.
Most home offices aren’t overly large, says Murray, but they’re comfortable, with room for a desk, computer and books – more than a cubicle. “For some people, working at home is a better option, it’s more relaxed. One of my clients said nothing is more satisfying than being on a conference call with a very important client while sitting in his pajamas.”
Home offices are also playing a role in semi-custom or tract homes, says Jesse Haw. With people working more and more from their homes, there’s a greater demand for more services, more phone lines, and fiber lines if they are available.
Upgrading in custom homes can include home theaters, some of which even have their own popcorn machine and soda area. These theaters are apt to be very technically elaborate, with built-in projection and audio systems, built-in seating and acoustically designed rooms. They’re very specialized in design, and seem to be following a trend in society that places emphasis on music and video, says Lundahl, who says: “People are interested in those entertainment venues and like to entertain at home. This is another outlet for friends and company to share.”
Playrooms are also a trend, though they can be the first room to be cut from design if the price goes over budget. Basements are often used as playrooms utilizing the great room concept, where families can spread out and play together, says Rutar, and in the south, basements are still around. Seventy-five percent of the homes she’s designed have basements.
Some of the very high-end custom homes have good-sized workout rooms with sophisticated gym-quality equipment, and some even feature indoor swimming pools and spas, though they are not common. Wine cellars are in demand, in custom and subdivision homes alike, from insulated and upgraded closets with shelving to full downstairs wine cellars.
Location, location …
Location sometimes plays a part in decisions about design. For example, Rutar notes, retired couples who have just moved out of a 3,500 or 4,500-square-foot home may be looking to downsize. In that instance they’re more likely to look at a semi-custom home in a development with a lot that matches the home size, rather than putting a small home on a large lot that’s already costing them $300,000 or more. There is also a move towards gated communities. “Half the buyers just have to be in a gated community with all the amenities,” says Rutar. “And the other 50 percent are looking for that two- to three-acre lot with horse property, but that’s part of Vegas history. We’ve always had those locations in the outskirts, where you’re out in the desert.”
“In terms of house design, in Northern Nevada we’re using up the flat ground, so we’re going higher onto the hillsides, and the cost to develop the land is going to go up,” says Murray. This may not necessarily cause square footages to go down, but will probably cause more stacking, more two-story homes than were seen in the last 30 years.
Today’s home buyer is most likely to choose a traditional home, says Sederquist, which is frustrating to an architect who’d like to experiment a little with contemporary styles. They’re sticking with hardwood and granite surfaces, and exteriors – at least in the north – made up mostly of stucco and stone, to weather the elements.
With wine cellars and home theaters, however, these homes don’t sound completely traditional. And “smart houses” are brand new. Very sophisticated home management computer systems can control several different components, from climate control and lighting to security, and even regulate spa and pool temperatures. Homeowners can regulate controls with a portable touch screen within the home, and the systems can be managed remotely, through phone line access, laptops and Internet access. Returning home from vacation, homeowners can call the house and adjust the heat or the air conditioning, turn lights on or off, and have everything ready and waiting by the time they get home from the airport. It all depends on the system. However, not everyone wants a smart home. “It depends on the nature of the buyer,” says Lundahl. “Some homeowners are techies, some are non-techies. There’s usually no in between.”
There are a good many homeowners who want to be “wired for the future,” Trowbridge says. “We tell them we can wire them for the present, but we don’t know the future. Systems in homes today will probably be compatible for the next five to 10 years, and at that time a lot of things will be wireless. That sounds like the direction we’re heading, anyway.”