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Home design shifts focus to roofs, ceilings, storage

Five trends emerge from recent custom homebuilder awards

By Dennis Hockman, Chesapeake Home

July 24, 2010

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Few architects and builders today are recommending trendy architectural elements to clients. Instead, house pros are mining the history of residential design to extract elements and styles that have worked and keep working, hoping to construct timeless residences that don't fall out of fashion.

When looking at the general direction of residential design, it's possible to suss out certain long-term trends, tracing the evolution of the way houses look. This is true even here in the Mid-Atlantic, where many remnants of Colonial architecture survive and the prevailing taste leans toward 16th-, 17th-, and 18th-century European (lots of French and even more English) antecedents.

Unlike other parts of the country, developed more recently, where formal tendencies are more progressive and homeowners embrace more contemporary and eclectic architectural styles, the Baltimore region still favors traditionally styled homes.

But even as the stylistic evolution of houses moves slowly, and sometimes even backward in time, certain trends begin to emerge if we watch what the top builders in the area are producing. The custom home building awards recently presented by the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association suggest a few new stylistic and functional elements that will define residential design for years to come.

Looking at the winners collectively, here are five trends that homebuyers should expect to see:

Integrated organization No surprise, we all have more stuff than we need, and built-in storage has been a common feature of luxury residences for centuries. Not just for mansions anymore, specialized storage and organization solutions are becoming the norm: pantries, mudrooms, laundry rooms, wine rooms, media rooms, libraries, home offices, walk-in closets, spice cabinets and garage systems. As life gets busier and clutter piles up, built-in organization and storage systems are becoming de rigeur.

Architectural variety While Colonial and Colonial Revival architecture has dominated our region for centuries, the exteriors of today's historically influenced homes present more dynamic material combinations than their predecessors. Instead of cladding the exterior in stucco, brick, stone or wood, newer homes are layering and combining these exterior materials, creating multiple points of interest and often an illusion that the house may have developed or been added on to over time.

Multifaceted roof lines Eager to put expensive slate, metal, tile and wooden roofs behind them, homeowners in the 1950s quickly adopted asphalt as the material of choice soon after it became widely manufactured. The past decade has seen a return to traditional natural materials as well as asphalt and other synthetic products manufactured to simulate slate or wood shake. A custom home today often features varied roofline angles, shapes, hips, gables and valleys, shifting focus back to the roof itself, showing off the handsome materials and adding to the overall attractiveness of the home.

Rustic or organic elements Inside and out, rustic and natural materials are becoming a highlight of residential design. Peeled timbers used to frame a structure and, left exposed, show off the beauty of wood in its natural form. Rough-hewn wood and hand-chiseled stone draws attention to our relationship with the raw materials. Leaving such clean, simple structural elements on display is thoroughly modern, while the organic nature of the materials helps create a warm traditional atmosphere. Similarly, kitchen, bath and door hardware is often less "polished." Brushed and even hand-rubbed metal finishes are popular and convey a softer, more timeworn appearance.

Focus on ceilings Advanced construction technologies have made implementing interior details easier than ever. Creating interesting ceiling profiles is no exception. While simple, unembellished rectangular ceilings are still common throughout most of a house, unusual ceiling details, judiciously employed, help define a space and add depth to a room. In the 1990s, it was all about crown moldings to fancy up the intersection of wall and ceiling. In traditional schemes, these moldings are still common, but adding dimension to the ceilings themselves creates visual interest and helps define the space as well.

In a contemporary home with an open layout, a tray ceiling might define a dining space located between the kitchen and family room. Coffered ceilings in traditional spaces create texture and lend an extra air of formality.

Because people are thinking more about efficiency and eco-friendly design, the popularity of cathedral ceilings — wherein winter heat rises high above the people hoping to stay warm — has dwindled. Instead, bumping up a tray with windows will offer solutions for daylight and solar gain.

Another trend worth noting transcends any stylistic tendency, has been common in Europe for decades and is gaining momentum across the U.S. The widespread adoption of energy-efficient, eco-friendly design by builders and architects is good business — marketing design and construction services that will result in more sustainable, cheaper-to-maintain houses.

In most regions this trend isn't about some idealistic, save-the-Earth notion of design. We're talking common-sense, save-a-buck materials and systems that are being used in custom homes, renovations and production-built houses alike.

While residential green building is less a consumer trend and more the product of marketing, government regulation and bottom-line decisions on the part of manufacturers, being eco-friendly is subtly bubbling up into every facet of residential design. With the options currently available, you'd have to work at building a house today that is less green than one built a decade ago.

Dennis Hockman is the editor of Chesapeake Home magazine. He can be reached at dhockman@chesapeakehome.com.