After two decades of constructing massive, cheaply built, stranded-in-the-suburbs homes, is America ready for a change? Can we really end our addiction to huge? End our addiction to the cruise ship home, full of extraneous amenities, but disconnected from everything else we value? Builder Magazine thinks so.
At the 2010 International Builders Show in Las Vegas, Builder introduced its latest concept home: The Home for the New Economy (head over to the website to take a virtual tour). In response to current economic and real estate trends, Builder wanted to present a design that was cost-conscious but still appealing to America’s image-sensitive homebuyers. They enlisted Marianne Cusato, well-known designer of the Katrina Cottage, to realize their vision. Cusato drew inspiration from utopian small-town architecture characterized by small, stylish homes on closely situated lots that foster a sense of community rather than isolation. The idea is that if newly built homes can re-externalize the amenities Americans demand (movie theaters, gyms, affordable dining) by making communities denser, more walkable and well appointed, homes can just be homes again.
The result is a design deliberately small on space (measuring just under 1,800 square feet) but big on efficiency, flexibility and character. At $110-$150 per square foot, the 3 bedroom, 3.5 bath home is characterized by simple, symmetrical architecture, adaptable storage spaces, and well-engineered plumbing and electrical systems. While the home is not expressly “green” by design, it contains environment and wallet-friendly features like 2×6 rather than 2×4 studs (allowing for more insulation), double paned windows, auto-shut off light fixtures, and propane heat for the furnace and tankless water heater. Cusato devoted more space to common areas than bedrooms, and included a large adaptable “suite” that can be used as an office, play room, or fourth bedroom. The home also features a porch, small driveway and one-car garage. In short: anything anyone really needs.
But, to make the design economically successful, Builder and Cusato returned to what people really want. Their conclusion, that people want more-affordable but still-attractive homes in vibrant communities, informed their design and marketing of the Home for the New Economy. They knew that lackluster, ascetic designs are not appealing to the average homebuyer. Nor are high-tech, futuristic, self-righteously “green” designs. Instead, the Home for the New Economy appeals to America’s nostalgia for the stylish, affordable, comfortable communities of old, but with a modern twist. The home is both familiar and innovative.
Cusato hopes the design will shift homebuyers’ focus from the cost per square foot of a home to the cost of maintaining a home. She believes this will change the culture of home buying, and with it, home building, creating an opportunity re-establish the communities our obsession with McMansions extinguished. A change we can all, very much, afford.
Allison Pofit Altaras is a first year law student, outdoor enthusiast, and fledgling science fiction writer.