By Christina B. Farnsworth.

The New American Home: Townhome Trilogy

In traditional townhomes, middle units are often darker inside because they have fewer window walls than end units. In this six-unit building, B is the middle unit, twice. But it is definitely not dark; the building's configuration guarantees it.

RNM Architects Walt Richardson and Bob Tyler overcame the curse of the middle unit in several ways. First, they made this the largest of the dwellings, at 3,221 square feet. Second, the building bumps out to give the B unit windows on three sides and a spacious corner terrace with French doors on two sides. Then they designed in a spiral staircase in a glass-faced tower. And just in case the family doesn't want to bother with stairs, however attractive, the architects included an elevator in the entry.

Interior designer Gilmer imagined these homeowners as an Asian-American couple verging on retirement. They are in their 50s and might listen to classical music, he says. This is their second home. It is a fun getaway now for themselves and their children and grandchildren, but it may become their primary residence later.

Sophistication is evident from the moment one opens the front door to see a wall that soars from the lower level all the way to the top of the stairs. The wall does not quite touch the entry floor. A railing allows visitors to peer down to the lower level and fully experience the slice of vertical space.

The plan is extremely flexible. There are two master suites, each with equal appeal. The upstairs suite is a private getaway with wonderful views and a deck almost as large as the bedroom. The lower-level suite shares space with a home office, a library, and another large flexible room that can be either another office or guest quarters. The lower level has direct access to the lap pool and an outdoor fireplace. Which will be the primary suite? How to choose? Views or outdoor amenities? It's a tough choice. But there is no problem getting to either suite with the home's elevator.

Back on the main level, the living area is open but formal. The interior design team emphasized the look by choosing some classic fabrics such as a rich Fortuny velvet for one of the great room chairs; it plays off the rich satin color of the fireplace.

The kitchen is also rather formal. In some ways, it extends right into the dining room. Upper cabinets are tall, reaching all the way to the ceiling (all the better for storage). The cabinet most visible from the great room has two sets of doors; the lower set has panel inserts that look like rice paper, giving the cabinet a furniture feel.

Timberlake's Sonoma Maple Spice cabinets, used throughout the kitchen and the main kitchen island, also form the base for one end of the dining room table, which is in some ways a built-in second island at seating height with room for eight or nine generous-sized chairs. As decorated, those chairs deliberately don't match. A separate nook with a small table is just the spot for the couple to informally dine alone.

Also featured in the kitchen is a wet bar with a wine rack that stores 60 bottles--five cases of wine.

Unit B is equipped with Whirlpool's newest home amenities: the PersonalValet, which freshens dry-clean clothing; the Sink Spa, a jetted sink for hand-washing lingerie and linens (and maybe the family dog); the ImPress Ironing Station (a timed outlet makes sure the iron is never accidentally left on); and the front-loading washer and dryer set called Duet, with optional drawers underneath that raise its height. The garage features the Gladiator GarageWorks storage and workbench system.

Laundry room flooring is Armstrong's crocodile pattern in Quicksand. It features a new patent-pending reverse embossing technology that gives the flooring not only the look, but also the feel of real iridescent reptilian skin. Like the A unit, most of the flooring is Bruce Hardwood. In the B unit, it is a rich deep color.

Overall this is a low-maintenance house, fun as a second home and welcoming as one for retirement.

Product Spotlight

Weather beater: A house in the desert needs windows and doors that are energy efficient, but they must also stand up to the damaging effects of the sun. Weather Shield's ProShield windows and patio doors will help the houses do both. Both products have wood interiors and durable vinyl-clad exteriors. Windows have dual seals that virtually eliminate air and gas migration, and optional ThermoGold low-E2 glass is available for improved thermal performance. Doors also have weather stripping on the vinyl interlock and inside stop for a tight seal. www.weathershield.com.

Floor show: Carpeting may be warm, but it does not allow homeowners to see and control dust. Wood is a healthier option. These homes have over 6,000 square feet of pre-finished engineered and solid-strip hardwood flooring supplied by Bruce Hardwood Floors. Engineered flooring consists of three or more layers in a cross-ply construction. Unit A has 2,461 square feet of 3-inch-wide engineered New Castle Plank and Unit B features 1,937 square feet of engineered Merbau Plank. Unit C has 1,750 square feet of Natural Reflections solid strip. www.bruce.com.