Mark L. Giarraputo

Q&A --

The Way We Live Now

A Maryland architect with a string of awards reflects on the changes in our lifestyles and the way changes in contemporary housing design reflect them

December 09, 2007

When it comes to building a house, architect Mark L. Giarraputo knows his stuff. Homes his firm has built in Maryland, Washington and Virginia have won many recent awards, including seven this year for custom homes from the Maryland National Capital Building Industry Association.

The interesting issue for Giarraputo and others in his business is the constant ebb and flow of American attitudes toward the places where we live -- our ultimate lifestyle statement and refuge. For more than 200 years we have been redefining our homes as we work to impress our neighbors, live better lives and take advantage of technological innovations to make life easier.

The fun thing -- for the people who buy homes and the architects who design them -- is that there are so many different kinds of right architectural answers to meet the widely varied needs and desires of people with large families or small, urban settings or rural, big budgets or small.

So, where is housing going now? We spoke with Giarraputo recently in the Bethesda offices of Studio Z Design Concepts LLC, a firm he and another 1988 architecture graduate of The Catholic University of America founded in 1999. What are the biggest challenges that you face in designing a home ?

First and foremost, always budget. No. 2, you hear a lot of negativity toward development within close-in metropolitan areas of D.C. or Baltimore. People are getting concerned at the size of some of these infill designs. Our goal and challenge is make them more compatible, bringing the scale and proportion of these new homes down so that the neighbors feel good about it and their life and their openness is being respected so that they don't feel they are being built on top of. And there are new amenities that people are looking for in these new homes and they don't want to give them up. It's up to us to make them fit properly. What do people want in a home today, and how do you achieve that with your work?

They want it to function for them, as a family, as an individual. For example, upstairs family rooms are becoming popular, as a place where children or young adults can hang out and watch TV with some of their friends. Kids will have a couple of friends over; they are playing games on their computer. But over time that space can then become a swing space, it can become a homework area, it can become Dad's office or it can become a small sitting room. They are looking for command center areas on the first floor, often for Mom. It's a multipurpose area that can have mudroom capabilities; there might be a big Price Club-type pantry space where you can put all of your big packages. And then there's also a big desk area, where all of the mail gets put. It might be Mom's office area; she can have a bulletin board for the kids' assignments for homework. There might be a nice big bench, lockers. There might be an additional sink in there or an informal powder room there, so that when the kids come in from play, that's where they've got to drop their stuff.

Dressing areas in master bedroom suites. In the '80s and '90s there was a trend toward very large master bedroom areas. What we are trying to do now is make them more intimate, save some square footage, get the furniture out of that bedroom space. The big pieces of furniture are going into closets or more toward the bathroom. People love built-ins. Media rooms and exercise rooms are very popular. You can spend $5,000, you can spend half a million dollars on a media room. In what direction is architectural design of homes headed?

I think things are trending more toward smaller homes. They're not making any more land out there. You make things as compact as possible, with as little wasted space as possible. You keep smaller spaces open from, say, a hallway into a room, so that it can be flexible -- if you are entertaining and if you want to extend the dining room table into the hallway a little bit, you can do that. That great room with the kitchen and breakfast area being so open makes it feel bigger. We have more custom details, and that is making those rooms a little more special: crown moldings, beams, columns. They are taking the formal spaces away and putting more space toward the informal. What rooms or spaces do you believe will fall by the wayside?

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