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Homes fit for a queen

I'm no different from the rest of the world: I love to look at multimillion-dollar homes and play the game of "what if" and "when I win the Lottery." (A friend recently gave me a pin that proclaims me "The Queen of Everything." Well, then, I should have my own palace.)

Recently I spent a morning visiting four homes priced between $1.7-million and $2.8-million, fully furnished. (The queen need bring only her tiara.) They were all in the Portmarnock section at Lakewood Ranch, a huge master-planned community on the Manatee-Sarasota county line. (Take Exit 213, University Parkway, off Interstate 75 and drive east.)

What do you get for a few million dollars? Well, lots of space, of course. These models ranged from 4,462 to 6,170 air-conditioned square feet. You get lots of rooms _ multiple bedrooms, offices, bathrooms, big foyers, halls. You get a big homesite overlooking a golf course or conservation sites. You get a lot of very expensive fixtures and finishings and fittings. And these models include all the furniture, window treatments and accessories.

Here's my list of Multimillion-dollar Model Must-Haves, the features I noticed over and over as I visited the four homes. (They are the Rhapsody by Arthur Rutenberg Homes, the Claremont by Anchor Builders, the Nariah by John Cannon Homes and the Villa Venezia by Pruett Builders.)

Ceiling details: coffers, trays, insets; wood paneling; and painting and faux-finishing techniques.

Floors in a variety of materials. No one-size-fits-the-whole-house here. The flooring materials changed from room to room: wood, tile, stone, carpeting. That's bamboo flooring in the Anchor model.

Tile details: "area rugs" created out of tile to center a dining room or set off a foyer or add some interest to a tub or shower stall, a bar area or a kitchen or bathroom wall.

Stop-and-drop spaces in the back entryways, outfitted with cubbies, bins, hooks and other places for all the gear we haul in and out of the house.

Window seats.

Pot-filler faucets over the kitchen cooktops.

Professionally outfitted kitchens, of course, are a given, including multiple dishwashers. I liked what sales agent Dennis Blazey called the "double-wide" at the Pruett model: a 36-inch-wide GE Monogram refrigerator side by side with a 36-inch stand-up freezer. Of course they were neatly disguised behind cabinetry doors with custom-made stainless steel handles. This kitchen also had hidden storage for spice containers and towels.

Front-loading washers, many of them raised a foot or so to make loading and unloading easier.

Huge closets outfitted with furniture-quality shelving and cabinetry. In one house a light turned on automatically when the closet doors were opened.

Enormous free-standing bathtubs in the master baths, typically smack in the middle of the room. (Her Majesty doesn't get these; perhaps she is simply more modest than many of her subjects.)

Glamorous outdoor spaces with full kitchens, fireplaces, lighting and sound systems, tropically landscaped pools with fountains (the Rutenberg model was a showstopper).

Balconies and second-floor porches. (The Cannon model offers what it calls an "upper lanai," a second-story porch overlooking the pool and patio.)

There is also a list of "not in my castle you don't" cliches and gaffes: Please, will all the designers stop rolling up the bathroom towels and stacking them in baskets or on open shelves? . . . Can we do something about the wiring so we don't have half a dozen switch plates lined up in a row on the bedroom wall to control lights, fans, etc.? . . . Bars in the living room are too Las Vegas for my taste, but suit yourself . . . Will someone think up something else to do with that bonus-room or game-room space other than a pool table?

Many of the Multimillion-dollar Must-Haves, in somewhat stripped-down form, are found in more affordably priced homes. Still, it's fun to fantasize, if only for a few hours. If you're planning a new home, maybe you can pick one or two to incorporate. The full list _ well, we'll reserve that for royalty, or for our dreams.

Come home to a resort

The next day I left my tiara at home and hit the road to Manatee County to explore more modestly priced homes.

The destination this time was GreyHawk Landing, a new 650-acre residential community on State Road 64, on the site of the former Milky Way dairy farm. (I'm in love with the name.) Eventually there will be 800 homes here, most of them overlooking ponds and lakes, including a stocked fishing pond.

