Luxury and custom home buyers are the most discretionary buyers. They already own one or more homes. They have the money to buy what they want. And they are picky. That's why in order to build our luxury 2003 show home--HomeDestinations at Southern Highlands--for this January's International Builders' Show, BUILDER needed to find out what these buyers want. We convened a focus group in early October 2001 with 12 affluent Las Vegas homeowners and asked what drew them to their current large, luxurious homes and what features they wished for in their next homes. Home work San Diego-based Marketscape conducted the informal focus group sessions to find out how respondents would "tweak" even the most glamorous of residences for added comfort and satisfaction. "Despite their affluence, these homeowners live life in ways remarkably similar to buyers at substantially lower price points. They still do dishes, their kids still have homework, and they are plagued by the same 'piles of stuff' that typical American consumers contend with," says Marketscape's president, Barb Nagle. Creature comforts The homeowners characterized luxury beyond conventional expectations of features and amenities, Nagle says. They want "supreme convenience": no extra steps, no awkward access, everything within reach. This supreme convenience manifests itself in a variety of ways, Nagle says, including:
Photo: Lisa Henderling
  • preference for single-story homes or extra stair cases in two-story homes;
  • television/media at every turn;
  • easy access to services and service people (e.g. manicurist, masseuse, caterer);
  • ergonomically thoughtful design, particularly in the kitchen and bath, to avoid unnecessary bending or stretching (e.g. builtin steps, higher appliance placement, etc.); and
  • classic features like dumbwaiters, master bedroom kitchenettes, and centralized electronic controls. Living large Our group participants described luxury communities as golfcourse-type communities with gates that set them apart. Homes, they say, should be at least 5,000 square feet with rich details such as stone. There should be architectural design character on the exterior elevation. Luxurious homes should include a private pool, they agreed. All commented on the exterior garden walls of the home, which provide privacy and serve as an oasis, sheltering areas from winds in the harsh desert environment. Participants pointed out important elements about their current homes: views of mountains and/or golf courses, the blurring of indoors and outdoors, and the sound of water. "Being in the desert, we want to hear the water, see the water," one respondent explained. Lots of storage "Keeping daily life's piles and clutter out of sight was a key priority," Nagle says. Respondents appreciated spaces designed for specific purposes, such as:
  • laundry rooms that could accommodate peripheral chores (dry cleaning, mending, washing large items);
  • a catering kitchen or equivalent to facilitate largescale entertaining;
  • a mud room that offered individualized storage of indoor/outdoor accessories like dirty shoes and golf bags;
  • a workout room large enough to accommodate equipment;
  • unique vanity storage for personal appliances, health and beauty products, and other items that clutter the master bath;
  • climate-controlled indoor bulk storage for rarely used housewares and collections; and
  • a dedicated "hers" office for household management and other activities, with storage space. Participants indicated that in the desert most storage space needs to be air-conditioned and nodded approval at the woman who had a 400-square-foot storage space in her air-conditioned garage. Last but not least, respondents were intrigued by hidden spaces, additional security, and an aesthetically pleasing equivalent of a 1950s bomb shelter (a fully-equipped safe room for hiding valuable belongings and to go to for safety in an emergency). A place for everything Where to put the home office or offices depended on what their uses would be. Though, wherever they were located, the owners wanted builtin storage. For owners whose primary activity was keeping the home organized or working on hobbies and crafts, a popular solution was having a door that could be closed to hide the mess. One respondent used her walk-in pantry to hide "her piles." Another had a small office in the master bedroom where she organized the next day's activities while her husband watched television. Those with children had even more requirements. "We need spreading and hiding places. When the kids do their homework, they need space," said one respondent. Respondents running formal businesses wanted a professional office close to the front door and away from the kitchen.
    Photo: Lisa Henderling

    Specialized places Traditional living rooms proved controversial. Some participants referred to their formal living room as the away room. Others said they never used the formal living room and wouldn't have it again. That begged the question: Could a living room be something else? Possible options included a library or personal sanctuary. What everyone appeared to agree on was that kitchens and family rooms should be open to one another with the television accessible to everyone. Respondents also wanted specialized places for specific activities:

