The unusually light colored palette in the main living area creates a calming ambience, a welcome balm after a hard day at the office. (By John Unrue)

To the casual observer, the first indication that there’s something different about the “reNEWable Living Home” on exhibition here are the colors on the outside.

The house is designed in the traditional “Florida Mediterranean” style that’s found throughout the state, but the tile roof is charcoal, not orange, and the facade is not entirely stucco; it incorporates stonework that is a medley of light and darker shades of gray.

Inside this 5,188-square-foot house, designed by BSB Design in Des Moines, Iowa, and built by Meritage Homes, an Arizona-based national firm that is active in the Florida market, traditional styling gives way to a spare modernism. And here, too, the colors are unusual, and the overall ambience is one of calming, quiet grace. That’s not usually the case with a house displayed for the International Builders Show, where multiple corporate sponsors (22, in this case) are showcasing their wares and vying for the attention of several thousand home builders.

The large, L-shaped living/dining/kitchen area is finished in muted tones of light, warm grays and white. The large furniture pieces in the sitting area are upholstered in light-colored cotton and linen, which reflect even more light into these spaces and further enhances their calming, healthy feel, said Aundrea Brown of Intermark Design in Orlando, who designed the interiors.

The real pièce de résistance in this great-space-for-calming-down-after-a-bad-hair-day-at-the-office, however, is nearly invisible from inside, hidden behind a large, ungainly outdoor fireplace. The hard-to-see feature: five geyser-type fountains that sit atop a 20-foot-long, five-step spillway on the far side of the swimming pool. When turned on, this feature creates a mini-waterfall that can be mesmerizing. Even better, it has health benefits — “gazing at moving water is good for your brain,” said Paul Atchley, professor of psychology and dean of undergraduate studies at the University of South Florida.


The exterior of the reNEWable Living Home show house at this year’s International Builders Show in Orlando is an updated version of the traditional “Florida Mediterranean” style found throughout the state. (By John Unrue)

Atchley has studied the healing power of gazing at nature, especially for people who are constantly bombarded with texts, emails and phone calls at work. “We’re not sure why gazing at a non-repetitive pattern — in this case, water flowing down steps — is so restful, but it’s definitely the case,” he said.

The fountains and mini-waterfall also provide a calming background noise, said Stephen Moore, marketing director for BSB.

At night, the fountains, which reach a height of two feet, can be programmed for five light shows with nine colors. Spillways with fountains and programmed light shows have become increasingly popular pool features in Florida, although more for their “wowness” than their calming effects, said Marshall Weiner of Holland Pools in Longwood, Fla., who designed this installation with his partner, James Starks.

Turning back into the house, our visitor might find the same calming color scheme extending to the spacious 840-square-foot first-floor owners’ suite. They might also find that calming is a good description for the rounded shape of the white, free-standing Kohler Ceric Series tub in the master bathroom.

The first floor has a second bedroom suite, tucked in behind the kitchen, and in the far corner, a back stair leading up to a separate one-bedroom apartment. To differentiate this space from the rest of the house, the palette is darker and more masculine. The scale of its spaces also differentiates the apartment. Compared with the first-floor great room, the sitting area here is smaller and more intimate; it is much easier to envision a small gathering of three or four socializing or watching a movie on the big flat-panel TV than it is in the great room downstairs.


The one bedroom Fonzi Flat in the rear of the second floor is intended for an older child who is a medical resident at a local hospital. (By John Unrue)

The apartment connects to the rest of the second floor, which has three more bedrooms that open onto a large game room with its own bar and food-serving area and a huge laundry room.

At this point, our visitor is likely to wonder who the builders imagined would want to live here, and that is exactly the point.

Builder magazine and its publishing parent, Hanley-Wood, the two organizers for the show home, wanted to spotlight changing home-buyer demographics, and the multigeneration household. The four-person family with Mom, Dad and two kids — American home builders’ bread-and-butter clientele for decades — now represents less than 20 percent of the home-buying public, said John McManus, Hanley Wood’s vice president and editorial director for residential content. As that market segment has shrunk, multigenerational households are increasing, and very few builders are paying attention, he added. As of 2016, 20 percent of Americans lived in multigenerational households, the Pew Research Center estimated.

