For the New American Home's 20th anniversary, the NAHB's National Council of the Housing Industry tripled the excitement with three townhomes built for today's varied marketplace. By Christina B. Farnsworth

Product Spotlights by Nigel F. Maynard/Photography by James Wilson

For the 2003 New American Home, the National Council of the Housing Industry wanted to up the ante. Instead of a single large home, the council, along with other sponsors, chose for the first time to do three townhomes.

These are no ordinary townhomes. They incorporate innovative designs, healthy-house and energy-efficiency features, and something you may not have heard before--visitability. Visitability describes homes accessible to people of all physical abilities. In other words, these are 21st-century homes for all lifestyle stages.

The New American Home
Take the A Plan
Bachelorette Pad
The New American Home 2003 Team
Adding to the project's luster, this New American Home (TNAH) community nestles in the rolling hills of a place that almost did not come to be. That place is the magical Lake Las Vegas Resort, roughly 20 miles southeast of the Las Vegas Strip. It took decades to get approvals for this desert oasis.

Lifestyle rules

To illustrate the variety of buyers that luxury townhomes attract, the team created three hypothetical owners:

The smallest, the 2,699-square-foot C unit, is home to a bachelorette. She is a successful attorney with a passion for the dramatic and the income to indulge her passions. She might own the crystal chandelier in unit C, auctioned after its appearance in the newest James Bond movie.

The next largest, the 2,950-square-foot plan A, houses a dual-income couple and their eight-year-old daughter. He is an architect; she is a surgeon. This is a busy family that craves low-maintenance elegance.

The B unit, the third and largest dwelling at 3,221 square feet, is the second home of an Asian-American couple verging on retirement. The husband is a corporate executive, and the wife has been a traditional homemaker involved with the Junior League, a book club, and volunteer work. Their home is a fun getaway now; it may be a permanent home later.

Each home showcases design, construction, and product ideas that these hypothetical consumers might want. Units B and C have elevators, something that may become a standard feature in homes as boomers reluctantly age. Though estimated prices for each range from $825,000 to $975,000, thanks in part to their show-home finishes, there are ideas in these units for even the most affordable homes.

Photo: James Wilson

Looking up the hill at the townhomes that make up The New American Home 2003, they resemble an Italian hill town. This is a six-unit building, but the townhomes are flexible enough in plan to be grouped in a variety of configurations. Birth of a lake

Lake Las Vegas is a study in irony, dream, imagination, and contradiction. Consider that Las Vegas is located in the Mojave desert and receives a paltry 5 inches of rain in a typical year. Yet the name Las Vegas means "the meadows" and for centuries it lived up to that name. It was a natural watering hole with verdant meadows, a place where weary travelers rested as they crossed the Mojave.

That image of Las Vegas seems like ancient history compared to the city's glitzy, high-growth present. Las Vegas began its modern-era expansion with the opening of the Hoover Dam in the early 1930s. Hoover Dam collected and stored Colorado River water in Lake Mead. And it was Lake Mead that, in a circuitous way, led to Lake Las Vegas.

The development's history can be traced back to J. Carlton Adair. Adair, the legend goes, owned land that would have become shoreline on Lake Mead. He wanted to open a casino, but the U.S. government did not want him to. So Adair swapped his shoreline for land and a guaranteed amount of Lake Mead water, which he planned to use to create his own lake, Lake Adair. Unable to bring his vision of the lake to reality, Adair declared bankruptcy in 1972.

The land changed hands as the government argued about its deal to give so much Lake Mead water to a private concern. Final approval of the original deal only came in 1989, when another big-dream company, Transcontinental Corp., based in San Diego, acquired the 2,245-acres. Texas brothers and billionaires Sid and Lee Bass are partners in Transcontinental. The firm's work includes the development of Lake Arrowhead, Calif., and Waikoloa in Hawaii.

Today the 320-acre manmade Lake Las Vegas is and probably will always be the largest privately owned lake in Nevada.

