by Jan K. Allen
SBJ Contributing Writer
The most notable change in custom home design in the 1990s is the increased use of today's electronic wonders, according to area home builders.
Along with this trend, contractors find buyers are seeking more custom features in traditional rooms and are allotting more space for specialty rooms in house plans.
According to Monty Schneider, owner of Schneider Development, people are using more granite counter tops, better cabinetry and custom appliances in the kitchen. Larger kitchens and specialty items, such as double ovens and ice machines, are in demand, Schneider said.
Schneider said custom-home buyers still place heavy emphasis on the master bath, using glass block partitions and more windows to add light and make the room look more spacious.
Sun-rooms are back in style, according to Lon Goff, owner of Lon Goff Custom Homes. No longer an afterthought, buyers are requesting glassed-in rooms off the kitchen to use as breakfast rooms and allow space for indoor plants.
The alcove washer-and-dryer area has been usurped by the full-size utility room with sink, cabinetry and space to iron or sew, Goff said. Often the room will be wired with a phone jack and TV hookups, as well, he added.
Though people are getting away from the traditional, formal living room, which seems to come and go in popularity, they are asking for more space and high ceilings in great rooms and dining areas, Goff said.
Many custom-home buyers today require a special room, wired for computers and other equipment, to use as an office or study, said Bill Whiteside, owner of Bill Whiteside Homes.
Whiteside has found an increased interest in hearth rooms off the kitchen. Like the sun-room concept, customers want lots of glass, but add the fireplace to make the area cozy.
Many buyers are opting for gas logs in this and other living areas to give the atmosphere of a wood fire without the work and mess, Whiteside said.
The pleasure and functionality of all these rooms are augmented by the advent of automated systems for the home. The emphasis on convenience, enjoyment and home entertainment motivates new-home buyers to incorporate a variety of electronic marvels into their building budget, builders said.
Media rooms or home theaters are becoming the norm in high-end home-building projects. Electronic gadgetry, surround sound and designated media areas are factored into the overall price for mid-to upper-end homes, according to local contractors.
Many buyers are adding large-screen television and surround sound to the great room area or setting aside a separate room for these systems, Goff said.
Whiteside said that typically, when the buyer wants a separate media room, it's a multi-functional room with special lighting and no windows.
The team at Springfield Central Systems, located on South Charleston, specializes in this type of equipment. The business, started by Larry Batson in 1990, works with contractors and home buyers to put together a home automation system to meet the buyer's individual needs.
SCS sells and programs the systems to control lighting, zone temperature, audio-video equipment, curtains, shading, hot tubs, locks, security and sprinkler systems, according to Aaron North, design consultant for SCS.
From the simple to the sophisticated, the system can be controlled by a central key pad no bigger than a wall switch, or zoned, with key pads located in designated areas, he added.
Home automation can be less expensive than many people think, North said.
"The key is getting the wiring in when the house is built," he said.
The main computer, no bigger than a clock radio, can be installed anywhere in the house and programmed to perform a wide range of functions with the push of a button on the connecting key pad, North said.
For entertainment centers, buyers have three basic choices of space allotment, the designated area, media room or home theater. Within each of the three categories are a number options as well, North said.
The designated media space can be incorporated into the main living area, covered by a curtain or other wall decor, or built into a special cabinet. The home buyer may choose one big-screen television or a big-screen set and two or three smaller sets, all run by a touch-screen control at his or her fingertips, North said.
The cabinet usually also contains a VCR, CD player and other audio equipment, all of which operate from the same touch-screen set up to the owner's specifications, he added.
Media rooms go one step further, with a recessed electric roller screen and projector that give the feel of a movie theater when activated, North said. One finger on the touch-screen and the equipment disappears behind the draped stage and into the ceiling to make the room a multi-functional living area.
The ultimate specialty room is the home theater. Complete with whatever accouterments the home owner wants and can afford, this room is designed like a miniature theater, North said. From the fixed screen to padded walls and lounge chairs with drink holders, this room has special decor and a single purpose.
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