Time to escape After tackling an urban location for The New American Home (TNAH) '01 show house, the team took the '02 edition to the suburbs--this time to explore new variations on move-up housing with distinctly southern charm.
The Atlanta metro area is one of the fastest growing in the United States and remains the No. 2 housing market. Its continuing demand for bigger and better move-up housing inspired TNAH's design team to find a fresh perspective on suburban living. Shunning the region's typical Georgian brick tradition, the '02 home is 21st century in appeal, with an elevation to charm even the most buttoned-down traditionalists.
Together, the 2002 show house team and members of the National Council of the Housing Industry (NCHI)--The Supplier 100, chose a rolling hill double lot at Vinings Estates, a John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods community in Smyrna, Ga., in suburban Cobb County.
"We have a diverse and exciting buyer profile in this community," says Michelle Horstemeyer, associate builder for John Wieland Homes. "It's a great site to do the show home. We see small move-up families, merged families, large families, friends living together, and empty-nesters. But they all ask for the same thing: flexible spaces and room to entertain."
To meet such diverse profiles, Horstemeyer anticipated that the home would need to showcase innovation. "The home is unique. You won't see many island-style plantation homes in Atlanta, so that makes it special. But it would certainly appeal to anyone who wants timeless or traditional, too," says Horstemeyer.
Both the historic plantations of Georgia and the colorful open plans of Caribbean houses inspired the original elevation and home concepts. "Georgia has a long history of trade with the Caribbean, so it's not unusual to combine the concepts into one," Horstemeyer notes. "The home is bold and colorful on the inside and full of surprises at every turn. ... There is a lot to learn; every room or zone is different from the next."
This combination of traditional styling, a rambling floor plan, and bold interiors may be just what buyers want next. The $1.2 million-plus home's floor plan was built with four bedrooms and five-and-a-half baths with options for up to seven bedrooms. The multiple flex spaces were a hit. In fact, the home went to contract three months before the International Builders' Show.
"We should not limit our expectations of the type of buyer who needs these kinds of spaces," Horstemeyer says. "I am continually surprised that some very modern people want traditional elevations. And on the flip side, some traditional people want new, bold interiors or floor plans."
For TNAH '02, the team saw an opportunity to combine new finishes and textures with traditional materials. "The mix of materials from the inside to the outside was very important to us," says Horstemeyer. "People like traditional elements, but so many of the new materials and surfaces are so compelling that home buyers ask for them." Horstemeyer and the design team met that challenge by designing the home with multiple combinations of products--wood and cultured stone and laminated wood floors with Brazilian cherry risers.
"The result is that the house has many textures, but they work well together," she says. Horstemeyer, a former technical writer for Wieland, has been part of the building team for nine years. "Once you get to know the diversity of products and their applications, you naturally want to start building. Being in the field is the perfect job."
To make sure the design of the home incorporated new ideas for flexible spaces, Builder and the TNAH team selected architect Melanie Taylor as the designer. Taylor is principal of Melanie Taylor Architecture & Gardens in New Haven, Conn., a European-trained classical architect, and a graduate of the Yale School of Architecture. She says she saw the answer for the home by approaching it as three separate buildings.
"When I saw the site, I imagined an old plantation estate sitting high on the site with two or three guest cottages nearby," says Taylor. "I thought that fictitious picture could evolve into making the home feel like it was new construction that had two old cottages added to it for more space." Taylor, who was born in Miami but has also lived in the Bahamas, saw an opportunity to tie into the floor plan the colorful Caribbean she loved. She envisioned indoor/outdoor relationships between rooms and a causal openness that would subdue Southern formality.
"We did not want a sprawling house but rather a 'new American cottage.' So my island inspiration and the Georgia low-country elevation combined rather effortlessly," she says.
"A plantation-style home with bold colors and a 'collected' interior [where items have been added over time] spoke of the owners as well-traveled people. That is what I saw here," says Taylor.
She developed the concept for the floor plan by anchoring the main living areas in the center of the home and visually "attaching" the master suite. Her goal was to make it look like a separate cottage was added to fit on to the upper level of the three-level sloping lot and joined to the main house in the center.
"The windows, ceiling height, and exterior elevation of the master suite area are distinct from the rest of the home. Like a cottage within a cottage," she says. "And that is not unusual for this part of the country--to evoke the mood of a home within a home, or to design additions to blend into the original house."
Horstemeyer agrees. "The value here for builders is that whether they build production, move-up, custom, or even do some remodeling, there are great ideas on space planning to learn from this compartment-style concept."
"Large master suites and baths will still be popular. And that means that sometimes plans may have to ramble," she says. "The days of opening the entry door and seeing the whole path through the house are over." Horstemeyer thinks it's high time builders added a sense of discovery to new homes.
