Mansion amenities are trickling down to everyday homes

Features once found in custom jobs show up in production housing

December 05, 2004|By Sharon Stangenes and John Handley | Sharon Stangenes and John Handley,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

A growing interest in luxury homes priced at more than $1 million means those wealthy enough to afford the newest in home design are often the taste makers and harbingers of future housing trends.

Granite countertops, commercial ranges, multiple family rooms and multibay garages, features once limited to the luxury market, are now coveted and found in production housing.

"Stone exteriors are the big new thing," said architect Charles Page of Page Builders in Illinois, who has been designing and building custom homes for 40 years. "Up until three or five years ago I hadn't done much stone. Now that's all I do."

The continuing popularity of French-style architecture for luxury housing may be part of the current interest in stone. It also may be part of the desire by buyers, even those with big budgets, for houses that are as durable and as low maintenance as possible.

Stone is not that much more expensive for those already spending a lot, Page said: "People discovered stone is worth it, even though it costs $50,000 extra over brick."

Today's hot amenities include basketball courts in basements, exercise spas, home theaters, prayer rooms, walk-in cold storage lockers and safe rooms.

"Specialty rooms are popular today," said Juli Jacobs, a partner with her husband, Keith, in Illinois-based Jacobs Homes.

Basketball courts and gyms are being built in basements, but wine cellars are moving up to the main floor.

"Some people want massage rooms to relax from their high-stress lives," she said. "Master baths are big enough for a chaise lounge. Home theaters are almost standard."

Prayer rooms are very big for ethnic buyers, Jacobs said. People are looking for nontraditional spaces, such as yoga studios and exercise spas, said David Smith, vice president of marketing for Cambridge Homes.

"They want more than just traditional workout machines," he said.

Page sees multiples of not only appliances such as two or three dishwashers, refrigerators and sinks in the kitchen, but an increase in multiple rooms:

"Every home has two family rooms, two or three laundries, two exercise areas - one for the kids, one for the adults. Also, many have two offices - usually mom's is off the kitchen."

The architect emphasized that basements are now called lower levels:

"We have to put storage under other parts of the house because there are so many other uses for basements."

One item that appears to be diminishing in popularity is the two-story ceiling.

"People want the floor space," said builder Curt Langille, president of Lanco Development Co. near Chicago.

Elevators are growing in popularity, according to Page, "and not just for older couples. Elevators are becoming standard in luxury homes."

They even are being built into townhouses, said Smith, adding that prices for an elevator begin at $15,000 to $20,000.

"Outdoor space is hot. That includes pools, fire pits, barbecues," Langille said.

Juli Jacobs said shallow wading pools are popular and "rectangular pools are coming back because of the need for safety covers that only are made in rectangular sizes."

There's a resurgence in screen porches, said Page, "even though we've been doing them for 20 to 30 years. Now people want to make them year-around rooms and put in fireplaces."

Patrick Curran, president of West Point Builders in Illinois, said his company is designing homes to provide enough windows to expand the interior views to the outside year-round.

Custom buyers have embraced home theaters (the costs are half what they used to be, Langille said) and plasma televisions (Page finds he is designing around plasma TVs and his homes have as many as three).

However, some builders are seeing a mixed response to whole-house high-tech systems.

"One client paid $5,000 for someone to come in and reprogram the whole-house electronic system. One client has hanging tags on the controls to tell which zones the switches control," Keith Jacobs said.

One high-tech area that continues in demand is home security.

Jacobs noted that a number of custom homes are being outfitted with multiple security cameras that are tied to the TVs. Some buyers are asking for safe rooms, as an escape from intruders or terrorists.

"These are like the air raid shelters of yesteryear," he said.

About 30 percent to 40 percent of custom buyers are very hands-on and compulsive, Page said:

"They're on top of every detail. They're computer-savvy and even find products I didn't know existed."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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