  • a gardening area near the hose in an area protected from wind;
  • a catering kitchen with separate exterior entrance;
  • a quiet meditation room;
  • an arts and crafts room; and
  • an exercise room. Kitchen detail For convenience and ergonomic reasons, respondents suggested two raised-height dishwashers that would speed cleaning time and minimize bending. They also mentioned refrigerator drawers and pasta-pot spigots. Other popular notions included a fold-up step-stool that looks like a cabinet, toe kicks in kitchen cabinets that contain drawers (a possible space for rarely used holiday place mats), and a cabinet housing a rollout butcher block. Respondents were envious of the woman who had the extra deep sink and commercial sprayer for cleaning big pots. Because the pantry often hides clutter, respondents suggested that it be big and not visible from the front door or hallway. Sitting and breakfast areas continue to be key, as do culinary "toys," like pizza ovens. Bathmania Memories of luxury hotels, beach resorts, and spa vacations prompted respondents to recreate these experiences in their own homes, Nagle says. There was substantial emphasis on personal care, with the master bath only one component of the personal pampering package. Among the features that held special appeal were:
  • his-and-hers master bathrooms and the feeling of being at the Four Seasons all the time;
  • indoor whirlpool tub, steam room, sauna, or other spa accoutrement;
  • a handheld sprayer in the master bathtub, so it can be easily cleaned;
  • a shower with seating;
  • a deep drawer for tall beauty products;
  • a massage room and/or manicure room;
  • a makeup room; and
  • outdoor lounging areas reminiscent of tropical resorts, replete with water features and sun/shade options. Courts of appeal Participants raved about how important and useful their courtyard spaces were, including one respondent who said, "I didn't know what a special place it would become." These openair spaces are in daily use. "I read the paper, drink coffee, and have a drink at night. ... I love my courtyard," one woman said. Another added, "In the summer, we eat almost all our meals in a courtyard off the nook. It's on the cool side of the house. It's a play area, because there's a front gate. It's very functional." "I like to air the house," said another. "I can leave the front door open." One woman opens the doors between her courtyard and master bedroom and leaves them open all night. Another had an outdoor fireplace installed. Where should builders put courtyards? Evidently, there's no wrong place to put them: One woman used hers regularly even though it was on the "hot" side of the house. The most popular courtyard spots cited were off the master bedroom (with an outdoor shower), off the guest bedroom, off the family room, and in front of the house. The little things Laundry figured prominently in the discussion. Two laundry roomsone upstairs and one downstairs--or a laundry chute were thought necessary. One respondent was particularly enamored with her dumbwaiter: "It goes right from the kitchen to the bedroom. You don't have to carry anything." Where to locate the master bedroom sparked debate in this group. Those who valued the master bedroom downstairs cited aversion to stair climbing and privacy for children in upstairs rooms as reasons for level-one masters. Of those who wanted the bedroom upstairs, one said she simply felt safer on the second level.
    Photo: Scheurer Architects

    First steps Well-off consumers are easily able to meet their needs. Attracting them, this focus group proved, is a challenge measured in details. Unearthing the details, however, was just one step in the laborious process of designing the ultimate luxury idea house. Next, our team of building professionals had to take hundreds of design ideas and incorporate them into a 16,500-square-foot house. In our next installment ("Monumental Efforts," December), learn how the detail-intense home went from foundation to finished in just eight months. Then, our January 2003 show issue coverage will unveil the house in its full glory, showcasing the results of focus group research and a supercharged production schedule. And, you'll be able to see it for yourself at the International Builders' Show in January.

    At the Helm

    "Our respondents were the thoroughly affluent," Nagle says, of the group of 12 women who made up the HomeDestinations focus group. "There was no discussion of compromise, no mention of budget, and no obvious concern about resources. As a result, most respondents believed they had, or would have, access to everything they want in a home." The group was all women because they are far and away the primary decision makers in the luxury market. All baby boomers, the women ranged in age from 40 to 50. One was a highpowered marketing executive. Others did not work outside the home. Husbands were either entrepreneurs or highranking executives. Some of these women owned multi-million dollar custom homes on golf courses with mountain views. Others lived in luxury-production homes with every possible option and upgrade. Several already owned a Christopher Home, the builder of the show home. Participants say they are definitely sated consumers. They have the funds to meet their needs and do; it is hard for them to think of an unmet need. Those we asked couldn't even think of anything new on the design horizon (a clear opportunity for builders and product manufacturers to come up with the next new must-have items). These folks, if they know what the new things are and want them, will buy them.