Nov 15, 2011

Features for the modern home

Tough recent years are leaving their mark on home design with more practical features and away from those that are largely aspirational. New styles are showing up in the new homes under construction as well as in the remodeling of older homes.   Disappearing are formal living and dining rooms, two-story foyers and second staircases. Space is opening up for shoes and sports equipment, schoolwork and textbooks, wrapping paper and scrapbooking supplies and maybe even an elevator shaft. The soaring cathedral ceiling is out. Here are some fading features and the new designs that are replacing them:

THEN: Grand foyers                                NOW: 'Drop zones'

Once a must-have in the McMansion floor plan, double-story entrance foyers are now seen as a waste of space and energy-inefficient, homeowners and builders say. Few suburban families actually enter their homes through the front door, so the grand entryway is a vestige of a house meant to impress others.  Replacing the foyer is the so-called drop zone. As large as 10 feet by 10 feet, these rooms are bigger versions of the mud rooms once common to homes, with places to unload clutter before it's deposited throughout the house. They feature baskets for mail, hooks for backpacks and coats, and storage for shoes and winter wear. Some even have lockers.  The drop zone is being brought into older homes, too where entries become mud rooms, hall closets or basement walls. A place to actually put stuff is a much more sought-after area. 

THEN: Formal living rooms                      NOW: Open family rooms

Formal living rooms were often just for the Christmas tree. Families want an integrated and open area encompassing the kitchen, family room and dining area. A separate great room—a cavernous bonus room for the piano or wicker furniture—is out. 

THEN: Second staircase                          NOW: Room for elevator

A spiral staircase out front, with a secondary set off the family room or kitchen, is another bygone feature. More buyers who plan to grow old in their homes foresee the day when those stairs become an obstacle. This has prompted more builders to add a bedroom and full bathroom onto the ground floor—and leave enough space for an elevator.

THEN: Dad's office                                    NOW: 'Lifestyle center'

Mobile devices and laptops allow work to be done all over the house now, meaning no one needs a large mahogany desk in a home office. Some new builder properties feature a special area for tasks dubbed the "lifestyle center": a multi-functional area as part of the kitchen where parents can work from home, kids can print school assignments, and everyone can do crafts and wrap presents.

THEN: Soaker tubs                                   NOW: Steam showers

Jacuzzis and big soaker tubs are boom-era legacies that families say were rarely used. Replacing them are bigger shower stalls which allow men and women to shave comfortably and steam their pores. Some families hold onto their tubs to help preserve resale value. Others install more modern ones with gentler hydrotherapy bubblers instead of strong water jets.  A tub featuring a wall that can be lowered—allowing elderly bathers to easily enter and exit—is growing in popularity.

THEN: Breakfast nook                              NOW: Outdoor living space

As the kitchen has opened up into the dining room, there's less need for a separate, small table for breakfast. Builders say they are increasingly installing sliding glass doors into the back of houses that blur the lines between indoors and outdoors.