Hot-Ticket Items for Your New Abode

If you want it, homebuilders can create it. Find out the many ways in which designers can add pizazz to your abode, and learn what add-ons are gaining popular among buyers.

This semi-custom ranch home in Henning Estates, a community in Huntley, features design trends that are all about convenience. Many luxury homes are being built with easier, safer and more cost-effective amenities.

Luxury homebuilders agree that, when it comes to building and design trends, one thing trumps all.

“Trends are all about convenience,” says Jennifer Arndt, marketing manager for Henning Estates, a community of semi-custom ranch homes in Huntley built by Rock Creek Homes.

Whether the trend involves creating an open floor plan for ease of mobility, adding storage options to keep your family organized, implementing sustainable features to lower your ecological footprint and your energy bill, or simply creating extra space for visitors, homeowners value these choices for their ability to make life easier, safer and more cost-effective. Homebuilders are willing to pull out all the stops for their customers.

“As a semi-custom homebuilder, we will make a lot of special accommodations,” Arndt says. “We can meet any trendsetting special need.”

Multigenerational Living

One of the biggest trends in new homes is multigenerational living, says Alison Keifer, senior sales manager for The Woods of South Barrington, a luxury community being built by Toll Brothers in Cook County.

Toll Brothers offers multiple ways to accommodate extended families, for example, by converting spaces on the first floor into bedrooms or adding full suites for in-laws.

“I would say three out of five homeowners are looking at multigenerational options,” Keifer says. “Within the suites, the options are as simple as taking a study and adding a closet to make it a bedroom, then taking a nearby bathroom and adding a connecting door. Or, we can make a full suite with an entrance, front and rear. We can even do small morning kitchens so that the in-laws really have their own private space – almost their own home – but it’s attached to their children’s and grandchildren’s home.”

Economic forces have played a significant role in drawing extended families under one roof.

“Baby boomers, parents/grandparents, are on a fixed income and housing has become very expensive,” Keifer says. “With this option, their children and their grandchildren can have them living in their home with them.”

The arrangement also provides an easy childcare solution for busy working families, she says.

Keifer also sees cultural traditions driving an increase in multigenerational living. In some cultures, it’s customary for parents to live with their children, she says, and the South Barrington demographic has many buyers who seek to carry on that tradition.

Even if in-laws don’t move in permanently, these extended-stay guests can enjoy additional privacy in the form of master suites on the first floor, says Arndt.

Energy Efficiency

Home builders aren’t necessarily calling energy-efficient homes “green” anymore, but there’s definitely a push for sustainable features, says John DeWald, president of John DeWald & Associates, which is developing Serosun Farms near Hampshire.

The sustainably minded community features large luxury homes situated around a 160-acre working organic farm. Every aspect of these custom-designed homes is built with the best green luxury features available.

There are several ways to follow energy-efficient trends, DeWald says. At the most basic level, improvements to the outer skin of the home provide the least expensive way to lower energy bills. Insulation may not be a sexy trend, but it’s a smart one.

“If you’re well insulated, it will be a lot easier to heat and cool when half or more of your energy bill comes from heating and cooling,” DeWald says. “A thermally efficient house is a good start.”

Then, you can take a look at different heating plans, with options like ultra-high efficiency gas furnace systems and geothermal systems, high-efficiency appliance packages and efficient lighting options. Many of these technologies are on display inside Serosun’s model home.

“With all of those packages together, you substantially lower your energy requirements,” DeWald says. He believes, in time, more new homes will be built to a “zero-energy” standard, where renewable energy systems effectively offset all energy consumption. “Zero-energy homes will become a more common term – I think it can happen in Chicago,” he adds.

Along those lines, solar energy is making waves nationally, though the Midwest still lags behind other regions in part because homeowners aren’t as desperate for energy-saving techniques. In San Diego, where DeWald also builds homes, homeowners pay 20 to 22 cents per kilowatt-hour – a rate nearly double that of Chicago homeowners, he says.

As solar panel costs drop, DeWald sees the possibility that it eventually will make economic sense to incorporate solar energy systems into Midwestern homes.