Although certainly an unusual house for the average homeowner, how does the reNEWable Living Home stack up as a home for a multigeneration family?

It meets the needs of the hypothetical household around whom the house was designed, a family from South America with parents, a grandmother, two younger children and an older adult child who is a medical resident at a local hospital and who keeps crazy h


The grandmother’s suite in this multi-gen household has more traditional styling and a blue-gray palette. (By John Unrue)

The master bathroom is finished in the same light colored palette as the main living areas. (By John Unrue)

ours and wants to be sequestered from the general hubbub of the household.

The “Fonzi Flat” in the far back corner of the second floor will give this medical resident plenty of peace and quiet. Although multigeneration grandparent suites usually have a separate sitting room, the single bedroom behind the kitchen for the grandmother in this house was tailored to the preferences of Meritage’s South American buyers, Moore said, adding that it’s actually based on the experience of a BSB designer who grew up with his Thai grandmother. As his colleague described his family culture, Moore recalled, the designer said, “The grandmother is selfless; her worth is in engaging with grandchildren, and it’s wasted space to give her a suite. She hangs out in the house, not in a separate space.”

Because it’s a show house, the reNEWable Living Home has suites for both an adult child and an elderly parent. More typically, Moore said, “You have one condition or the other. There’s some overlap, but my sense from builders’ feedback is that it is small.”

If the home gives builders an idea of what a multigeneration dwelling might look like, their next question is sure to be how many home buyers fit this profile, a more important number than their overall share of the U.S. population.

According to the 2018 National Association of Realtors Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends, it’s only 13 percent. But this varies by region.


The swimming pool is seen from the second floor. (By Kip Dawkins)

Linda Mamet, vice president for corporate marketing at the TRI Pointe Group, a home construction firm that builds across the country, said that in areas of the United States with more Hispanic and Asian households (including California, the Puget Sound area, Phoenix, Houston and Austin), 15 to 20 percent of her buyers are multigeneration families. In Las Vegas it is even higher. Klif Andrews, head of Pardee Homes in Las Vegas, said that last year, 30 percent of his buyers were multigeneration households.

In areas with high housing costs, including the Washington market, interest in multigeneration housing is increasing among all groups of buyers, Mamet said.

Mamet also noted that differing cultural traditions among multigeneration households can affect their preferences in floor plan configurations, as the reNEWable Living Home demonstrates. But, she said, there’s one constant that’s at odds with the show house — most of Tripointe’s buyers prefer to have mom and dad and the older parents on separate floors.

With some modifications, houses designed for multigeneration households can have wider market appeal in places where local zoning allows accessory dwelling units (ADUs), small rental apartments that are incorporated into the main house. What would need to be changed? The multigeneration suite would need an outside entrance, a dedicated parking space and a small kitchen (not so hard to incorporate along one wall).


Compared to the first-floor great room, the Fonzi Flat’s palette is darker and more masculine and the size of the sitting area is more comfortable and intimate. (By John Unrue)

The ADU concept has been widely supported by affordable-housing advocates. They see it as a way to both increase the stock of affordable rental units and to make homes more affordable to buyers, who can apply the rental income from the ADU to their monthly house payments.

Even more appealing, a house with an ADU could fit the life trajectory of many families who might segue in and out of a multigeneration status. When a couple are young, the rental income from the ADU would help them qualify for a mortgage. When the buyers become more established and start a family, a live-in child-care person could use the ADU.

After the kids are in school full time, the unit could be given over to elderly grandparents, who might still be driving and fairly independent when they move in but eventually need more care. When they pass on, the unit could be rented again, and the income set aside for college tuition payments. Once they have graduated, the young adult children could move into the apartment for a few years before setting up their own households.

And, in some cases, the parents could eventually move into the ADU while one of their now married children takes over the big house.

Katherine Salant has an architecture degree from Harvard. A native Washingtonian, she grew up in Fairfax County and lives in Ann Arbor, Mich. If you have questions or would like to suggest topics for coverage, contact her at salanthousewatch@gmail.com or www.katherinesalant.com .