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Regional architectural trends fuel national tastes

More and more, home builders are introducing regional styles into their designs in markets well beyond the places they originated. (istockphoto)

All you have to do is flip on HGTV or scroll through an online home design sites to see how dramatically home architectural styles vary from one part of the country to another.

For instance, Spanish-style stucco houses with red tile roofs are more common in the Napa Valley or in Florida than in the Washington area, with climate, culture and history often playing a big part.

“In the Carolinas you see more houses with double front doors, and in Texas you see a lot of houses with a casita, which is a separate little detached guesthouse,” says Dennis Kelleher, division president of Comstock Homes of Washington, in Reston, Va.

Tim Gehman, director of design for Toll Brothers home builders in Philadelphia, says even some seemingly minor interior layout preferences such as the location of the master bedroom closet are driven by regional preferences. He says in Washington and north of this area, walk-in closets tend to be a separate entity entered directly from the master bedroom, while in the Carolinas and south of that area, closets are entered through the master bathroom.

More and more, though, such distinctions are fading. Home builders, sometimes driven by buyer demands, are introducing regional styles into their designs throughout the country in markets well beyond the places where they originated.

“One of the trends from the West Coast that has spread east is the open flow between a courtyard and the great room,” says Damon Bradley, sales manager with Williamsburg Homes in Maryland. “Homes in the eastern part of the country used to be much more formal.”

If you’re planning to buy a newly constructed home in the near future, expect to see more indoor-outdoor rooms, more storage, more bathrooms with small tubs and larger showers, more informal areas and fewer formal ones. Many of these ideas proved to be popular in other parts of the country.

“Houses don’t change like hemlines, but over the last few years, trends have spread faster due to the availability of online sites like Houzz and Pinterest,” Gehman says.

Informality and indoor-outdoor living

A major national trend that continues to expand in influence is the interest in an informal lifestyle focused on entertaining in the open kitchen and extending into the outdoors, says Kermit Baker, chief economist of the American Institute of Architects in Washington. Nearly all newly designed houses today have more floor space devoted to casual living areas rather than a formal living room and formal dining room.

“Millennials, in particular, don’t want space dedicated to formal living and that crosses over into other generations, too,” says Baker.

While the Washington region has long been known for its traditional homes, Matthew Ossolinski, principal of Ossolinski Architects in the District, says that home buyers in this area are embracing informality, even if they prefer a traditional exterior.

“Even when home buyers want a formal dining room, it tends to be more open to the other living areas,” Ossolinski says. “Interior walls are dematerializing, with rooms defined by glass doors or columns or completely open to each other.”

Gehman says home buyers’ tastes in the D.C. region have changed to embrace what he calls “East-West” living common in Florida houses, with the kitchen, breakfast area and family room spread out in one big space across the back of the main level.

“Even the small definitions between spaces have gone away, such as a railing or a step-down between those rooms,” he says.

Ossolinski says that embracing open floor plans extends to allowing more flow between interior and exterior spaces.

“Homeowners like the look of an open living and dining area and kitchen with a minimal threshold and minimal walls separating those spaces from their outdoor space,” he says. “Those outdoor spaces have changed, too, and look more like interior space with a kitchen with a counter and furnishings that are visually connected to the indoor furniture.”

At Toll Brothers, covered outdoor living areas called a “California room” or a “lanai” in different markets, often accessible through accordion-style glass doors, are being offered everywhere the company builds homes.

“These outdoor living rooms expand the usable living space and create a sense of privacy because they are at least partially covered,” Gehman says. “These are standard in our homes in California and Florida, but they are also very popular options in the D.C. region.”

Kelleher says that every one of Comstock’s new floor plans for single-family houses includes a covered outdoor area such as a screened porch or covered porch as a standard feature. Buyers can customize these spaces with stone walls, a fireplace and a beamed ceiling.

Even in smaller homes, buyers like having a flexible room that they can customize for their own use, such as a main-level room with an adjacent bathroom that could function as a home office, a guest bedroom, a hobby room or even a small formal dining room depending on the buyer’s choice.

Home offices or a library with doors are popular with a lot of buyers, but they also like the option of being able to turn that space into a bedroom if they need to, says Anissa Willis, vice president of sales for Miller & Smith home builders in McLean, Va.

“We name the rooms on a floor plan but we also tell buyers they can use any space any way they want,” says Patricia Wynkoop, vice president of product development and purchasing at Miller & Smith.

Wynkoop says Miller & Smith offers an upscale townhouse model with a large dining room for people who like to entertain often, as well as a more intimate lounge area and hearth space in back of the house for friends and family. Both rooms are visually connected so the entire main level can be used at once for larger gatherings.

“Buyers want flexible spaces on the first floor and even upstairs now,” Kelleher says. “They want options upstairs for a prayer room, laundry room or a storage closet.”

Accessibility for every generation

As Americans live longer and the baby-boom generation ages, builders are recognizing the increased need for houses that make it easy to age-in-place. At the same time, more people are living in multigenerational households, which also influences how houses are designed. According to the Pew Research Center, a record 60.6 million people, or about 19 percent of the U.S. population, lived with multiple generations in one household in 2014.

“Multiple-generation households and the aging baby boomers are both generating more interest in accessibility issues,” Baker says. “Open floor plans work well with those issues because it’s easier to get around if you have wider halls and doorways. First-floor bedrooms have always been popular in the South and the West, regardless of the price point of the house.”

Not every buyer is ready for a first-floor master suite and configuring a house for that space requires either eliminating other first-floor rooms or a larger lot, which can add considerable cost, especially in areas like the D.C. region where land prices are high.

