Customizing is trend in any size house In new homes and old, buyers want a personal fit


September 07, 1997|By Karol V. Menzie & Randy Johnson

NINE-FOOT ceilings and Palladian windows. Sitting-room kitchens with fireplaces. Cathedral ceilings with plant shelves over closets and stairwells. Built-in media centers with strong architectural presence. First-floor laundry rooms near the kitchen, often in a hallway to the attached garage. Sun rooms and libraries. Walls of windows or French doors, topped with elaborate transoms.

These are just a few of the features turning up in townhouse and single-family developments around the area. If you're planning a renovation, if you've bought a house in a good school district that you want to turn into your dream home, if you're planning a custom home, or even if you're just wondering what to expect when you look for a new house, here are some of the latest ideas.

"People in general are customizing a great deal," said Heidi Watt, sales manager for Macks Homes, "whether it's small items or larger features. I don't think builders can afford any longer to say, "Here's the layout, here are the options, take it or leave it."

Among the smaller items, she said, are "interesting architectural features -- more like an older home," such as oak stair treads with elaborate railings, interior columns as space definers, and taller baseboards, in keeping with the taller ceilings. "Lighting has become more important," she said, with people preferring recessed lighting in kitchens and family rooms.

When it comes to large features, she said, people like extra rooms that can be used as sitting rooms, home offices, or a library or study. And "cathedral ceilings are standard in all our master bedrooms. I've never had anyone say, 'Can you flatten that?' "

Jim Joyce, president of the Baltimore division of Ryland Homes, said, "The addition of sun rooms is the biggest floor-plan influence" he's seen over the past couple of years. "You can do them at two or three different levels. It's a very dramatic addition to a house." The addition of a sun room to a townhouse can bring its appeal closer to that of single-family dwellings, he said, especially among empty-nesters. "They see a three-story sun room and say, hey, let's consider a townhouse."

Kitchens are getting bigger, Joyce said, and they're tending to come with islands and more elaborate appliances, moving away from slide-in ranges and toward cooktops and double ovens.

In single-family homes, Joyce said, a simple twist in the orientation of the main staircase has dramatically altered the traditional floor plan. In a plan Ryland calls the Windsor, displayed at the new Hollifield Station development in Howard County, the living and dining rooms are defined by columns on either side of a two-story foyer. The stair to the second floor sits at an angle, and two hallways radiate through the house, one to a study, one to the family room.

Watt said some empty-nesters, however, are doing away with stairs entirely.

"People are desperate to find new ranchers," Watt said. "They don't want to worry about steps, but they want to keep the more modern features, like 9-foot ceilings and 'super' baths with a soaking tub and separate shower, walk-in closets, and great-room kitchens as well as a formal dining room."

Randy Johnson is a Baltimore home-improvement contractor. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail us at, or write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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