The once-scorned suburbs are making a comeback.
On March 9, MarketWatch reported an increase in Generation Y/ Millennials buying homes in the suburbs as they seek stronger communities and more traditional housing. Traditional so long as the homes are fully wired for tomorrow’s technology, use green construction materials for a healthy living environment and are adaptable to changing living arrangements.
“We definitely have to make allowances in our designs now for all the various technology and media that is available,” architect Gene Hodgson, of Pollard Hodgson Architects, said. “We make sure wiring is run everywhere you might want to put a flat-screen TV on the wall, [with] a technology or media closet somewhere for the structured wiring panel. We plan for whole-house sound systems, and lights and appliances that can be controlled from an iPhone or iPad.”
The trend toward less mixed-use development and more multi-generational building was reflected in the past two quarters of the American Institute of Architects’ quarterly design survey as the slow economic recovery reshapes living arrangements and expectations. Families are regrouping as young people move back home for economic reasons, help with child care or assisting aging parents, necessitating renovation or new construction with future needs in mind.
“Don’t design your home based only on what your needs are right now. Think down the road and consider what your needs will be in five - 10 years. You may need a mudroom or playroom now, but later on it may be more important to have a downstairs bedroom with a handicap-accessible bathroom. And, don’t design your house around your furniture.
“I see more mother-in-law suites included in the design of the home in case an elderly parent needs to move in for a while,” Hodgson said. “For aging-in-place families, often it’s just a matter of designing wider doors and hallways or providing wood blocking in the walls for future grab bars that will make a home handicap-adaptable in the future if needed.”
Two areas that in the past were the least significant parts of a home have become the epicenter of modern living – kitchens and outdoor spaces. The “galley” kitchen and adjoining dining room won’t work today, especially in Louisiana, where we pride ourselves on our culinary skills and love entertaining.
“Kitchens and [outdoor kitchens] have definitely grown in popularity and size over the years. With working families, no one wants to be stuck alone at the end of a long day cooking in the kitchen or grilling outside. A larger, more inviting space around the cook, usually with an island, encourages interaction and participation by the whole group. Anything we can do to bring families together is good. I hear every day from clients, ‘Everyone always winds up in the kitchen,’ so we might as well design it accordingly.
“The other space I see that has evolved quite a bit is the master bath. Rather than just being a functional space, it has now become more of a retreat, where you can relax and decompress from a hectic day, whether that means a big soaking tub, a steam shower or watching TV.
“For the exterior of the home, I have seen a renewed interest in Craftsman-style architecture, as well as ‘soft contemporary’ or ‘urban farmhouse’ styles that still have an overall traditional shape and massing but without a lot of the frills or detail,” he said. “By far, historical Revival styles are the most popular. Examples such as Country French or other European styles, Carolina Lowcountry, Texas Hill Country are popular, with the most prevalent still being the Acadian/South Louisiana style.”
Potential clients hear about Pollard Hodgson Architects firm from builders or homeowners who seek assistance with renovation or a design and build, in which case the firm recommends builders from about a dozen they frequently work with. Either way, Hodgson advises researching and interviewing architects, just as if you were looking for a doctor or lawyer. A referral is a good way to start the vetting process.
“If they still like their architect after they’ve been through the whole process of designing and building, that’s a good sign. Make sure your personalities will work well together. You want to make sure the creative process will be a pleasant one with lots of room for give and take. You need to feel comfortable asking questions and verbalizing what you want. I always tell my clients, ‘You won’t hurt my feelings!’ Ask what a typical design process will entail. Will you be presented with different options to choose from rather than just one solution? What happens if you change your mind?
“Building a home is always going to be more expensive than buying the equivalent in an existing home. I have clients that ask why they can buy a house for, say, $100 per square foot, but to build one will run them upward of $150 or $200 per square foot. You definitely have to look at it as a longterm investment. Besides the benefits a new home affords as far as the latest technology and building materials, having a new home that has been custom designed means it will be uniquely suited to meet your needs, rather than having to adapt your lifestyle to fit a home someone else built.”