HENDERSON, NEV. — The “Contemporary Farmhouse” constructed in a subdivision outside Las Vegas, in what once had been a desert, is a modest-sized dwelling that lives big and throws convention out the window.
This very different house, with its unusually large outdoor living areas and a smaller footprint that covers only about half the lot, is not such a big leap for Las Vegas buyers, according to the builder, because they already have begun to move in this direction. But in the future, it could become a model for how homes are built in other parts of the country.
Buyers here increasingly are choosing smaller houses to open up more area outdoors that can be turned into “outdoor rooms.” To get them, they are willing to jettison bonus rooms and large game rooms that once were highly desirable but have fallen out of favor, said Klif Andrews, division president for Nevada-based Pardee Homes, which built the experimental dwelling for the International Builders Show.
“In essence, buyers are trading space inside the house for space that’s outside,” he said.
This paradigm shift began about five years ago with the end of the recession and the introduction of a new generation of affordable, three-panel, stacking glass doors that are 12 to 15 feet wide, Andrews said. These were a “game changer,” he said, compared with the standard eight-foot-wide sliders, because the glass area in an outside wall could be much bigger, the opening is much larger when the doors are pulled back and the tracks in the floor below the doors are so minimal that they are barely noticeable.
As the line between interior and exterior areas became less distinct, it was only a matter of time before homeowners began to spend more time out there, Andrews said.
Indoor-outdoor relationships are a central theme in the Contemporary Farmhouse, but the first thing to catch a visitor’s eye is the exterior, an unusual marriage of rural and urban vernacular traditions that could only happen in a suburb of Las Vegas, a place where home builders have creatively reinterpreted Tuscan, Tudor, Spanish, Italian, French Mediterranean and Pueblo styles for more than 20 years.
The simple single-gable shape of the second floor of the two-story Contemporary Farmhouse recalls the modest two-story, wood-frame houses that were built across rural and urban America from the 1890s to the 1930s, while the wide expanse of adobe-colored stone on the first floor is reminiscent of the simple, one-story houses that were built by working ranchers in the Southwest. And, surely a first for a production home builder, the lintels over the door and window openings, as well as the retaining walls for the landscaping, are made of Cor-Ten steel, a material more commonly found in bridges and highway overpasses because its protective, rust-colored coating resists real rust.
While this atypical mix suggests that something unusual is afoot, the design celebrates what is inside as much as what is outside.
The main indoor living area of the 2,100-square-foot house is L-shaped, with a living and dining area in each leg and the kitchen centrally located where the two legs meet.
Four of the five outside walls that overlook three private outdoor areas appear to be entirely made of glass, because the outsized stacking glass doors in each wall are 12 feet wide and eight feet high. Two sets of the stacking glass doors in the living and dining areas intersect. When each one is pulled all the way back, there is no corner post or anything else to indicate the presence of a wall — the space is completely open to the outside.
The outdoor areas are neither garden nor lawn; they are furnished outdoor rooms, similar in size to the adjacent indoor spaces, paved with the same floor tile and enclosed on the far side by the five-foot-high, adobe-colored stone wall that surrounds the property. Two of the outdoor areas are covered, including one on the front of the house that the architect characterized as a “reverse-facing porch” because it faces the patio, not the street.
The walls of glass and the outdoor rooms will beguile most visitors, but the scale of the interior living areas is equally important in creating the overall effect — a space that feels both expansive and intimate at the same time. The large openings for the stacking glass doors create the impression that the living and dining areas are quite large; in fact, they are 12 by 15 feet, a modest size that lends itself to intimate conversation and does not require oversized furniture to look right.
Findings of a marketing survey of millennial housing preferences helped inform the design by Hans Anderle for Bassenian Lagoni Architects of Newport Beach, Calif.
The survey focused on a subset of this group — the 46 million millennials between the ages of 24 and 35 who have been notably skittish about purchasing a home, compared to similarly aged members of previous generations. The survey was commissioned by TRI Pointe Group, the parent company of Pardee Homes, and carried out by Ketchum International. Zeroing in on an even smaller subset of those millennials who are homeowners or actively looking for a house, the survey produced some surprising findings. One of the biggest was the desire for outdoor living space. It was the No. 1 “must-have,” even among those who live in places where outdoor areas cannot be used year round, said Linda Mamet, Tripointe’s vice president for corporate marketing.
Other surveys of millennial homeowners and home buyers have produced similar numbers. The National Association of Home Builders’s top must-haves for this group included a patio, front porch and a deck. A survey by Better Homes and Gardens of millennial-aged female homeowners found that a majority of respondents wanted a deck or patio in their next house.
Delving more deeply into how millennial households actually use their outdoor spaces, the magazine found that more than half use it for family meals; 71 percent characterize it as an important area for their family to spend time together; and 70 percent use it for entertaining, a hugely important activity for this group.
Jill Waage, executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens, suggested that an important reason for the popularity of outdoor spaces with millennials is the ease of furnishing them now. Compared with 20 years ago, outdoor furniture is much more affordable and virtually maintenance-free. “You can leave it out there all winter and just hose it off,” she said.
Additional findings in Ketchum’s survey led the design team to tailor other features to the perceived tastes of millennials. The closets are smaller and there is less kitchen storage because the data indicated that this group “wouldn’t own as much stuff,” Mamet said. There is no home office because the survey showed it ranking at the bottom of the millennials’ list of must-haves.
As many millennials have shown a keen interest in customizing their living spaces themselves, some interior finishes were selected as examples of DIY projects, said Los Angeles-based Bobby Berk, who designed the interiors. The repurposed wood paneling in the master bedroom is Stikwood, a thin veneer with a sticky tape backing that can be easily installed by a homeowner. The woodlike ceiling beams in the living/kitchen area are actually Fypon, a high-density polyurethane product that a homeowner can easily install and stain, Berk said. The wood deck on one side of the living area is another example of a DIY project.
If survey data was an important design input, equally important was the nature of the project. It was a “concept house,” Andrews said. Likening it to a concept car at the annual Detroit Auto Show, he said that the Contemporary Farmhouse was intended to test the waters “well outside of our comfort zone and gauge the response. When you build a concept house, you throw it out there and see what happens.”
How has the public responded? About 5,000 visitors toured the house during the International Builders Show in January, Andrews said. Millennials loved it, but so did every other home buyer demographic, including downsizing baby boomers and middle-aged Generation Xers. It turns out that the same things appealed to different groups for different reasons.
For example, the first floor has a private suite with a kitchenette and a separate entrance at the front. The designers saw this as an accessory dwelling unit that could be rented to help pay the mortgage, a natural fit for millennials, who routinely patronize “the sharing economy” that includes companies such as Uber and Airbnb. Downsizing baby boomers took one look and saw a first-floor master. Generation Xers with aging parents saw its potential as an in-law suite. And all the households with family members who regularly come to visit for months at a time would use it as a guest suite.
Is the crossover appeal large enough for Pardee to build more houses like this one?
With some modifications, Pardee is hoping to offer ones very similar to the Contemporary Farmhouse next year. They are expected to sell for about $350,000, and if they do well, Pardee’s parent firm may begin to offer them in other markets.
And given the copycat nature of the home-building business, other builders may offer them, too.