The Well-filled Empty Nest This Year's New American Home Is Designed For Couples Whose Children Have Grown And Gone. It's His And Hers, Right Down To The Bathroom Fridge.

Posted: February 15, 1998

DALLAS — If three words could be used to describe this year's New American Home, ``two of everything'' would do it.

There are two home offices, two doors to the shower and his and her toilets in the master bath, as well as two huge walk-in closets on each side of the master bedroom.

There are two garages.

There are two microwaves, two cooktops, two ovens and two dishwashers in the kitchen, which has more than enough room for two cooks simultaneously preparing separate meals. There are three sinks, just in case a guest chef arrives for dinner.

Even the swimming pool has enough space on opposite sides to accommodate separate gatherings - one for him and one for her.

This is a house for empty nesters, the growing segment of the population that has paid off the college expenses and sent the 20-somethings packing. All of the money they're making now they can lavish on themselves.

Thanks to telecommuting, they're both working at home - hence the two offices.

``The first phase of the boomers retires early to `consult,' '' said Joan McCloskey, editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

Consulting must be lucrative, because the price tag for this 4,873-square-foot house is $950,000. And it must be exhausting, too, because the master bathroom has two refrigerator drawers so a person doesn't even have to trudge all the way to the kitchen for milk to pour on the All-Bran.

Yes, his and her refrigerator drawers in the bathroom, just below the TV set. (There is enough room for two, or maybe a big one with a split screen.)

If you're thinking that the target buyers for this extravagantly appointed house are the Clampetts - it does have a ``ce-ment pond,'' after all - they aren't. A couple fitting the profile bought this house, and the editors of Builder magazine, the publication of the National Association of Home Builders that, along with Ladies Home Journal, is a sponsor of the New American Home, say there are millions more like them.

``There were actually two [possible] purchasers for this house,'' said Chuck Edwards, a member of the NAHB's New American Home Committee, ``and that makes a builder wonder how many of these buyers are out there.''

Admittedly, this home is well out of the range of most empty-nesters, even many in the high end of that market seeking $300,000-plus homes, according to NAHB surveys. But a leading purpose of these demonstration homes is to showcase what's possible, the latest of everything regardless of cost.

Gage Prichard Sr., the builder, says that empty nesters are a growing market in Dallas, and that there will be more now that tax law doesn't levy tax on the first $500,000 in profit from the sale of a home.

``The niche is growing by leaps and bounds,'' said Prichard, president of Gage Builders, which has been building houses in Dallas for 27 years. ``We are in the early stages of large empty-nester community development.''

But aren't empty nesters downsizing? Isn't that the whole reason for getting rid of the kids?

``One would think so,'' said Sharon Hanby-Robie of Lancaster, Pa., a designer and author of My Name Isn't Martha, But I Can Decorate My Home (Pocket Books, New York, $14). ``But while empty nesters appear relieved that the children are grown and no longer a drain on the household economy, they don't want to cut the ties, especially if there are grandchildren.

``On the other hand, the empty nesters have become so used to living by themselves, they still need plenty of private space when the children and grandchildren visit,'' Hanby-Robie said in a telephone interview.

For that reason, the entire second floor of the house is devoted to bedrooms for visitors as well as a large recreation area for the visitors' use. Because the master bedroom is on the first floor, the house is truly designed for one-story living.

``Probably 20 percent of the total empty-nester market is high-end,'' said Frank J. McKee, president of the McKee Group, which builds for the active adult market in the Philadelphia area. ``Some empty nesters want the things they couldn't have before because they were sacrificing for the kids.''

``But there are others who are looking for the simpler life,'' he said. ``We've thought about building a community for the high-end, but we prefer the mix of buyers.''

For the second year, the designers of the New American Home targeted the high end of the empty-nester market, where, apparently, money is no object. From that market came the focus groups that determined priorities for Prichard and Bloodgood Sharp Buster Architects & Planners, of Des Moines, Iowa.

The first priority was storage - large closets for all kinds of clothing and room for storage in the garage, Prichard said.

There also was a demand for attic storage, necessary in Texas because houses don't have basements (furnaces aren't necessary in a climate with short winters and long, hot summers, so basements are extraneous).

Empty nesters also wanted a gourmet kitchen, research indicated.

``Just about every participant wanted a place for him to cook and her to cook and have guests in and around a combination entertainment and cooking area,'' Prichard said.

