Bridging the Gap
Little cottages may be the darlings of the homebuilding industry, but there’s still a need for homes with high bedroom and bathroom counts, and here’s why. Multigenerational households are proliferating for all kinds of reasons: boomerang kids moving home to save money; elderly parents who need family support; young parents relying on grandparent care for their kids; and rapid growth among immigrant families for whom shared living is a cultural tradition. Sure, smaller homes generally cost less than large ones, but they’re not nearly as economical as a shared mortgage and a household where everyone pitches in. Nearly 50 million Americans now live in homes containing at least two adult generations, up from 28 million in 1980. And with nationwide unemployment rates continuing to hover around 9.8 percent, that phenomenon is likely to continue in the near term.
Now, back to our fixation on small homes. Here’s another development that may be coming to a suburb near you: detached accessory units that share lot space with larger houses. No longer a luxury reserved for the well-to-do (fancied as yoga studios or casitas for weekend guests) these stand-alone structures are coming in handy as granny flats for elderly parents, studios for home-based businesses, or rental units for homeowners wishing to supplement their income. As rentals, the tidy dwellings offer an enticing alternative for singles who want to live a suburban lifestyle but can’t afford a big house. What’s making these residences possible is that zoning tides are turning. Many neighborhood covenants that once prohibited accessory units are beginning to ease, as illustrated by Seattle’s exemplary “backyard cottage” ordinance, which passed roughly one year ago. This housing type could prove especially popular with single women craving small, stylish homes in close-knit neighborhoods that feel safe.
Modular homes are still considered radical by many builders, but there’s a middle ground between box module and stick-built that they are starting to warm up to. We are of course referring to panelized walls, roof systems, and other prefab components as a means of moderating costs, reducing job site waste, and improving quality with structural pieces that aren’t exposed to weather for long stretches of time. Whereas “factory built” was once considered synonymous with “trailer park,” houses today that incorporate panelized design are nearly impossible to distinguish from conventionally built homes once they’re stitched up. And, contrary to some lingering bias, the prefab stuff is not invariably contemporary. Many factory-built homes now come in traditional styles such as Georgian, colonial, and even Victorian.
What are the current materials of choice? Residential architects in the latest AIA home design trends survey report a growing interest in sustainable and cool roofing, tubular skylights that provide natural daylighting, and low-maintenance cladding materials such as fiber cement, stone, tile, and natural-earth plasters. Interiors are poised to see some new finishing options, too. Sub-Zero’s trend-watchers predict that “glass will become the next material to face appliances, cabinets, and even countertops [because it] is not only durable and environmentally friendly, but also versatile. It can be made in many colors and thicknesses, and its surface can have an infinite [array] of textures and technology, including light-emitting capabilities.” Also worth checking out: inexpensive laminate cabinet veneers made from digital photographs of exotic wood species. Wenge wood on a budget, anyone?
Mix and Don’t Match
There was a time in the fashion world when your socks had to match your shirt, your belt had to match your shoes, and your kitchen had to be goldenrod or avocado green. But the age of homogeneity has passed and we’ve entered an era of mass personalization. Nowadays it’s cooler to mix different cabinet styles, wood species, and paint finishes, and to accent new stock with an antique here or there. Although the “granite standard” still lingers, many consumers are starting to explore other options for self-expression, such as terrazzo and concrete countertops that can be inlaid with sea glass or pebbles from that recent beach trip. Or the builder-grade drawer pulls that can be swapped out for antique knobs from your grandmother’s armoire. Little things make a difference if they make buyers feel like their home was built just for them.
Jenny Sullivan is a senior editor covering architecture and design for BUILDER.