In fact, some homeowners are prewiring their homes now, in anticipation of installing solar panels later, he says. Many are anticipating a time when electric cars are more mainstream, and having the ability to charge their cars via solar power puts homeowners one step ahead.

Kitchen Design

In its present iteration, the kitchen often comes with pot filler faucets, double ovens, soft-close drawers and trash cabinets that hide unsightly and smelly kitchen waste.

Though new appliance finishes are available, like the KitchenAid black stainless finish, traditional stainless steel remains the most popular choice, says Ashley Newberg, design studio manager at Toll Brothers.

“It’s tough to change that color,” Newberg says. “Viking has a rainbow of classic colors for the brave, and Whirlpool has a slick white appliance package that would work well if you have white cabinets. But 99 percent is stainless steel.”

The look of the modern kitchen has been changing in many subtle ways.

“I think everyone just wants a more simple look,” says Newberg. “It seems like design was very heavy and dark five to 10 years ago, and now everyone is starting to lighten everything up. It’s easier to maintain and it’s brighter.”

White cabinets remain popular, but the current trend is toward a more contemporary finish – which means glaze finishes are out.

Lighter, white-toned stone countertops, such as quartzite and quartz, are increasingly popular and so are backsplashes, but don’t expect to see many accents or borders. The classic white-gloss subway tile or glass tile helps to create the clean, modern vibe many homebuyers are seeking.

If light and bright isn’t your style, there are other options to choose from, says DeWald, of Serosun Farms.

Recycled countertop materials may interest the ecologically minded homebuyer. Many of these new age surfaces are produced from composite materials and range widely in price, heat resistance and maintainability, DeWald says. Some appear to be more durable than traditional materials.

PaperStone, for example, uses recycled paper bound together with resins and other materials. Though it’s considered to be incredibly durable, it requires regular maintenance.

IceStone, made of recycled glass, is another option that comes in many colors and patterns.

Other options, made from recycled and waste materials like tile, plastic, wood/bamboo, steel, composite stone and concrete, are available on the market as well.

Those who don’t want to give up the solid, traditional choice of granite may be surprised at how the “old trend” has gained a hip, new look.

“In our model home, we have black granite that has a leather finish that looks like soapstone,” DeWald says. “Granite is old and tired now, but new finishes on old tops create a whole new look. Don’t just settle for a simple granite countertop.”

Microwaves, too, are on their way out as the convection steam oven increases in popularity.

“It can quickly reheat foods, but it reheats them better,” DeWald says. “It doesn’t dry them out, so you get much tastier leftovers. From a health perspective, a lot of people are worried about microwaves, but a convection steam oven eliminates the electromagnetic radiation a microwave emits. From a chef’s perspective, if you want a great additional cooking capability, it provides you with a whole bunch of options.”

Commercial bakeries, for example, use convection steam ovens to bake bread with a crispy crust and doughy center.

The oven range is also getting a high-tech update.

Gas cooktops often are preferred over electric burners because they’re faster to heat up, cool down and change temperatures, DeWald says. That open flame presents not only a safety issue, but it also produces a small amount of pollution.

An induction cooktop, on the other hand, uses magnetics to heat up food. It has the same responsiveness as a gas top but it has no open flame. And, the burner itself is not hot – a great safety precaution for families with small children.

Finally, walk-in pantries with built-in storage, not wire racks, are becoming near necessities.

“Organization is so big now,” says Arndt, of Henning Estates. “A walk-in pantry makes the kitchen more of a finished space in your home. People are putting more emphasis on it, rather than just having a basic closet with one wire shelf.”

Bathroom Basics

The separation of shower and tub is a real movement in luxury bathrooms.

True bath lovers are calling for freestanding tubs, while shower lovers are nixing the tub altogether to allow space for larger walk-in showers, says Newberg.

Large shower tiles – think 12-by-24-inch faces – provide the clean look that blends with the “less is more” trend.
Should the homeowner decide against a big tub and reject the extra-large shower, the extra floor space can be used to build an extra vanity or linen closet. Arndt says it’s just further proof that the home organization movement is here to stay.