Another request was for a utility/laundry room with an area that allows you to drip-dry sweaters, plus space for a front-loading washer and dryer and for a SubZero 27-inch freezer.

The focus groups wanted easy-to-care-for materials. They wanted lots of light, ``and this house has 10 skylights, lots of windows and transoms,'' Prichard said. ``They wanted a yard that was easy to care for but let light into the house.''

And, as is the case with people who live in climates that permit nearly year-round outdoor living, ``they wanted to bring the outdoors in visually,'' Prichard said.

The result was, according to Edwards of the NAHB, a house with ``a traditional, formal living room, dining room and entry, but with flexible kitchen space including a `hearth room' [an area of the kitchen with a stone-faced fireplace and walls full of books, an eating table and TV] and a bedroom for daily living.''

Although it still is difficult to believe that typical empty nesters either want or can afford houses such as this, the 1998 New American Home has some interesting innovations and features that are in keeping with the perceptions, even some of the realities, of the marketplace.

Such as the need for two of everything.

``Time and time again in this Dallas market we heard, `Well, the Mr. got a study but the Mrs. was left out,' '' Prichard said. ``They wanted places to call their own, hence the his and her home offices.''

However, thanks to designer Michael Foster of New York City, the home offices are not interchangeable. The man's office, at the edge of the master bedroom with an outside door for access by clients, is, well, very male-looking - dark wood bookcases, huge dark oak desk - the kind of space that, if this were corporate headquarters, would be occupied by the chief executive officer.

The woman's office is very feminine and within the master-suite complex that includes 10 1/2-by-10 1/2-foot his and her walk-in closets, master bath with media center and a 17-by-23 1/2-foot master bedroom.

The desire for separate spaces is common among aging baby boomers, especially the men, Hanby-Robie said.

Newlyweds don't want to do anything to jeopardize the relationship, but empty nesters are at a point in their married lives where confidence breeds honesty,'' she said.

``For the first time ever, men can decorate their personal spaces the way they want and demand all the things their mothers and their wives have denied them,'' she said.

One of the most interesting facets of this New American Home is the layout, dictated by the shape of the 9,750-square-foot lot, which is less than a quarter acre and cost $220,000. In Texas, where land speculation near major cities has driven up lot prices, it's not uncommon for million-dollar homes to be built almost on top of one another.

``When we were invited to participate in this project, we offered the committee a number of estate lots as well as this pie-shaped zero-lot line infill lot,'' Prichard said. The pie-shaped lot was chosen because the committee believed designing and building a house on it would be more challenging than on a large, standard lot.

The lot was 20 feet wide in the front and 117 feet wide in the rear. The house was designed as a ``V,'' with the entrance, the living room and dining room and the family room as the bottom of the V and the rest of the house in the two wings.

``There wasn't much space to play with,'' Edwards said. ``While it is pretty close quarters, the design is flexible, with both open spaces and private spaces.''

The design was a challenge, according to architect Daniel Swift.

``Because of the zero-lot line [there's no space between it and the houses on either side], we couldn't put windows in certain parts of the house,'' Swift said during a tour of the house.

``So we turned to skylights,'' he said. ``In the master bath, there is a controlled skylight above the Jacuzzi. We used high-end etched glass block to let in the additional light instead of a clear glass window.''

Many wall surfaces were rounded to accommodate the pie-shaped lot, and the plaster and molding for them added 15 percent to 20 percent to the price of the house, he said. ``We used custom milled molding in the archways, and the curved elements are flexible molding.''

Twenty-nine manufacturers contributed products for this house. Many of these doodads are coming on the market for the first time. There are 70,000 builders and remodelers in town, so what better way to show off the latest wine chiller, stainless steel sink or French doors?

There are some nice innovations, such as the point-of-use water-heating systems, which, according to Swift, provide hot water immediately at every sink in the house. Ventless gas fireplaces look like the real thing, right down to the fake wood ash. The glass block is from the Brick Institute of America. The distressed oak hardwood floors are from Bruce Hardwood Floors.

In addition to the two drawers in the master bath, there are SubZero refrigerator drawers in the laundry/utility room and potting room/greenhouse.

For many who toured the house during the NAHB's mid-January convention, the shower in the master bath was the highlight of the visit. The shower, which has doors on both ends, is tucked in behind the Jacuzzi, separated by a panel of etched glass to ensure privacy.

The shower has a bench and 10 shower heads.

``Five for him, and five for her,'' Swift said.

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