Change We Can Afford: Builder Magazine’s “House for the New Economy”

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.

Welcome to the University of Denver Sturm College of Law/Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute Blog, a special section of! Here, University of Denver Sturm College of Law students will report on emerging, novel and contested land use and development issues from a sustainability perspective. We believe the development of the American West, and indeed the entire planet, necessitates a closer and more responsible look at not only how we use natural resources but how we build our communities and economies.We invite you to comment and engage with us over issues of interest to you. And we invite you to suggest topics for us to research and report on from our unique perspective as law students. But most of all, we invite you to take these ideas and share them with your friends and colleagues so we can all be involved in a more informed and forward-thinking discussion about our future.

3 responses

  1. Allison,
    This concept of high quality living space in small footprint homes is such an exciting topic for you to be sharing. Its something we discussed often in design school and as our generation of American home buyers gets out there its a great relief to see that there are options like this appearing in the market. Coming from New Orleans I think we learned first hand that its the quality of the living space vs quantity that makes a home enjoyable. The builders concept home virtual tour is really great as well…I love the porches and adaptable suite in the rear of the home. Thanks for this article and best of luck with everything!

  2. I think there are plenty of commendable points to this project, with its only major short coming being its appearance. This house is trying to look like it was built 100 years ago but is made with HardieBoard and composite roofing material. The entire product palette is suggesting a new look at what living in America means but the entire home is trying to look old.

    As an architect, I believe that advances in residential construction and the cultural repercussions of how we live have to engage American preconceptions about the home. When you take the virtual tour, stepping onto the porch has the commentator talking about homes that seek authenticity, but nothing about the image of this home is authentic. None of the exterior are the genuine materials they try to emulate.

    Taking a step towards sustainability means taking a step towards change. Instead of trying to make things stay the same, why not embrace the new materials that we have and forms that they can create rather than trying theme our way into some nostalgic dream that only detracts from the REAL old, historical homes.

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