MARKET RESEARCHER BARB NAGLE doesn't consider herself a particularly fastidious person, but even she was surprised by what she encountered when she knocked on the doors of people who had recently bought new homes.

“We found messes everywhere,” recalls Nagle, whose company, Marketscape Research and Consulting, was commissioned by BUILDER to conduct ethnographic research with eight multigenerational families for our Reality House, which will be open to visitors during the January 2006 International Builders' Show in Orlando, Fla. “We caught people in the middle of their real lives. We were amazed by what we saw.”

Few builders or architects, of course, can afford to return to homes they've built or designed to see how people really live in them. At BUILDER, where we build one home a year, we had the time. We wanted to find out: How do people use the kitchen island—is it really party central? Do in-laws become part of the daily routine, or do they stick to their casita? Do kids use that special retreat on the landing? Where does stuff get stored?

Marketscape, based in La Jolla, Calif., turned its videotaped research—conducted in San Diego, Las Vegas, and Orlando—into design recommendations that were incorporated into the Reality House, designed by Looney Ricks Kiss of Memphis, Tenn., and built by Issa Homes of Orlando. The program for the home—going up in the fabled community of Celebration, Fla., developed by the Walt Disney Co.—was based on the following findings.

TOO MUCH STUFF Nagle and her researchers were dumbfounded by the clutter they encountered. It wasn't like they showed up unannounced; families knew Nagle was coming with a video crew. Upon arrival, she would think, “Wow—what a mess! They sure didn't pick up much.”

The problem, it was soon revealed, was that there was no place to put things. Families just didn't have enough storage room for the stuff kids bring home—backpacks, muddy shoes, sports equipment, and memos from school.

This problem paled in comparison with finding a place for bulk storage. If you don't have a pantry, what do you do with the 24 rolls of paper towels or the 50 pounds of pet food that you've so cost consciously purchased from Sam's Club? The answer, in many cases, was to stuff it in the garage or the laundry room.

PURSUIT OF PERSONAL SPACE Sitting rooms in master suites have become almost de rigueur in new homes today. They afford couples a relaxing place to retreat to read a book, watch their TV shows, or even meditate. But what about everyone else? Where do they go to get away?

This desire to escape is shared equally by all household members. Kids want a quiet place to do homework, but their bedroom often isn't big enough to create a science poster. Older teens desperately want a spot out of their parents' earshot to escape to with friends. And grandparents need to get away from the clamor of family life—after all, they already did their part.

“The TV was always on,” Nagle discovered. “When everyone was home, each generation needed their own discrete space for quiet time away from the family, which is noisy and chaotic. This was true of grandparents, parents, and children alike.”