For this home, that discovery may begin with the two-story front elevation, which is a bit deceiving. It appears to encase a 3,500-square-foot cottage on two floors. But with a bonus lower level, the home actually totals 6,431 square feet. "There is space to add rooms for a growing family, a merged household, or just to have lots of options for entertainment spaces," says Taylor. "But the ceilings are not soaring, and the trim work is rich and detailed, so the home is intimate, though large."
Horstemeyer adds that buyers seem to prefer modest ceiling heights and are willing to trade square footage for more thoughtful plans. "They're tired of high-volume ceilings. They carry too much noise through the house, and it is expensive to cool and heat all those wasted spaces," she says.
The home's rambling floor plan is anchored by a central octagonal rotunda. "The main advantage to the octagonal shape is that each room has maximum views to the outside, and each zone is designated for a particular use, which ensures multiple activities can happen simultaneously, and privacy is assured," says Taylor.
The master suite "cottage," to the left on the main level, is actually the second floor of the three-level house. The upstairs kids' loft and bedrooms are on the third level, while the living room is directly across from the entry, and the ample "keeping room" (a large informal entertainment zone) and kitchen are to the right.
Though spacious, the home is not ostentatious. "The lesson here is not to add rooms but to maximize the spaces you have," says Jeff Akin, president of the western region for Wieland. "There are larger homes than this that do not live this well or circulate this well. You do not need to build a 6,000-plus-square-foot house to have great spaces. But you can learn from them."
Akin admits that it takes more time and energy to improve a floor plan in the planning stages, but it's worth it: "Whether you build it as production or customized, it takes effort to really ask detailed questions about how people would live in the space, and how they would use it on a daily basis. ... It may not cost more money, but it does take time; you have to commit and do it up front."
Akin, Horstemeyer, and the design team met continually during planning and construction stages to find ways to make the home stand out. "The uniqueness here is that the home is open--you can see outside from anywhere and get outside from anywhere. But we made sure the sight lines ensured privacy, and the trim and details were one-of-a-kind," Akin says.
Indoor/outdoor spaces are critical, Akin adds, because most of his clients use their outdoor spaces 10 months of the year.
Trimmed to a "T"
Wieland took advantage of building this show home as a way to show off the company's passion for great trim work. "Builders need to look for special focal points to make homes more memorable to buyers," says Akin. "And trim does not have to be expensive. As an industry, we have to stop doing the same old things and make styles more notable. We have to give the buyer a 'wow' moment. Builders sometimes get into a rut."
The trim details begin at the front entrance. There, the tongue-and-groove ceiling is reminiscent of the traditional Caribbean architecture.
"This is like a fashion show, and this is the runway model. You won't see this 'on the rack,' and it may be too much for some, but there are a lot of great ideas that translate to everyone," says Horstemeyer.
She suggests giving buyers at least one or two special trim areas--spend an extra $500 or $600 on detail trim items--and also spend more on lighting, Horstemeyer says, "it makes a 200 percent difference in how buyers feel about their home being distinct"
While the home has almost $50,000 in lighting upgrades, Horstemeyer says even modest allowances will make buyers feel like they received something unique. "We need to get away from $60 dollar fixtures and try to offer even just one upgraded lighting system."
Hearth and home
Southerners have a reputation for a love of gatherings. And in the deep South, long before the advent of gathering zones in the home, keeping rooms were the norm for informal celebrations. Elegant yet cozy kitchens with adjoining breakfast nooks, fireplaces, and reading corners were the rule for many Southern country houses as places to keep warm and extend hospitality.
The multi-zoned kitchen is designed to accommodate active lifestyles. Durable finishes and dual action are the rule: double ovens, double sinks, double refrigeration, and double food preparation zones. The kitchen includes a commercial-style double oven and cooktop, a commercial-style range, a large-scale refrigerator/freezer, and gourmet countertop appliances.
"The kitchen area is rich but still maintains the cozy warmth of the South and the vibrancy of the islands even though we have state-of-the-art appliances," says Taylor. Dark cabinets are offset by the neutral concrete tile floor with "faux wood"-style pickets, also made of concrete. DuPont's Zodiaq countertops in earth tones match the concrete flooring.
A built-in desk/study area by the fireplace provides a flexible space for activities like homework or planning family schedules. Old-fashioned, farm-style copper sinks by Kohler, though new, add a sense of history to the home.
Horstemeyer feels that the kitchen and keeping room accommodate the needs of the modern family. "Most people do not entertain formally, and even if they do, it is not a weekly activity," she says. "Having a livable space that is casual for daily interaction but can serve for entertaining is more practical."
The keeping room also has access to the guest suite, a first-floor laundry room, and the porte-cochere. A custom iron stair and rail forged by local artisans leads to the lower-level recreation area.
