This article was featured in our December 2014 issue of BUILDER Magazine.

Rob Hull and the design team at John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods had plenty of time to rethink how people interact with their homes.

While waiting out the recession, Hull and his crew noticed a sharp evolution in the way people defined a home's form, flow, and function.

Rob Hull, vice
president of architecture at John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods.
Rob Hull, senior vice president of architecture at John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods.

“Everybody went through the downturn and the way people live changed, the way people thought about housing changed,” says Hull, vice president of architecture.

The Smyrna, Ga.-based company developed a line of houses, the Signature Portfolio, and ditched the notion of compartmentalized rooms with specific purposes. The new design incorporates layouts that allow walls to move for space customization and open floor plans.

 “The crash happened and people started to realize there are things that are important—family and friends—and they started to look for spaces and houses and places where they could get together as a family and have parties,” he says. “It just sort of refocused their thought process, I think, and we realized houses had to be updated to that current thinking.”

Expanding the size of windows and eliminating nooks that separated one room from the other created continuous, breathable space that feels right, Hull says.

One of the most innovative concepts was creating a removable wall to connect the indoor space with an outdoor patio.

“I love being able to move from the outdoor patio to the living space and really not even know when I’m inside or when I’m outside,” Hull says. “I’m a sunlight junkie.”

To bring more light inside when the wall is closed, windows were dropped at the bottoms and heightened at the tops to create a floor to ceiling entrance for outside light.

Opening Up
Donald Ruthroff, senior associate at Pleasanton, Calif.-based Dahlin Group Architecture, agrees that families are redefining living spaces through a more relaxed lifestyle and attitude. For instance, the formal dining room has been eliminated in most households.

“It’s certainly a trend toward a more open plan—less compartmentalized,” he says. “There’s less separations of space for guests and family. Guests are much more welcome in the family space of the home now.”

As a result of evolving living habits, snack bars, eat-in kitchens and informal eating areas are high in demand, Hull says.

“Think about the way people live: Everybody’s got a laptop, they sit in the corners,” he says. “There are these little spaces that people gather in and they’re doing one thing while someone is doing something else.”

And fostering interaction by opening the spaces up allows one room to blend into the next.

“A lot of the attention was focused on the living spaces of a house,” he says. “So we realized the kitchens and the living rooms and the breakfast areas—all of those spaces wanted to work together.”