Changes in home style won't be dramatic or space-age, many designers say

November 04, 1990|By Gene Austin | Gene Austin,Knight-Ridder News Service

The 1990s probably will be a decade of significant changes in housing styles and home-building techniques, but despite the proximity of the year 2001, don't look for many new homes shaped like spaceships or loaded with high-tech construction materials.

Most experts on housing trends believe the typical new home at the end of this decade and century will look much like today's, at least on the outside, and will be built largely of today's materials: wood, brick, concrete.

"I think traditionalism will stay; people want to live in homes with traditional scale and features," said James W. Wentling, a Philadelphia architect who is chairman of the housing committee of the American Institute of Architects.

However, many builders and architects think the decade will be one of continued experimentation and refinement of homes to suit changing technology, lifestyles and economic conditions.

Concepts expected to get a lot of attention include:

* Better energy efficiency.

* More leisure-time facilities.

* Better facilities for the disabled and elderly.

* More factory-made components.

* More automation of home systems.

* More use of plastics.

* More affordable housing styles.

Experimental and demonstration houses are helping to point the way for major technological and lifestyle changes. These homes include so-called Smart Houses at sites in Baltimore, Bowie and elsewhere; the General Electric living-environments concept house in Pittsfield, Mass., and the NEST (New Expanding Shelter Technology) homes built for annual conventions of the National Association of Home Builders.

"Homes are going to have to get more condensed, but in !B compensation there will be more quality," said Mr. Wentling. "It doesn't make sense for the median square footage to continue to climb." The median size of a new single-family home was 1,815 square feet in 1988, up from 1,520 in 1982, and preliminary Census Bureau figures for last year showed another increase, to 1,850 square feet.

"We'll see higher density because of very high land prices -- a smaller home on a smaller lot and a low-maintenance lifestyle," Mr. Wentling said. "Most of the homes we're designing are going to have higher ceilings -- nine feet is getting standard -- larger windows and a feeling of spaciousness. Another thing is the combining of rooms -- using columns and half-walls to separate instead of full-height walls -- pulling rooms together. These themes will work in estate homes as well as starter homes or multifamily [houses]. There will be more pizazz, more quality."

Mr. Wentling has put many of his ideas about home design into his new book, "Housing by Lifestyle: The Component Method of Residential Design."

More communities with closely clustered homes are envisioneby Caswell F. Holloway III, president of Holloway Development Corp. of Newtown Square, Pa., one of the Philadelphia area's leading users of innovative building techniques.

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