Taylor created the master suite as a cottage within the home. "I wanted the windows to be charming and to give it a feeling of being a cottage in the woods," she says. The master suite features a Juliet-style balcony that overlooks the pool and spa area. The bedroom zone boasts a fireplace built into the wall and a convenient breakfast bar for a jump start in the morning or wind down with evening refreshments.
The master suite space also features wood trim details that are reminiscent of Caribbean houses and continue the emphasis on craftsmanship first noticeable in the foyer. Interior merchandiser Jillian Pritchard says she approached the merchandising here differently than in the rest of the home.
"Most of the interiors are about color in finishes and bold art," she says, describing the look as "Primitive Modern"--rough or textural elements amidst neutral surroundings and bold accents of color. "But the master suite takes a neutral tone. I wanted it to feel like a resort or an escape."
Pritchard, president of J.P. Ltd. in Atlanta, says that buyers want to pamper themselves. "There are many buyers who are willing to forego an expensive vacation each year and take that money and spend it on their home," Pritchard says. "This is a great escape, and you don't need luggage. This is as elegant as anything you would fine in a Sedona spa."
The master bath zone includes dual walk-in closets, dual vanities, an octagonal garden-style shower (jutting out into the garden with windows all around), and a separate tub with picture window to the side yard. Counter vessel sinks are finished in satin nickel as are the faucets.
The shower was designed to reflect the mood of ancient Roman bathing halls. "The champagne/gold pebbled mosaic stone floor tiles are matched with split-face wall tiles. It gives the room a rustic elegance that is very textural," Pritchard says. The shower has three options for water release: a large rain dome in the center, a handheld on one side, and a traditional showerhead.
"Life is constantly changing, and people are longing for places at home to linger and rejuvenate but also to add a sense of fun to home life," Pritchard adds.
Travertine floors in 18-inch square honed tiles contribute to the resort feel. Repeating the focus on extensive trim work, the master tub deck is surrounded by a detailed wood casing and frame evoking an island cottage bath. The suite occupies the southeast side of the house and allows for both northern and southeastern light at the ends of the suite. Two walk-in closets and a cedar closet meet the demands for ample storage. A dry cleaning system makes in-home touch-ups of garments easy.
In the zone
One of the most exciting spaces in TNAH is the recreation level. The 2,000-square-foot walk-out basement area has a billiards/game room zone, with a dry bar and wine cooler closet; an exercise and massage zone, featuring a built-in sauna; indoor/outdoor verandah, and access to the swimming pool and spa. The lower level also has a Martha Stewart-inspired craft room that doubles as a safe room in case of emergencies.
The main focus of the area is fun and recreation. "The access to the outside is ideal, and you can't find a better use of a basement level than a multiple entertainment and relaxation zone like this one," says Akin. "Move-up buyers would rather find their entertainment at home than elsewhere, and this gives them lots of flexibility."
The team envisioned the future owners of TNAH as health conscious. So an exercise room for the home was a prerequisite. "Most of us have seen the large home theaters in basements. We thought a new variation on the bonus space would be to create a true home spa room," says Horstemeyer. "With such a great pool area and indoor/outdoor zones, it's a natural." The exercise zone includes weight lifting and cardiovascular machines and three suspended 27-inch flat screen TVs for multiple sport or market watching.
A sauna is tucked next to the exercise and massage zone. "You don't have to travel to find a good day spa anymore; you can have people come to your home for body work or massage therapy. It's a great 21st-century trend," says Pritchard. She adds that though utilitarian, the zone feels influenced by natural surroundings. "People in Atlanta love the outdoors, and nature is important here. We used natural fibers in the woven wood shades to give the area an organic feeling," continues Pritchard. "The lava brown-colored tiles on the floor also evoke an exotic spa location." The ceramic tiles in the exercise room, which run throughout the lower level, are accented by acorn yellow walls.
"We see two trends in color and surfaces," explains Pritchard. "One set of tones is rich and dark but not traditional. The other set of accent colors is vivid and bright. So we used both throughout the home as contrasts amid neutral rooms."
Anchoring the entertainment zone and billiard area is a large wine bar clad in hammered copper tiles and an amber-colored concrete countertop. The countertop, an aggregate mixed with shards from broken wine bottles, highlights the wine bar theme. Pendant lights are encased in old wine bottles, which blend with the home's interior colors. Saddle-brown paint accents the copper tiles of the bar. Behind the bar, a large triangular window allows views inside the wine and beverage cooler.
Competition and relaxation go hand-in-hand in this entertainment space: A large, antique-style billiard table awaits players in the center of the room, while movie-goers can order favorite movies via digital satellite and watch them on the wall-mounted, 60-inch plasma screen.