“Outside the D.C. region, first-floor master suites are far more common, but we’re finding that buyers over age 55 in this area are starting to want a main-level guest suite for future use and a second-floor master suite to use now,” Kelleher says.

Gehman says that south of Virginia, nearly every house has a first-floor master suite, in part because these houses are built on a slab without a basement and more space is needed on the second floor for a children’s play area.

“While our research shows that the majority of home buyers in every generation want a single-family home, 64 percent also want one-level living with a bedroom, bathroom and laundry room on the first floor,” says Rose Quint, assistant vice president for survey research at the National Association of Home Builders in Washington. “That demand for one-level living is driven by older buyers, with 35 percent of millennials wanting one-level living compared to 88 percent of seniors.”

Ossolinski says that many new houses are designed with a first-floor bedroom and bathroom that can function as an in-law suite or a space for adult kids returning home and then eventually become the master suite.

“Designs like that work for multiple generations living together and for aging-in-place, both trends that are driving home designs today,” he says.

Kelleher says that in larger single-family homes, especially those over 3,000 square feet, buyers want a bathroom for every bedroom so that older returning kids don’t have to share one.

“Even when people don’t need a multi­generational house now, we plan for the future with things like a full bathroom on every level and a kitchenette on the lower level with a refrigerator and a microwave,” says Eric Tovar, owner and president of Churchill Classics in Rockville, Md. “We put in elevators or at least design homes with a series of closets that can function as an elevator shaft in the future.”

Tovar says many of today’s popular bathroom features such as large walk-in showers with a seat and a handheld showerhead are functional for future accessibility issues.

“Master bathrooms don’t always have bathtubs now, but those that do tend to have a free-standing tub that’s more of an art object instead of a soaking tub set into one of those platforms,” Gehman says.

Wynkoop says other master bathroom trends include a dramatically long vanity, a linen closet in the bathroom and as much natural light as possible brought in through transoms and “sun tunnels” in the ceiling as well as through regular windows.

Organization and storage

Whether it's the influence of Marie Kondo's "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" or simply the fact that Americans have a lot of stuff, a major trend identified by the NAHB is that homeowners want organized storage in their new homes, including a walk-in closet in the master bedroom, a larger laundry room and as many closets as possible.

“The features that consistently appear on the most-wanted list for new homes are a walk-in pantry and a laundry room,” Quint says.

Gehman says “service spaces” such as areas next to the garage or a family entrance are getting larger so they can provide more storage.

“Most people want a command center or a dedicated spot in the mudroom or near the kitchen with power sources for devices and cable hookups for adults or the kids,” Tovar says. “Instead of having a little desk in the kitchen, people want a bigger space nearby with built-in file drawers and wall cabinets and a space for a computer screen.”

Tovar says that the desire for organization extends into the kitchen, where buyers want pullout receptacles for recycling and trash.

Buyers are evenly split on whether they want a laundry room on the first or second floor, Gehman says. In some larger homes, a second laundry closet will be installed so there’s one on each level, he says.

“Buyers also want a real room, not just a closet, for laundry machines with lots of cabinets and shelves,” Tovar says.

Buyers prefer to have a laundry room with a window if possible, Wynkoop says.

“Sometimes we just don’t have the space for a real laundry room, but even if we have a closet with stacked machines we try to include a sink and shelving so that it feels more like a room,” she says.

Wynkoop says Miller & Smith adds storage under the eaves of the upper floor and in the garage whenever possible.

“Builders have gotten a lot smarter about converting dead space such as under stairs or in small corners into storage areas,” Bradley says. “Everyone wants extra shelving and double hanging rods in closets now, too.”

Larger townhouse models

Even in townhouses, traditionally smaller than a single-family home, buyers are looking for an open floor plan and as much storage as possible.

“The D.C. region is unusual in that there is a wide variety of townhouses in different sizes and configurations even in the suburbs,” Gehman says. “You don’t see townhouses in the suburbs in many other parts of the country.”

However, there is some evidence that townhouses, especially as an affordable alternative to a single-family home, may be spreading to other regions.

“Our research shows a 30 percent increase in the number of townhomes being built in 2016 compared to 2015,” says Robert Dietz, chief economist of the NAHB. “These townhomes are bigger than they were two or three decades ago, sometimes up to as large as 3,000 square feet. In lower-cost markets, they are around 1,700 square feet, but they have been designed more efficiently and typically have an open floor plan on the main level.”

Kelleher says Comstock and other builders design nearly every new townhouse with a central kitchen that has an open floor plan on the main level.

“If height restrictions allow it, we add a fourth-level loft and a roof terrace with options like an outdoor kitchen,” he says.

Kelleher says townhouses are designed now with more emphasis on storage. For example, they offer an optional attic storage space.

“Another townhouse trend is to have two bedrooms on the third floor and a third bedroom either on the lower level or a fourth level for more space and privacy,” he says. “That way all three bedrooms have their own bathroom.”

Pulling a rear-entry garage back from the house is another relatively new trend that allows for a patio off the main level and adds extra square feet inside the house.

With prices for newly built residences frequently higher than prices for similarly-sized existing homes, builders recognize that following trends and meeting buyer expectations is essential for their business to succeed.

What buyers want

Buyers of newly built homes want:

●Wide-open floor plans for informal living.

●Blending indoor and outdoor spaces with covered patios and courtyards.

●Flexible first-floor rooms for a current or future bedroom or home office.

●A bathroom for every bedroom.

●Master bathrooms with oversized showers and no tub.

●Extensive storage options, including larger laundry rooms.