Best estimates are that $4 billion have been spent on land development and infrastructure to create the resort.


The drive from The Strip to Lake Las Vegas is almost a journey to another country. One heads east on Lake Mead Drive and passes Calico Ridge, a road likely named for the mottled, calico-cat-colored hills. The first resort experience is seeing the waterfall cascading from barren mountain foothills as one turns left onto Lake Las Vegas Boulevard.

The boulevard curves. There are peek-a-boo glimpses in the distance of the Las Vegas Strip with its Egyptian-style pyramid, small-scale Eiffel Tower, and replica New York skyline complete with Statue of Liberty. The road passes the new Ritz-Carlton with its bridge, a contemporary version of Florence's Ponte Vecchio. It is as if bits of Italian monuments and villages have been airlifted from their verdant hills to the calico-colored ones of Nevada.

Indeed, the Italy envisioned is really the dream of Transcontinental chairman and president Ronald F. Boeddeker. On a trip to Italy's Lombardy region, he visited Lake Como and felt inspired to bring that look to Lake Las Vegas.

Architect's palette

The first challenge facing Las Vegas builder AmLand Development and RNM Architects/Planners, based in Newport Beach, Calif., was creating the six-unit building on plots that had already been platted in AmLand's Vila di Lago, a gated community. The team had to work within an existing land footprint.

AmLand had already been building a mix of single-family detached and attached clustered homes at Vila di Lago.

To stay compatible with the existing community and the development's Italian architectural theme, RNM's design for The New American Home had to both be innovative and blend with what was already there. The diverse palette of raw design material reflected bits of Italy, Lombardy, Lake Como, village clusters, existing lots, yet it also had to have all of the 21st-century amenities. The New American Home townhomes successfully hint at Italy's architectural heritage on the outside, but inside they are playful and practical.

There are three levels in each home, but only the ground level occupies the home's entire footprint. Bridges, cutouts, surprise open-spaces abound. Walls do not always touch floors. Railings protect onlookers while calling attention to, and allowing them to appreciate, vertical spaces that in some cases soar three stories. There are little "wows" in each of the homes.

Beauty does

These houses are not just pretty faces and fun plans. AmLand Development teamed with Building America's IBACOS consortium to make them function as well as they are formed. The goal was to reach a home energy rating system level of 90, a 50 percent reduction in space conditioning and hot-water use versus a typical home. Each of the homes achieved the goal and an Energy Star certificate.

The energy package starts with Icynene spray-foam insulation, used in walls and on the underside of the roof sheathing to provide airtight insulation from the Nevada sun. Insulating the attic provided a more temperate and efficient location for air-handling units and ductwork. Lennox supplied equipment for the A Unit, Carrier for the B unit, and Trane for the C unit.

Cool sub-systems abound. Unit A features a heat-recovery ventilation system. Distribution systems pump fresh air in the B and C units. Weather Shield low-E windows minimize solar gain, and overhangs shield vulnerable windows from direct sunshine. Mastic paint-on sealer prevents leaks in ductwork (leaking ductwork can cause homes to lose much of the energy saved by installing efficient heating and ventilating equipment). To make sure the homes function as designed, IBACOS is monitoring them for one year.

Product Spotlight

Photo: James Wilson

Foam home: The three townhomes use Icynene's insulation system, a spray-in-place soft urethane foam that is made of a water-based organic product called polyicynene. The manufacturer says it provides an air and moisture barrier system in walls and seals floor and ceiling cavities against air movement. It also improves indoor air quality, helps reduce airborne sound from penetrating a home's walls, and controls air leakage so buildings can perform 30 percent to 50 percent better than with traditional insulation.

Photo: James Wilson

Family fun: The theater room, though visible from the kitchen, is still its own sanctuary. Dark blue walls call attention to the wall-mounted plasma television. Timberlake cabinets match those in the kitchen. Counter material from Zodiaq is Borealis Blue.