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It might not be roses you smell

The spring Parade of Homes season is picking up speed. On March 29, these showcases of new construction open in Hernando, Pinellas and Hillsborough. Pasco's Neighborhoods on Parade starts April 26. There are new models and new developments to look at all around the Tampa Bay area.

A few weeks ago, touring new homes in northern Manatee County just before their parade opened, I visited a community built on what was, until recently, a dairy farm. Adjacent property still is a working dairy farm; I could have walked over to the fence and communed with the black-and-white dairy cattle, which do look just like the computer boxes.

No need to walk over to the fence, though, to be reminded that this was cattle country. On a crystal-clear morning, I took a deep breath of the fresh country air and . . . well, let's put it out there: I got a big noseful of the smell of cattle manure. If it's country living you're after, this was the real thing.

A friend who lives there said that the aroma wasn't obvious when she visited before buying her home. That was last summer, and she and her husband always seemed to arrive when it was raining or had just stopped, which may have lessened the unmistakable scent. Now, depending on the time of day and the direction of the wind, "it's quite pungent. It's hard to miss," she said.

Preserving "natural, undeveloped lands" was ranked as important or very important by 62 percent of buyers surveyed for the National Association of Home Builders. Fifty percent said that preserving farmland was important or very important.

Some day the cattle will be gone from that part of Manatee County, and so will the manure. But these things work both ways. At Wilderness Lake Preserve on U.S. 41 in Pasco County, the back half of the property is an old citrus grove. Right about now the fragrance of orange blossoms must be magical. But it will be gone before long: Those groves are "Phase Two" of land development. In a few years they'll be cut down, homes will be built and the heady scent of citrus blossoms will be only a memory.

Moral of the story: Pay attention to the "topo table" at the model center, the big table with the three-dimensional map of the development. Ask, "What's here now?" and "What's going to be there?"

Then step outside and smell the roses, or whatever happens to be perfuming the breeze.

One wild family room

Builders hire interior designers to furnish and decorate their models, and the designers try to underscore the community's theme. If the model is on a golf course, look for golf equipment and accessories. If it's near the beach, expect beachy colors, shells and nautical paraphernalia. If the home is trying to appeal to families with kids, look at the secondary bedrooms. They're probably decked out with sports or dance themes, computers or horses, things the designers think will appeal to kids and send the message, "This is a family-friendly place."

Designers also like to leave you with a "memory point," an arresting feature that will stick in your mind: "Oh, remember that house? That's the one with . . . "

At the Mayfair model by Westfield Homes at Wilderness Lake Preserve, I came face-to-face with one of the most memorable memory points I've encountered in a long time: a rhino head above the fireplace in the family room. It's an over-the-top touch that I guess is supposed to tie in with the natural, rustic, wilderness theme of the development. (But if rhinos are thrashing around in the orange groves in Phase Two _ see above _ you might want to keep an eye on dogs and small children.)

Sales rep Ken Wasil says that the rhino doesn't have a name but that the staff plans to decorate him for various holidays. We can envision a wreath or some prancing reindeer at Christmas, or some bunny ears for Easter. Maybe this weekend he's wearing one of those green hats decked out with shamrocks.

Laundry room with panache

You've seen the ads for the "Family Suite," the collection of appliances that Whirlpool thinks we should install in big laundry rooms, turning the rooms into sleek, all-purpose family rooms for crafts, gardening, homework, sewing, projects and hanging out together.

Have you stepped into a laundry room recently? It's loud! Washers and dryers generate a lot of noise, not to mention heat, steam and lint dust. Stand next to the washer and you can't hear yourself on the phone. When it's laundry day (which for many families is every day), this isn't where you want to spend any more time than you have to.

Where would we put this "Family Suite"? In that home buyers survey, 29 percent of respondents from the South Atlantic region, which includes Florida, wanted their laundry equipment near the bedrooms; 27 percent near the kitchen.

Joan McCloskey, editorial marketing director for Better Homes and Gardens magazine, calls these rooms "the newest status symbol." She says, "It's a space where you corral all the messy chores . . . in one space you can close the door on. When you describe that space to a mother, you should see her face light up."

Maybe so, but notice the words "messy chores." You can create a glamorous room, but we're still talking about doing the laundry. And somebody _ in most cases Mom, Dad or another adult _ still has to do the work.