When the Home for the New Economy debuted last January at the 2010 International Builders Show, it was cheekily billed as “the best home never built.” Presented as a 3-D online prototype, complete with a virtual walk-through tour, the efficient design envisioned how market demand for more modest, flexible, and affordable homes might translate into architecture for the next wave of home buyers.  Now that vision has become reality. The concept home that initially existed only on the Internet is now an actual house at Warwick Grove, a traditional neighborhood development by Leyland Alliance in the town of Warwick, N.Y. Leyland built and sold this first one as a test project and has since signed contracts for five more, making the Home for the New Economy the leading plan among the neighborhood's many options. 

This popularity may be attributable, in part, to a continued downshifting of home sizes nationwide. After nearly three decades of unprecedented growth, single family home sizes peaked at 2,521 square feet in 2007 and have since been on the decline, according to U.S. Census figures. Today's average American home is almost 100 square feet smaller than the average just two years ago.

And then there's the new economy price: Leyland Alliance says hard construction costs to build the house are averaging around $100 per square foot.

Conceived and designed by Marianne Cusato as an alternative to the larger homes that fueled the housing boom, the Home for the New Economy plan is fit and trim with lots of space-savers, natural light, flex spaces, and one particularly salient feature--a first floor “adaptable suite.” This hybrid portion of the plan can function as part of the main residence (as a master bedroom, family room, or office), or it can be closed off to serve as an accessory unit for an older family member, a boomerang child, or a tenant to generate rental income. The adaptable suite has its own porch and entrance to the outside.  

Home buyer Catherine Kelly purchased the first New Economy Home at Warwick Grove, and in doing so, cut her living space by more than half. She says the decision to buy was part practical and part visceral.

“The first time I set foot in the house, my reaction was, ‘This is it: I want it,’” she says. “I didn’t need as much space, but what I did not want to give up was the gracious feeling of a well-built house with all the appointments and amenities. This house has high ceilings, large windows, and broad passages between rooms, so you get feeling of spaciousness in a smaller footprint. I don’t need another living room or dining room, and I don’t need two acres of grass to mow. I’m happy with a small garden. Everything here is scaled down, but well done.“

The 1,676 square foot, 3-bedroom, 2½ bath New Economy home prototype is gaining traction in other markets too.

In South Carolina, David Blair Homes has nearly completed construction on one of the homes in Hammond’s Ferry, a riverfront masterplan community designed by DPZ and developed by Leyland Alliance in North Augusta, S.C.  Blair's version of the house includes a few slight plan modifications, including a first-floor laundry room and master suite.

Two Canadian developers, meanwhile, are adopting the plan for communities outside Toronto and Calgary, respectively, both of which are basement markets. Design modifications in this case will likely include flipping the plan configuration so that the secondary bedrooms are below grade instead of upstairs. "This home could fit into an older community, but also be part of a new green community," developer Greg Varricchio told the Calgary Herald. 

Ricky Edgerton, owner of Edgerton Contracting in Yorktown, Va., is taking the latter route. He is building two of the homes on corner lots as part of a new green subdivision in Hampton, Va., which will ultimately include 12 single-family and eight multifamily residences. 

“Our contract with the City of Hampton mandates that we do NAHBGreen or EarthCraft Homes,” Edgerton says, noting that the prototype design was a nearly perfect fit for a revitalized parcel that previously held rundown cottages and an amusement park. “These homes fit the size requirements, and the architecture complies with a pattern book developed by the city that we have to follow,” he explains. 

To make the most of the lot condition, Edgerton’s version of the plan--priced at about $425,000, including land costs--adds a wraparound porch and converts a second-floor storage area into a master bedroom with an extra shed dormer.

“People in our market still want nice amenities, but they don’t want the bigger McMansions and the price tags that go with them,” says Edgerton, who serves as president of the Peninsula Housing and Builders Association. He anticipates a buyer mix of young professionals and empty nesters, particularly military officers in an area where the employment market is dominated by the armed forces. 

Cusato says such tweaks to the plan are, well ... according to plan. “These changes are a fantastic additions to our concept,” says the designer, who has authored several books, including Get Your House Right and The Value of Design. “It’s fun to see people engage with the idea and make it their own. The base concept has always been to make the plan adaptable to as many markets, sites, and climates as possible, and we’re seeing this happen with the New Economy Home 2.0.”

Back in Warwick Grove, Kelly is enjoying version 1.0 of the concept-house-turned-reality. She is using the adaptable suite as a first-floor master bedroom, and reserving the upstairs for her 20-year-old daughter to use when she’s home from college.

“I built a 5,000-square-foot home ten years ago, which is what everyone was doing,” Kelly recalls. “It had two acres, an expansive lawn, a pool, meticulous landscaping … the whole deal. At the time I had four kids and needed a big house. But here I am ten years later and it’s time to right-size. This feels like home for me now.”

For a tour of the Home for the New Economy, plus plans, construction drawings and more, visit www.builderconcepthome2010.com 

Jenny Sullivan is a senior editor covering architecture, design, and community planning for BUILDER.