Time was when custom homes were just that: custom. Homeowners, with their architects and builders, prided themselves on being different and distinctive by crafting a home to fit their lifestyles instead of the CC&Rs (covenants, conditions, and restrictions).

But drive through just about any recently developed custom neighborhood these days and all of the houses look about the same. No doubt there's a certain security to that trend--that if no one is too edgy then everyone is safe from suffering the plagues of a pink elephant. But it can make for an uninspiring streetscape ... as well as for homes that dictate a lifestyle rather than the other way around.

For the most part, the homes inside Beach View Estates, the custom section of the Lakes at West Sahara in Las Vegas, maintain the status quo: hulking structures in traditional styles, finishes, and detailing. Nice, but nothing really to hold your interest, even to a custom home neophyte. And while you can't argue with waterfront lots within 15 minutes of The Strip, serviced by one of the city's few true arterials, the neighborhood lacks an excitement and vitality--a death-knell in a city like Las Vegas.

That is, until a 5,180-square-foot testament to what custom homes are meant to be (and might be again) sprouted up on one of the few remaining lakeside lots just inside the guard gate. It's The New American Home (TNAH) 2004, a concrete and copper cornucopia of advanced (yet marketable) lifestyle, comfort, construction, detailing, and design ideas.

Clean lines and open spaces afforded by the loft concept enable long sightlines and access through the main level and out to the vast courtyard.
James F. Wilson Clean lines and open spaces afforded by the loft concept enable long sightlines and access through the main level and out to the vast courtyard.

If at first glance The New American Home's lack of dentil moldings and second-story dormers appears to belie its moniker, you only need look a bit closer to see how it truly earns that distinction ... perhaps more so than any of its 20 predecessors.

It is, of course, a home--in this case, a loft structure seeking to attract a narrow niche of affluent and sophisticated empty-nesters and never-nesters who value different over dull. It is also decidedly American, assuming you define that term as a melting pot of international influences stirred up into a unique expression.

But it is mostly new. The loft concept is new to the suburban, single-family home vernacular. By successfully employing innovative structural materials, the project offers new hope to builders struggling to deliver lasting quality in shortened cycle times. Presented as more of a blueprint than a strict layout of rooms and spaces, the house puts forth the neo-novel idea of letting the owners decide how to use it. As a departure from the norm, from the street and throughout its three levels (including a basement), TNAH 2004 provides builders with a new marketing angle to capture a growing number of well-heeled yet young-minded buyers.

New Ways to Live "It's in my genes to make things simple," says architectural consultant W.A. "Lex" van Straten, principal of Food for Buildings in the Netherlands, who brought the loft concept to the project. "For me, less is more, not more is better."

Instead of wowing visitors with volume, the formal entry establishes an elegant tone for the house.
James F. Wilson Instead of wowing visitors with volume, the formal entry establishes an elegant tone for the house.

The loft presents clean and contemporary design and finishes. From its stainless steel appliances and flush maple cabinets in the kitchen right down to its colored concrete floors and welded steel staircases, TNAH 2004 offers a simple, elegant template for the owners. "A homeowner's interests and activities change all the time, but houses have not allowed or can't be adapted to meet those changes," says van Straten. "The loft allows them to move into a house with many possible uses over time."

That flexibility of use, he says, translates to long-term housing durability: If you can change the home's functionality to match interests and needs over time, then the longer the service life of the home. "In the West, we don't think what we build [today] will or can be around in a hundred years," says builder Bart Jones, vice president of Merlin Contracting & Developing, in Las Vegas. "That attitude is changing, and the loft allows infinite uses so the owners can age in place."

An elevator serving all three levels and full secondary suites in the home's walk-out basement, not to mention the home's concrete and steel structural elements and finishes, extend that expanded definition of durability even further.

The loft layout also brings an urban vitality to a suburban environment, a welcome alternative to cul-de-sac living. "It's another housing option for the suburbs," says van Straten. "It's a new choice for that kind of setting."

Courtesy Stepstone and Appian Way Sales

Product Spotlight: Suspended Pavers

Like a suspended ceiling, the 2-foot-square pavers on the home's extensive entry courtyard are a facade--in this case, a durable, attractive surface over a sloped concrete pad that drains water away from the house. Resting level on adjustable pedestals at every corner, the pavers are dry-set so that rainwater or runoff drains through the joints and onto the sloping pad below. The removable, interlocking, and weather-resistant pedestals can be set on any structural system, allowing fast and simple installation of the concrete pavers, even over a wood frame. Pavers by Stepstone; pedestals by Appian Way Sales.

The New American Home: Part II
Part III
Part IV

The Floor Plan: New Ways to Design The beauty of the loft is its flexibility and simplicity, presenting a blank slate for a multitude of uses and interior design approaches. Among the major rooms of The New American Home 2004, only the kitchen and master suite have dedicated or obvious purposes. The remaining spaces can be finished and furnished to accommodate the owner's passions and lifestyle needs ... almost at whim and especially as they change over time.

1. Multipurpose room: Whether arranged as a traditional living/dining area, fashioned as a library/study, or used as a workshop or studio space, this large, open room exemplifies the value of a loft design.

2. Lower-level entertainment: In a world of shrinking lot sizes, the house locates the majority of a modern luxury home's perks in a well-lit walkout, enabling adequate room for everyday spaces above grade.

3. Upper-level luxury: In addition to an appropriately opulent master suite, the upper level features a multi-use area as well as generous terrace spaces for private and public pursuits.

4. Outdoor excitement: Every level opens to a terrace or patio, including a waterfront dock, entry courtyard, and walkout from the basement level.

5. Quirks: No true custom home would be complete without some quirks --in this case sophisticated, thoughtful quirks--including a drought-tolerant succulent garden in the basement light well; an art gallery; an elevator; a jetted outdoor tub on the master suite terrace; and copper just about everywhere you look.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Las Vegas, NV.