When asked for the one word that describes family life at home, participants in our focus groups expressed amazingly similar sentiments. "They used words like crazy, frantic, chaotic, and wild," says Barb Nagle of Marketscape Research and Consulting, who conducted the focus groups. "For parents and kids, life is moving at a hectic pace."

That was the major finding by Nagle's San Diego-based firm from focus groups intended to unearth ideas that could be incorporated in Builder's latest show home, the Ultimate Family Home. Built by Pardee Homes and designed by Bassenian/Lagoni Architects, the home will be featured in BUILDER's January 2004 issue and open to visitors during the 2004 International Builders' Show in Las Vegas.

Participants clearly valued rooms where they could gather as a family, says Joyce Mason, vice president of marketing for Pardee. "But no matter what age group, they also wanted a place where they could get away--be it the garage, computer room, the living room, or someplace else."

These interviews with parents and their children revealed that today's families are looking for a very different new home than they were even five years ago. They seek a home that will help them maintain a precarious balance between individual pursuits and family interaction. They want a practical home that will hold down operating expenses. But they also desire a home with special spaces that will create great childhood and family memories.

To dig deep into specific needs and desires, Nagle gave participants disposable cameras beforehand and asked them to bring pictures of favorite rooms in their existing homes. She also asked participants during these two-hour sessions to assemble collages that illustrated their conception of the ultimate family home. Through questions and conversation, participants revealed what they thought the ultimate family home would contain.

Nagle met separately with children ages 8 to 12 and 13 to 16, and with parents. The younger children really valued outdoor space. The older children were more interested in having a semi-private area to be with friends. The parents, in addition to their need for order, wanted a place for solitary pursuits. Here are the major findings.

The need for organization

Parents describe home life as "overscheduled" and "busy." Scheduling family activities--soccer games, school activities, and other social stuff--is a top priority. "With the family moving in so many different directions," says Kathy, age 38, "we need a home to be organized and calm." "We're never there," adds Kelsi, age 10. "We're always going to soccer. My dad's never home."

A place for solitary pursuits

Every age group wants the ability to get away from the family at some time, whether to a secret space, a parlor to practice piano, or a spot to pay the bills. "I like lofts," says Sarah, age 11, "because they are quiet little spaces where you can get away from the traffic of the house ... . I would like a secret room that my parents don't know about." Eleven-year-old David says his favorite room is the living room. "I like it because it's quiet. I go there to read or take a nap."

Room for family gatherings

Yet it was clear that people also crave places to come together as a family. They used to gather around the fireplace or the dinner table. Today, they congregate to watch TV in the family room, work or play on the computer in an office space, or work on a car in the garage. Even though it's seldom used, families don't want to let go of a formal dining room for holiday dinners.

Plenty of storage space

Related to the need for organization is the need to store stuff. Families want places to drop off backpacks and the mail, to wash the dog, hide kitchen messes, put away bikes and skateboards, and store holiday decorations.

Low operating costs

No one wants to spend more than they absolutely must to operate their home. Many families stretch financially to buy the largest home they can afford. Often, there isn't much left over for monthly utilities. "We constantly adjust the thermostat to keep our rooms regulated," says Peter, age 42. "One room will be hot while another is freezing cold. With energy prices going up, it's important to have an energy-efficient home."

A home that's obedient

Families today want spaces that allow them to feel like they are in control of their homes, instead of the other way around. They don't want to move out until ready. Parents might live upstairs near their children at first, but the option to move downstairs once their kids grow older is compelling. Similarly, electrical, computer, and mechanical systems need to be easy to operate.

A house that's fun

With all the stress created by work and school, today's families are looking for relief at home. Kids especially value a home that provides spaces to play; the more unique the spaces, the better. Everyone values a great backyard. For kids, the backyard is often their fondest memory of homes where they used to live.

A practical home

Families today will gladly trade impractical, hard-to-heat-and-cool vaulted spaces for functional rooms that complement their lifestyle. They want to get the most value for their housing dollar. Designing rooms with dual uses makes eminent sense. Why, they asked, can't a living room serve as a library or a home office serve two people?

A computer-ready home

An amazing amount of computer activity is going on in homes today. Kids want their own computers. Often, both parents need access to the computer. "My home office is like my own personal retreat," says Robert, age 46. "I have a sofa, TV, computer, and a phone ... . What more do I need?"

Aaron, age 12, says his favorite room is the computer room, where he plays games. "Sometimes all six people in my family are in there. I kind of wish I had a computer in my own room. I could play games on the one in my room and go on the Internet on the other."

Kids Speak Out When we asked the kids in our focus group what features they would include in the ultimate family home, their responses bordered on the fantastic.

* Bryce wants a built-in rocket ship, an indoor hot tub, a skylight in his room, a game room, an attic in which to sleep or hide, and a boat dock to a lake. Kelsi thinks it would be cool to have a carousel. But she'd settle for another couch and a room for her piano. "I love pianos," she says.

* Aaron wants a four-story house with his parents relegated to the first floor "so they could be alone." An elevator would take him upstairs to a children's suite, of sorts, with several bedrooms and a game room that includes a pool table. His notion of an ideal home bordered on a compound, with a spare home out back for guests, a basement reserved for kids, and a stairway to an underground submarine base.

* If there was one feature all the kids agreed should definitely be in the house, it was a laundry chute. David raises the bar a notch by asking that the chute be expandable for human travel. A future interior decorator no doubt, he also calls for a bowling alley in the living room, "the boringest room in the house." David's luxury conveniences would include a hole in his bed through which he'd slip to get automatically dressed, a teleporter to take him to his friend's house, and a laser system to protect against intruders. "You'd press one button and fences would go up," he says.

* Tyler, apparently already thinking about future life on campus, says his dream room would have a bed 6 feet tall, with a roped-off area underneath where he could relax with a big TV, a radio, a video intercom, and a satellite feed. Instead of stairs, Tyler wants a fire pole for going downstairs to dinner to go along with a half pipe in the backyard. And in case of war, he'd like it if the whole house could just descend underground.

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