Home Automation

Home automation systems have been gaining popularity, and they’re becoming easier to control, DeWald says.

It’s already possible to hit a button and start warming your oven while you’re driving home from work. Or to close your blinds without leaving the couch. Or to unlock the deadbolt so the plumber can come in while you’re sitting in the office.

What’s changing is that, instead of having a separate remote for each device, homeowners can now control their entire house from one central remote.

“All these systems are now starting to be interconnected,” DeWald says. “The trend we’re seeing coming is a centralized automation system, so you have one place to control things.”

Other Interior Trends

At Henning Estates, finished basements are becoming an expected amenity. The majority of contracted houses have basements finished during the construction phase, which is the best time to take on such a project, says Arndt.

“It’s so much more affordable to do it right then,” she says.

These fully finished basements still have traditional spaces dedicated to recreation, game rooms, craft rooms or a wet bar and TV viewing area, Arndt says.

One thing you won’t see in new basements, however, is the washer and dryer. Luxury laundry rooms, often located on the first floor, now come with a full wall of cabinetry to create an organized room. If space allows, a niche off the laundry room is added for coats, shoes and other outerwear items, Newberg says.

A trend that hasn’t hit the Chicago area, but may soon, is the indoor sports court, says Keifer. Toll Brothers can open up the first-floor space originally planned for a large in-law suite and build a room that extends from the basement to the ceiling of the first level. This two-story space is ideal for an indoor basketball hoop or other high-clearance activities.

Another new luxury convenience is a coffee bar located in the master suite.

“Some buyers have created a small nook between the bedroom and master bath for a coffee bar/wet bar,” Arndt says. “You can get out of bed and have a cup of coffee without having to go all the way to the kitchen. It’s just convenient.”

DeWald is particularly intrigued by two design trends that have sustainability in mind. First, Kohler has created an insert that changes any fixture into a low-flow, water-conserving fixture, which leaves the company’s entire line of design products open to Serosun designers who care about style as much as they care about sustainability.

Similarly, just about any light fixture can now be retrofitted to support LED lights without losing the design detail of traditional incandescent lighting, DeWald says.

The new LED products can look like Edison light bulbs, candelabra bulbs or other incandescent varieties, but they’ll last 15 years or longer, he says.

“Certain aspects of ‘cool design’ are now starting to get more broadly available … and it can now be efficient,” he says.

Exterior Trends

Another easily overlooked yet functionally sustainable trend is the use of storm water management systems, says DeWald.

“Permeable pavers, permeable driveways, rain gardens, even green roofs – those are all things we have at Serosun, and those are all tools that allow us to better manage the storm water coming off the house,” he says.

Luxury communities are offering more sophisticated sustainable systems, such as rain barrels with automated harvesting systems that capture rainwater from the gutters and store it in a tank for use in watering plants, he says.

Green roof systems are another sustainable luxury item that utilizes plants to boost the energy efficiency of the home. These modular products, which are composed of many 1-by-2-foot trays, use plant mixtures and succulents to add insulation to the roof. In summer, as the plants transpire, they create a cooling effect on the roof, and because they protect the roof from sunlight, they can help extend the life of the roof.

Plus, they’re aesthetically pleasing.

“When you look outside your window at a flat roof, which is essentially ugly, you can see a garden,” DeWald says.

Homebuyers certainly love gardens, and they’re attracted to lot sizes that are large enough to house a vegetable garden, but not too overwhelming to maintain, says Arndt.

They also appreciate natural-looking exteriors. Many homes in Henning Estates are outfitted in industry-leading OSB-based siding, a low-maintenance, extremely durable material that can be made to look like wood planks or shingles. Often, the OSB is paired with a brick or natural stone skirting that climbs about waist high. Other homes have full brick facades, from ground to roofline. Outcropping stones and accent pieces add to the natural decoration.

And the best way to capture all the natural beauty outside of your home?

Sit on your wraparound porch and soak it in, says DeWald.