Taste for Space Is Spawning Mansions Fit for a Commoner

Debra King, of Waterford Custom Homes, and husband Michael Iacovacci built their 14,000-square-foot home near Loudoun County to show to clients, believing it would represent the high end of what they wanted. They were wrong.
Debra King, of Waterford Custom Homes, and husband Michael Iacovacci built their 14,000-square-foot home near Loudoun County to show to clients, believing it would represent the high end of what they wanted. They were wrong. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)

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By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 20, 2005

In the two years since they moved into their voluminous 8,000-square-footer on the edge of Virginia's suburbs, the Bennett family has not once used their formal dining room, where the table is eternally set for eight with crystal, an empty tea set and two unlighted candles.

Not even guests use the palmy, bamboo morning room beyond it; and the museum-like space Bonnie Bennett calls the Oriental Room -- all black lacquer and inlaid pearl, fur, satin and swirling mahogany -- is also gloriously superfluous.

"It's kind of stupid, because we never sit in here," said Bennett, 32, who bought the largest house she could for the investment.

But she carried around a crumpled photo of the furniture for eight years, and now that she has space for it, she admires it as others might a work of art.

"It's just me ," she said.

To drive out into suburbia these days is to survey a landscape of plenty, a place where relatively average people such as Bonnie Bennett, a loan officer, and her husband, a computer salesman, are living ever larger with three-car garages and media rooms, solaria and conservatories.

In one sense, the reasons are obvious: In the Washington region, average incomes are among the highest in the nation. Low interest rates, 100 percent financing and the money that people can make from selling their homes in a booming market have made buying a larger one affordable for more people, whose appetite for space, builders say, seems insatiable.

But why?

In a way, the green frontiers of suburbia are imprinted with visions of perpetual self-improvement in the form of ever-expanding houses that seem at times dreamed into existence, as builders have honed their ability to anticipate people's desires.

And so when Alyson Skinner wanted a bigger house on 10 acres in western Prince William County, there it was.

For just under a million -- and with the equity from her smaller home -- she was able to get more space for roughly the same mortgage payment to accommodate the lifestyle she envisioned for her family. Instead of going out into the world, she preferred to contain the world inside her 5,300-square-foot home.

"We have a media room in the basement, a pool table and a moon bounce, so I don't have to take the kids out and fight traffic," said Skinner, 32, a former art director who lives there with her husband; their two children; and, at times, family and friends who come on weekends. "We enjoy it more when the kids come here and play. Specifically, I'm weird, but I'm supersensitive to the kids getting snatched. Like at Chuck E. Cheese, I have to constantly watch them."


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