Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Changing New Home Interior

Owing to intense competition from discounted foreclosures, the end of demand for McMansions and a growing interest in sustainability, the Home for the New Economy introduced earlier this year at the International Builders Show promised a design that will compete with older resale homes in terms of both cost and utility. The only problem back in January? The home was built in digital format only as a 3-D rendering, and had yet to be offered to the home buying public.

Since then, however, the former concept home has become a reality at Warwick Grove, built by Leyland Alliance in Warwick, New York. Originally conceived as a real-world test project, Leyland has managed to sign contracts for several more in what is still a mostly traditional neighborhood.

So what makes this new design so different? Besides a much smaller size – 1676 square feet featuring three bedrooms and 2.5 baths – a simplified building design which takes advantage of standard sizes for supplies has cut hard construction costs to just $100 per square foot. Other builders in South Carolina, Virginia and outside the Canadian cities of Toronto and Calgary have also joined in, with some modifications for their local markets including laundry rooms or flipping the upstairs bedrooms below grade.

The Home for the New Economy was the brainchild of New York-based designer Marianne Cusato, the same person who signed up retailer Lowe’s to market her 300-square-foot “Katrina Cottages,” introduced in 2005 as a better substitute than FEMA trailers to house victims displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

As an extension of the tiny Cottage, these larger homes still feature clever space-savers, natural light, high flat ceiling plates versus inefficient vaulted ceilings and operable windows on every outside wall that bring in light while also promoting cross ventilation. Room sizes are also important, with common spaces justifiably larger than lesser-trafficked rooms such as bedrooms or bathrooms. In addition, bedrooms feature increased insulation between walls and closets to accommodate a noisy clarinet practice session or a mini home theater.

But the true calling card of Cusato’s design is the idea of a first-floor adaptable suite, which can function as a family room, office or master bedroom or can also be closed off and offer privacy to an in-law, an adult child or even a paying tenant. For maximum flexibility, the suite’s closet even comes with rough plumbing that can expand into a kitchenette while a separate porch can provide a separate entrance. Given today’s economic realities of increasingly aging in place, homes that are built to offer flexible uses over an owner’s lifetime are becoming much more than an interesting idea.

For the crucial kitchen and bath areas, controlling clutter in a smaller space becomes a primary focus. Even though the kitchen measures just 11 by 12 feet, a combination of deep drawers, pantry shelves, a two-level eating bar and stacked upper cabinets take advantage of the 10-foot ceilings while also maximizing storage space. In the secondary bathroom, a separate alcove for a stacked washer and dryer further takes advantage of the existing plumbing while eliminating the need for a separate room. Best of all, since kitchens and bathrooms are grouped together or stacked on top of each other, plumbing becomes much simpler to install as well as maintain.

Finally, the design also considers its role as part of a larger community; instead of simply being plopped down and demanding attention for their own specific elevation elements of brick or wood or stone, the homes are envisioned to make a statement as part of an entire community. And that change alone could be a primary reason for a buyer to consider a new home versus an existing foreclosure.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

September column for Builder & Developer magazine now online

My September column for Builder & Developer magazine is now posted online. For this month's issue, which is entitled "Affordable Housing Demand" -- I discussed the the challenges of building affordable housing and cited a couple of successful projects on which MetroIntelligence has consulted.

An excerpt:

Given the enormous inventory of unsold homes in the marketplace, it’s very easy to claim that the U.S. is simply over-housed. But despite 300,000 new foreclosures per month and a national apartment vacancy rate of nearly 8%, in many metro areas there is still not enough housing for low-income households. The reasons for this shortfall are many, including high prices for land, impact fees, zoning requirements and pricy carrying costs. Add to that list uncooperative neighborhood groups who assume that affordable housing equals increased traffic, utilitarian architecture and neighborhood decay, and it’s no wonder that the demand chronically exceeds supply.