Not surprisingly, there are plenty of bells and whistles associated with Builder's Ultimate Family Home (UFH), a 5,300-square-foot, Spanish-style house built by Pardee Homes and designed by Bassenian/Lagoni Architects. The four-bedroom, tri-level house--located in Nevada Trails, a Pardee master planned community in southwest Las Vegas--has been designed to produce more energy than it consumes, boasts enough audio/visual (A/V) gear, computer screens, and security features to keep any techno-geek happy, and sits on a half-acre yard that got the kind of flashy treatment one might expect in this theme park known as Vegas. But for the extended cast involved in BUILDER's latest show home, including partner Home Magazine, the catalyst for what turned out to be a comfortable, thoroughly livable house wasn't gadgets but a group of kids.

Specifically, kids between the ages of 8 and 16. That's who made up a Las Vegas focus group convened by San Diego's Marketscape Research & Consulting in May 2002. Their parents came along too, but it was the younger set who really nailed the notion of home.

Project Team
Media: BUILDER Magazine and Home Magazine
Builder: Pardee Homes
Architect: Bassenian/Lagoni Architects
Consultant: ConSol Energy Consultants
Landscape architect: Lifescapes International
Interior designer: Color Design Art

These families wanted things that would make life at home easier (low operating costs, flexible systems and rooms), help their hectic lives (more space for organization and storage, computer-ready stations), and improve family dynamics (a place for solitary pursuits, room for family gatherings, places to play). "Our pedigree is building homes for families, but the focus group helped us hone that notion," says Bob Clauser, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Los Angeles-based Pardee Homes. "We probably listened more to what the kids said than their parents. It was the kids who really thought out of the box."

While the UFH has plenty of traditional spaces (family bedrooms and a bonus game room upstairs, flexible guest suite downstairs) no area of the house better exemplifies this notion of family life than the main-floor wing that's anchored by the kitchen.

The 5,300-square-foot Ultimate Family Home takes its design cues from Spanish architecture and includes such traditional details as deep eaves, recessed windows, decorative ironwork, a boosted clay tile roof, and a smooth stucco and brick exterior.
James Wilson The 5,300-square-foot Ultimate Family Home takes its design cues from Spanish architecture and includes such traditional details as deep eaves, recessed windows, decorative ironwork, a boosted clay tile roof, and a smooth stucco and brick exterior.

The cross-shaped, 1,030-square-foot space features a nook, family room, home management center, and, of course, the kitchen itself, which is anchored by a large, I-shaped, granite-topped island. Color Design Art, an interior design firm in Pacific Palisades, Calif., filled the space with Thomasville furnishings that are long on style and durability; nothing fussy in this family-friendly space, thank you. Nearby is a secondary kitchen for preparing large meals or catering; a mudroom with cubbies for the whole family (and a spot for the dog); a laundry room; a powder room; and the entrance to the three-car garage, outfitted with a workshop and a variety of storage solutions from GarageTek. There are views to the central courtyard and its pop-jet fountain; a covered loggia (with, count 'em, three TV screens); and the fun-filled backyard, executed by Pardee and Lifescapes International of Newport Beach, Calif., complete with treehouse, water slide, pool, and fire pit.

Families still want a real dining room to gather in for special occasions. One notable feature of this space, located just off the open entry, is a wine closet that's tucked into a niche underneath the stairs. Above is a book loft, one of those private spaces that the family focus group said it craved.
James Wilson Families still want a real dining room to gather in for special occasions. One notable feature of this space, located just off the open entry, is a wine closet that's tucked into a niche underneath the stairs. Above is a book loft, one of those private spaces that the family focus group said it craved.

"This kitchen area is the core, where everybody lives, which also came out of the focus groups," says Jeff Lake, of the Newport Beach, Calif.-based Bassenian/Lagoni Architects. "Rather than ending up at the nook table, though, we made the island double as a project space so there's always room for homework."

The home management center, outfitted with built-in desks and two computers, is a fitting spot for the SunChoice meter from Newark, Del.-based AstroPower, which provided the solar system for the UFH, a zero-energy house that also meets Energy Star and Comfortwise standards. (ConSol, based in Stockton, Calif., acted as the energy consultant to this project.) The meter measures what the house generates in terms of energy and what it uses.

"Right now we're generating 143.8 kilowatts (kW) of electricity, but we're only using 69.8 kilowatts," says Joyce Mason, Pardee's vice president of marketing, on a day when the thermometer read 80 degrees in Las Vegas. "The real story at this house is what's behind the walls, what you can't see."

In fact, between the structured wiring for Best Buy's Networked Home Solutions, Amana's HVAC ductwork placed between floors (a cooler spot), and other behind-the-wall concerns, hanging pictures became downright tricky. "There's a lot in the wall besides regular wood and airspace," says Monty Fitzpatrick, Pardee's construction superintendent.

Bassenian/Lagoni Architects "parlorized" the living room, an informal space off the wide-open entry. "We wanted a smaller conversation area as opposed to a large 'furniture-on-display' room that families never use," says architect Jeff Lake. "We also had limited square footage and wanted to use it wisely."
James Wilson Bassenian/Lagoni Architects "parlorized" the living room, an informal space off the wide-open entry. "We wanted a smaller conversation area as opposed to a large 'furniture-on-display' room that families never use," says architect Jeff Lake. "We also had limited square footage and wanted to use it wisely."

More flashy than the understated energy meter is the wall of A/V equipment in the family room; you can see the big-screen TV from just about every corner of the kitchen wing. "That's another thing that went counter to tradition," says Lake, who acted as Bassenian/Lagoni's principal architect on the show home. "Usually, the fireplace and the media center are fighting one another for that central location in the room." Based on results from the focus group, Bassenian/Lagoni and Pardee decided to put the home's primary fireplace in the living room, where conversation--not TV and DVDs--is encouraged.

The living and dining rooms, on either side of the home's entry, have been downplayed to a degree. "The kids in the focus group talked about wanting to have some sort of quiet space in the house, so the living room is more of a conservatory or conversation space," says Clauser. A dining room still holds appeal for families, though, especially for holidays and special gatherings. Here, the two high-ceilinged rooms form an extended entry, which is augmented by views to the interior courtyard. Through multiple sets of Pella French doors you get a glimpse of yet another priority on the kids' wish list: a backyard treehouse. "Home to the kids was being outside and playing in the yard," adds Clauser.

James Wilson

The treehouse was a daunting challenge. "Most people put up a treehouse after a home is already built," says Pardee's Fitzpatrick. "We had to permit this one with the house. Making a treehouse comply to local ordinances and codes was a lot of fun. At every turn we had inspectors out here with backup inspectors. The words 'Swiss Family Robinson' came up more than a couple of times."

Ultimate Family Home: Part II
Ultimate Family Home: Part III
Ultimate Family Home: Product Spotlights

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.