Sam Rodgers Homes and Arthur Rutenberg Homes already have models open, and U.S. Home and Homes by Towne expect to open their models shortly. Prices will range from the $250s to the $400s. A grand opening is scheduled for October.

The community is oriented around sports and recreation. The developer plans a walking/jogging/bike trail just under 2 miles long, a ball diamond, soccer field, lighted basketball and tennis courts, a children's playground, fitness center, heated spa, and a pool with waterslide, waterfalls and sprays. (Don't grab your swimsuit and towel just yet: It's still under construction.)

Those multifeatured water parks are the cool new amenity. Waterchase, the new Taylor Woodrow development that is expected to open around Labor Day in northwest Hillsborough, will offer two pools and a two-story tower slide. Seven Oaks, in Wesley Chapel, Pasco County, plans three pools, a double-loop water slide and a "splash park" with all those wet and wild devices that squirt, spout and spit. MiraBay, in the SouthShore area of Hillsborough, will have two pools, water sprayers and a 110-foot waterslide.

Water parks are expensive to build, maintain and staff (and homeowners will pay for them in their association or Community Development District fees), but developers across the country believe buyers will be attracted by the notion of being able to live at the equivalent of a resort. They certainly raise the bar for competition; an ordinary pool, nice as it may be, pales by comparison.

"Suburban communities become a primary source of entertainment as well as a social, cultural and recreational center for their residents," Peter Goff told the Houston Business Journal. He is general manager of Sienna Plantation, a master-planned community outside Houston with the South's largest water adventure park: a water tower with 200 feet of slides, a zero-entry children's pool, and a 14,000-square-foot waterworks play system with a giant spill bucket and interactive play areas. It has proved so popular, a second water park is under construction at Sienna Plantation.

Water parks are thought to appeal to a wider range of residents than golf courses, which typically are used by only 30 percent of residents, and often by only one member of a family, usually Dad. Elaborate pools, slides and fountains appeal to the entire family, developers say. Weary residents who arrive home after a long commute don't want to turn around and go back out on traffic-choked roads in search of entertainment. They like the idea that a fun, family-friendly amenity (and you don't need to have kids to enjoy it) is just outside their door.

Meanwhile, back at GreyHawk Landing: In the Cortez model by Sam Rodgers Homes, the kids' wing has a big game room, two bedrooms, a bath and an optional, centrally-located computer desk. From the two-car garage, a gracefully designed open hallway ("the gallery," on the floor plan) leads to a utility room/butler's pantry that is packed full of storage space. The kitchen has vast acreages of countertop and cabinet space.

The plan also has a separate single-car garage, now used as the sales center, that could become a fourth bedroom, guest room, hobby room, office or caregiver's suite. The house, with 3,213 square feet of air-conditioned space, is base-priced at $351,900 including a standard homesite.

Information: (941) 744-5100; The development is on State Road 64 about five minutes' drive east of Exit 220 off I-75.

The 10 biggest design problems

Here are the 10 biggest design mistakes home builders make, according to Builder magazine:

Streetscapes with little architectural variation.

Garage doors that line up like toy soldiers dominating the streetscape.

Poorly proportioned shutters as applied decoration, unable to protect the windows they frame.

Bland colors and materials.

Too many colors and materials.

Ignoring outdoor-living potential.

Boxy, small-room floor plans.

Inflexible floor plans.

Too much space wasted on circulation (halls, foyers, entries).

View of any toilet from a public room, especially if seen by visitors from the front door.

Side-entry garages flank the entrance to the Nariah model in Portmarnock at Lakewood Ranch. From the second-floor loft, an "upper lanai' overlooks the pool. There are four bedrooms, four and a half baths, a family room, game room and two studies.

With 6,170 square feet, the Nariah model by John Cannon Homes isthe largest of four custom homes in the Portmarnock section at Lakewood Ranch. The formal living room, with its highly detailed ceiling, leads to a "main lanai" with spa and pool. Price: $2.785-million, fully furnished.

Children splash at a water park at the Sienna Plantation community outside Houston. The park offers a water tower, 200 feet of slides, a spill bucket and an interactive water play area. Water parks, a popular new amenity in residential developments, are planned at several communities in the Tampa Bay area.