Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
The child-friendly kitchen is the heart of this home. The GE Monogram microwave, beverage cooler, and warming drawer are tucked into the island, along with Timberlake cabinetry—all at a lower "kid height" for easy access to after-school snacks. Just beyond the island, two workstations with high-speed Internet access equip the home management center for kids' homework. A built-in display panel above the desk allows homeowners to monitor the amount of electricity produced by the home's rooftop solar panels.
Home Magazine's 2004 American Dream Home is a smart and comfortable 5,300-square-foot showhouse that embraces new family-friendly design principles and new eco-conscious ways to build.
Constructed in Las Vegas with our partners, Builder Magazine, Bassenian-Lagoni Architects, and Pardee Homes, the three-story, 17- room house is laid out in a practical manner, according to how families actually live today. We also tapped into the builder's eco-expertise to devise a house that's capable of producing more energy than it consumes.
The idea of building the ultimate family home in a raucous place like Las Vegas seems incongruous. But off the Vegas "strip," this desert community is seeing a rapid and steady rise in family units. One of the nation's fastest-growing housing markets, Las Vegas attracts more than 7,000 new residents each month, thanks to affordable housing (the median price of a new single-family home here is $196,000) and a thriving economy. Inspired by this bright spot on the national scene, Home and its partners decided to design, build, equip, and furnish a house roomy enough for an active family of four and a dog.
Families Get Their Say
To get the scoop on what family members want in a home, we conducted focus-group research with three segments of Las Vegas consumers—kids ages eight to twelve, kids thirteen to sixteen, and their parents. The children said that computers and television are important, as well as fun outdoor spaces for playing and entertaining friends, hobby areas, and storage for assorted gear and athletic equipment.
Nonstructural rough-sawn beams convey aesthetic impact and provide a rustic informal touch in the living room. An area rug from Karastan's Samovar collection and Thomasville furniture create a cozy conversation grouping around the Lennox gas fireplace.
All of the survey participants described their families' lifestyles as busy and chaotic, over-scheduled with work, sports, and other after-school activities. But they said they enjoy spending time together in their home, and that usually takes place in the kitchen and family room.
We let the market research guide us, and focused our efforts on designing an innovative, informal zone at the rear of the 3,061-square-foot first floor. The hub of family life in this house, it incorporates a family room; a generous island kitchen served by a prep kitchen and walk-in pantry; and, off the kitchen, an eating nook and a home management center.
The management center has two work spaces with wireless computers, a scheduling board, and plenty of cabinet storage. Here, kids can do homework or surf the Web, while parents supervise online activities and cook, pay bills, or watch television nearby.
Garages, surprisingly, also scored high in the focus groups. "It really opened my eyes to the importance of the garage," says Joyce Mason, vice president of marketing for Pardee. "Some kids even brought photos of their garages—they really do hang out in there." So we added a storage-filled, heated and cooled workshop in the third bay of the garage where kids can spend time with their dads.
This done, the architects turned their attention to the more public entertaining areas and positioned them at the front of the first floor, just inside the entry. Sixteen-foot-high ceilings give the living room and dining room dramatic volume, but they aren't grand spaces. "This is a house for casual living, and many of the features are contrary to tradition," says architect Jeff Lake, noting the lack of a compartmentalized living room. Instead, he designed an open conversation area dominated by a large cast-concrete hearth that mimics the look of carved stone.
The interior design and finishes are in keeping with the home's updated take on Spanish-style architecture. Interior designer Susan Drews of ColorDesignArt established the character of a "well-aged home." She used textured fabrics and embroidered drapes, built-in maple and cherrywood cabinetry in the family room, Karastan area rugs inspired by Oriental, Persian, and Indian designs, and an eclectic mix of leather, wood, and upholstered furniture from several Thomasville lines.
The dining room is defined by the front entry's textural brick arch and the stairway to the second floor, which has a wine closet tucked beneath it. The stairs to the third floor are steel framed, but the builder added dark-stained timbers on top of the shaped drywall. This decorative effect adds architectural interest and visually links the stairway to the beamed ceiling.
Drews chose a soft paint palette of Mediterranean golds and olives to complement the terra-cotta-toned Spanish Cotto tile pavers that run throughout the first floor. "They are the same tiles we used for the exterior courtyard, so they really strengthen the indoor-outdoor relationship," she says.
Tile floors are a smart choice in this extreme climate, because they keep the house cooler in the summer and hold heat in the winter. Tile also stands up to heavy foot traffic and cuts down on allergens, improving the home's indoor air quality.
The home's indoor environment, along with energy efficiency, were high on our priority list. Pardee Homes has been building eco-friendly subdivisions in southern California, and they applied all the tricks of their trade here. With drastic temperature swings that range from blazing hot days to downright chilly nights, power bills in the desert can get out of hand. So we harnessed the sun's energy and created what's known as a "zero-energy" house that generates at least as much energy as it uses. This eco-conscious home works two ways: It employs energy-saving materials and products, and it produces its own electricity through the use of photovoltaic panels.
Several large panels on this house absorb the sun's energy and convert it to electricity. The anticipated annual production is about 11,500 kWh, enough for the home's yearly use. "The panels act as a little power plant," explains Mason. Even better, if the house produces excess power, that energy goes back to the grid for others to use, and the homeowners receive a credit on their utility bill. They can monitor energy production on a meter built into the wall of the home management center.
Solar panels perched on rooftops can be unsightly, so the architects cleverly situated the bulk of the panels atop a trellis on the south side of the house. There, the panels get a direct hit of sunlight and are hidden from view. The decorative trellis shades the rooms on, this, the warmest side of the house, from the hot midday sun.
Many of the home's energy-saving devices, such as a radiant barrier that reflects heat away from the roof, were installed behind the walls.
Sustainability, too, is addressed in the choice of building materials. The entire house is built from certified wood harvested from managed forests and from engineered wood, which uses more of the tree than most lumber and is engineered for extra strength and durability. We also used formaldehyde-free insulation.
It was no surprise that in Las Vegas' sun-drenched climate, fun outdoor spaces topped the lists of our focus group participants. A small pool, a hot tub, and an outdoor kitchen with a barbecue make this the perfect at-home getaway.
Outside, there's a toe-tickling lawn but no trace of water-guzzling grass. The landscaping consists of drought-resistant plants, fed by a drip-irrigation system (instead of overhead sprinklers) with an in-ground sensor to prevent overwatering; and Turf Tech, a new, state-of-the-art, play-friendly artificial turf. "No one can believe it's not real," says Mason, "so everyone does the barefoot test, and it feels really cushy."
"We've shown that you can build a big, new house and leave very little impact on the earth," says Mason, "and we did it without doing or using anything extraordinary, just products and materials that are available today to everyone."
Coverage of Home Magazine's 2004 American Dream Home continues with the master bedroom, master bath, and guest bath in our April 2004 Special Kitchen & Bath Issue, on sale March 9, 2004.