For the past decade, the Faith Popcorns of this country have been telling marketers how Americans have been spending more time at home, nesting, seeking respite from their frazzled lives in calm, familiar surroundings. Now, Yankelovich proclaims Americans view their homes more like hives than cocoons, seeking to connect with people in their homes and to strengthen relationships as a form of security.

Production builders, meanwhile, with a constant ear trained on customer satisfaction, have continued to oblige those desires by designing homes with gracious, free-flowing spaces where families can spend time together and entertain informally.

But the emphasis on spaces and adjacencies appears to be giving way to more subtle solutions. Marketers on the front line of production builder showrooms increasingly say design and details matter more to buyers than they used to.

Barbara Stowers, vice president of sales and marketing for Taylor Woodrow's southern California region, says the desire for authenticity is a new manifestation of the cocooning trend. "What we're seeing the nation going through psycho-graphically is a feeling that the home is real," she says. "It's the most significant place you can go because you're with the people you treasure most."

Material and Design Integrity

Taking that sentiment in stride, Taylor Woodrow has moved away from synthetic materials and toward products that are authentic but affordable, such as brick, or the judicious use of stone. And in its luxury communities, the builder is introducing homes with a simpler palette and cleaner canvas, using pure architectural styles that complement the region.

"We once thought that to create a community of high-end houses you'd have different kinds of architecture next to each other," Stowers says. "Now the trend is toward architectural purity. If you go into old historic neighborhoods from the 1920s in San Francisco, all the homes are Spanish in flavor, though each one is custom and unique. We're seeing that trend come full circle."

Architect Don Evans, of The Evans Group, in Orlando, Fla., agrees. There's power in architectural repetition, he says. Not in the 1980s sense, when homogeneous streetscapes became the butt of jokes, but in using a common architectural vocabulary, such as coastal or Mediterranean, to create design integrity with a look and feel that goes all the way through the house. "We're starting to see major builders getting a hold of communities and sharing the land with other builders but wanting everyone to understand what the thread is," Evans says. "It started 20 years ago with traditional new-town development, but now builders are doing themed communities that stand alone."

Ten years ago, none of his design work addressed mobility concerns; now, 40 percent of it does. -- Mike Kephart, Kephart Architects Compoa Inside the house, kitchens and master baths are still catching buyers' attention. And design ideas borrowed from the custom market are trickling all the way down to starter homes. Architect Rick Emsiek, of McLarand Vasquez & Emsiek, in Irvine, Calif., recently designed a 1,300-square-foot project for Shea Homes that did away with a defined dining room. The true country kitchen is an idea the architects included in a custom home years ago. They sized the 170-square-foot kitchen to include a 42-inch by 72-inch dining table. Countertops wrap around it, yielding a commodious work space. "You couldn't put both a kitchen and a dining room in that amount of space, but you end up with a tremendous amount of storage and counter space," Emsiek says. "It does put a little pressure on the appliances; they have to be nice because they will be seen."

Bells and whistles once reserved for custom bathrooms are also being incorporated down the line in a more efficient way. A simple gesture like separating the water closet from the rest of the bath appeals to buyers, Emsiek says. And just as a custom client may forgo the tub in favor of a fabulous shower, some production designs get the same treatment. Showers effortlessly replace tubs when they're jazzed up with multiple sprays or a floor-to-ceiling glass enclosure, or are designed without a door -- "ideas you wouldn't have typically seen in an entry-level or first-time move-up home," Emsiek says.

Honesty in function is part of the return to authenticity. Taylor Woodrow is banishing wasted space by toning down formal entries that suggest it's the owner who has arrived. "Trying to impress people is not the most significant thing now," Stowers says, "Rather, it's how to live comfortably and enjoy every day." In its middle-income discretionary product, which targets families, square footage hasn't grown. "People covet space to live outside," Stowers says. "Instead of adding another 400 square feet to the house, we're letting people have 30- and 40-foot rear yards, a rarity in today's market."

Democratic design

Lot size is a non-issue for seniors moving into more efficient, higher-quality homes, but they do want an airy patio from which to enjoy a view without intruding on the neighbor's privacy. And nobody likes to talk about accessibility, but the issue is here to stay. Denver architect Michael Kephart, of Kephart Architects, says that 10 years ago none of his work addressed mobility concerns; now 40 percent of it does. "The most important thing is how you get into the house," Kephart says. "In regions where basements are popular, it takes more work and money to get an entrance that's level with the front sidewalk." Wider doorways, first-floor master bedrooms, and community amenities such as walking trails are all essential design ingredients.

Drafting Board

Architect Don Evans identifies the hottest trends in new home and community design.

1. Flex spaces that can be used for multiple purposes, such as a hobby work area or his-and her's offices in the master suite. "Couples are no longer laying in bed watching TV through their toes," Evans says. "One might be hooked into Solitaire, the other might be reading a book, but they're doing it together."

2. Security features including safe rooms, unbreakable windows, and low-voltage alarm systems.

3. Three-, four-, and five-car garages for cars and storage.

4. Square footage that counts. Museum-like spaces and living rooms are going out the door -- literally -- in exchange for sunrooms, terraces, and outdoor kitchens.

5. Friends' foyers. A higher-order mudroom, the friends' foyer is an entry room, usually on the side or in the back of the house, that connects to the great room, kitchen, or back stairs. Rather than paying for a showy staircase at the main entrance, buyers are opting for just one back stair that leads from the entryway everyone uses, Evans says.

6. Simpler architecture, with a focus on clean design that stands the test of time.

7. Communities that share a particular architectural style.

Paradoxically, Kephart says that most seniors aren't interested in the traditional design mandated by the new urbanism movement, which has a stronghold in Denver's redevelopment zones. "City planners think it makes people comfortable, but that is certainly up for debate," Kephart says. "Too much looking at the past for ideas is the wrong way to do it, in my opinion. A portion of the market is looking for something newer. The senior market is not into the neotraditional thing at all. They want big, wide open single-level plans with lots of glass and light, facing a lake or golf course." If so, active adults aren't the only market force driving the demand for clean, modern design. The shabby chic of domesticating old industrial space has migrated upward to new housing in cities like New York, Chicago, and San Diego. And as land supplies shrink, forcing production builders to purchase infill sites, they are pursuing an edgier aesthetic that attracts urban buyers.

Shea Homes is planning its first loft project in southern California, part of the 50-acre redevelopment of a college campus in Pasadena. Bob Yoder, vice president of community development for Shea Homes, of southern California, envisions a mix of retail, loft spaces, and live/work units coexisting with mainstream products.

"We have a real opportunity to explore more contemporary forms of architecture," Yoder says. "Pasadena is renowned for having the best architecture of whatever time period the houses were built in. We're in this era, so our response would be to build more contemporary designs and not mimic historical designs."

Nearby, in Long Beach, Calif., Greystone Homes, part of the Lennar Family of Builders, is planning two loft communities. One is a new building with 64 units; the other is an adaptive reuse project converted to 47 lofts. Kate Stevenson, marketing manager for Greystone Homes' south coast division, says it will sell the units in the historic building as raw space, with options for partitioning them off.

Like any marketable service, successful design responds to its time while offering up function, comfort, beauty, and authenticity. "The world is changing," Emsiek says. "More creative solutions are required to satisfy the need for housing."

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