It's always fun to tour Parade of Homes models and see what's new. In the joint Pinellas-Pasco parade that starts today, you'll see many of the design trends you've been hearing or reading about in the national magazines.
Such as? Well, take a look at kitchens: lots of light wood cabinets; less of the plain white Eurostyle cabinets that were all the rage a couple of years ago; plenty of stainless-steel, professional-looking appliances; granite countertops everywhere.
In bathrooms, look for roomy, lavish showers . . . taller sinks, which mean less bending over . . . and fewer of those huge soaking tubs. Some builders are putting in smaller tubs, or installing them closer to floor level so getting in and out is less dangerous.
Here in flatland Florida, it was a pleasant surprise to discover Savannah Pointe, a 25-home development off Keystone Road in North Pinellas, where the homes will be built on a bluff _ yes, a hill! _ overlooking Lake Tarpon. The one- and two-story homes, by Emerald Builders, are designed by the architectural firm of Bloodgood Sharp Buster in bungalow and Southern traditional styles. At a grand opening a few weeks ago, Tarpon Springs Mayor Anita Protos called the homes, with their hilly, treed site, "a mix of Carolina mountain and beach Florida." The homes, with lot, range in size from 1,640 square feet to 2,440 square feet and start at about $150,000.
As you tour models this spring, ask yourself: Would this house work for me? Where would the kids throw their backpacks and sports equipment? What about wet umbrellas and muddy shoes or pets? When you enter from the garage into the laundry or kitchen, is there a place for coats, briefcases, mail and keys? Where would a desk go, or the family computer? Where would you iron, or spread out a homework or craft project? Is the square footage allocated in ways that make sense? Or does this house spend lavishly in areas that don't matter, and short-change in the areas homeowners most need space?
Remember that the model you're walking through is just that _ a model. Changes are possible. The builder may be able to add a door, move a wall, add another bedroom, turn the kitchen the other way. Or the builder may have another floor plan that comes closer to what you really need and want. So don't assume that what you see is the only possibility.
Flexibility _ space that can work in a variety of ways _ is one of the themes builders are sounding these days, in response to buyer demand. At the Crestwick model by Ryland Homes at Scotsdale Bluffs in Dunedin, for example, there's a sitting area off the master suite. But the printed floor plan shows how that space could be turned into another bedroom. Or three secondary bedrooms could be turned into a giant children's suite, with a playroom in the middle and bedrooms on either side.
In the model, notice that the area marked on the floor plan as a storage closet has been turned into a computer area outside the children's bedrooms, another good example of helping buyers imagine the possibilities.
At the Trinidad model by Rottlund Homes in the Golfside section of Lansbrook, a pocket door has been added between the master bedroom and the secondary bedroom beside it, which has been furnished as a baby's room. Later that pocket door can be replaced by a solid wall. Or the parents may leave the pocket door and take over that space as a private sitting room.
Another trend that's much talked about these days in the national housing industry is the disappearance of the formal living room, trophy space that, it is thought, no one uses much.
"In five years there will be no formal living room," Gopal Ahluwalia, an analyst with the National Association of Home Builders, predicted in a telephone interview. "People don't use the living room, even for entertaining. It's the kitchen that is the focal point of the home."
A study conducted for NAHB showed that 40 percent of buyers were willing to forego a living room if the space was reallocated for other purposes. High-income households and repeat buyers were particularly willing to do without the living room, while first-timer buyers and single parents were less willing to eliminate it. "The living room is on the way out," the survey concluded.
Ahluwalia expects to see the evolution of a TV/media/electronics area, and the old family room will become a great room off the kitchen.
What a home without a formal living room might look like is on view at the Brighton model by Nohl Crest Homes at Juniper Bay in Lansbrook. A big family room opens off the kitchen and breakfast area. A library, furnished here as a home office that can be used every day, provides additional space for entertaining or relaxing. The clutter inherent in a serious, working computer area _ or a sewing room, or hobby room, or craft room _ can be closed off from the rest of the house, and those doors also shut off family noise from the work area.
What was the most surprising thing I saw in my tour of models in Pasco and Pinellas counties? The increasing diversity of floor plans and styles of housing. A few years ago it was nearly all one-story homes dominated by giant garages, and a floor plan so predictable you could draw it in your sleep. Now the range is broader: one- and two-story homes; new townhouses coming to downtown St. Petersburg; lofts and great rooms, bonus spaces, landings and computer desks; side-entry garages; front porches. Once the interiors were all white, peach and teal. Now designers offer richer, deeper colors, more wood, and more architectural details, not just plain boxes with a few dust-catcher plant shelves.
These homes reflect our diversity: in the ages and stages of our lives and in the makeup of our families. We don't all want or need the same thing, and it's nice to have some real choices. More, please!
There was one other pleasant surprise. In my travels around Pinellas and Pasco in recent weeks I was reminded once again what a special and lovely place this is. Yes, I did my share of sitting in traffic and cursing sprawl. But I also took a moment to watch the sparkle of morning light on the Gulf of Mexico . . . to admire a stand of live oaks draped with Spanish moss shading a Pasco County meadow where cattle graze . . . and to watch in delight as two pairs of great blue herons engaged in a mating dance on the golf course at Wentworth in North Pinellas. Concrete and drywall, insulation and shingles, nails and wiring make a house. These priceless natural gifts all around us make this area home.
Puzzling Interior Design Trend No. I: birdhouses and birdcages. Model after model has a birdhouse atop the kitchen cabinets, or on the counter, or on a shelf in the laundry room; or a birdcage hanging in the breakfast nook, or in the family room, or in the master bedroom. They're everywhere!
Puzzling Interior Design Trend No. II: Old manual typewriters used as accessories in home offices or on bedroom desktops. We can't figure out where to put the family computer, but somehow we're invoking a nostalgia for yesteryear with beat-up old typewriters!