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15 Great Ideas From Leaders in Residential Design

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Home Design

15 Great Ideas From Leaders in Residential Design

Architects and designers present their best design ideas for jump-starting home building

By David Barista, Editor-in-Chief, Professional Builder July 24, 2012
Dinald F. Evans design for miultigenerational living
Designing for multi-generational living presents an opportunity for home builders. (Design by Donald Evans of the Evans Group.) Scroll down to find out details
This article first appeared in the PB July 2012 issue of Pro Builder.

Can design innovation jump-start home building? That's the question we posed to more than a dozen leading architects and designers in our special Design Innovation Report, published in the July 2012 issue of Pro Builder.

The group, which includes Robert Hidey, Aram Bassenian, Phil Kean, John Thatch, Arthur Danielian, Dave Kosco, Donald Evans, Larry Garnett, Sarah Susanka, Jerry Messman, Jeff Larsen, Bill Warwick, and Dale Patton, responded with their best ideas and concepts for helping builders sell more homes — today.

Here's a roundup of their design ideas.

1. Rethinking great room design


Bassenian Lagoni's design for Toscana at Laguna, plan 3

Bassenian Lagoni's Aram Bassenian presents a house plan that solves some of the design tradeoffs typical in great room homes. 

Aram Bassenian, AIA, Bassenian Lagoni, abassenian@bassenianlagoni.com

This 3,123-square-foot plan delivers the lifestyle spaces and flexibility buyers seek today: four bedrooms; a generous great room; an open kitchen with a home management area and walk-in pantry; dedicated dining space; a second-floor laundry room and Costco closet; an outdoor living room; and a two-car garage with a full drive apron. However, this plan solves some of the design tradeoffs typical in great room homes and creates some exciting extras as well. Great room plans often sacrifice impact at the entry in favor of maximizing livable space.


This plan reverses the trend by carving out a dedicated entry and making it a functional space. As the horizontal dimension increases, it is important to remember to increase the ceiling height as well. In this case, we used 9-foot ceilings on the first floor to create an open feel. The first-floor guest suite oriented to the rear yard — for visitors or a multi-generational family buyer — offers a resort-like experience with views of the pool and a dedicated outdoor area. Plan: Toscana at Laguna Altura, Plan 3

Bassenian Lagoni's Laguna Altura Plan 3 floor plan


2. The Ability House

This plan by Art Danielian of Danielian Associates Architecture + Planning is designed to serve multi-generational living with its detached “casita” unit.

Arthur C. Danielian, FAIA, Danielian Associates Architecture + Planningadanielian@danielian.com

This single-story, 2,500-square-foot home has three bedrooms and three bathrooms. The uniqueness of the plan lies in its ability to serve multi-generational living with its detached “casita” unit, which provides space for grandparents, adult children, or utilization as a large home office. Another option allows reconfiguration of the master bathroom to allow for stairs, an optional elevator, and an added second floor. This optional floor provides space for such choices as a secondary master bedroom, a bonus room, or grandkids’ bedroom and playroom. 

All doorways, hallways, and common areas have extra width to allow for easy daily living and possible aging-in-place choices. With an abundance of large sliding glass doors, indoor-outdoor living is enhanced and allows this plan to live much larger than its square footage indicates.

The Ability House also incorporates a large technology center adjacent to the kitchen, making this area the real heart of the home and center of daily activity. Extra width has been designed into the garage to provide for easy access storage. The trusses above the garage have been designed to take more weight, allowing for tremendous storage capacity that is accessible with a pull-down ladder. 

All in all, this home is adaptable and flexible, livable and expandable, and accessible and multi-generational.

Floor plan for the Ability House


3. The keyed garage configuration

Jeff Larsen of MVE & Partners presents a rowhouse concept with an interlocking or keyed garage configuration that achieves higher densities than conventional rear-loaded rowhouses. 

Jeff Larsen, AIA, MVE & Partnersjlarsen@mve-architects.com

Many currently developable sites have more entitlement density than can be economically built and sold in today’s tentative market. This simple, attached building type, which features a keyed garage configuration, is a great way to reclaim density with a lower construction cost and a compact footprint that reduces the cost of land per unit.

Keyed garage configuration home design



Keyed garage configuration home design exterior

Densities above 20 dwelling units per acre (du/ac) typically require complicated construction that calls for partial excavation, complex framing, and intricate foundations, resulting in higher construction costs. They also tend to incorporate some compromises in parking access and ratios. This example achieves 23 du/ac with simple, on-grade construction; an efficient layout packed into an envelope that accommodates families with a variety of townhome plan configurations (including two bedrooms plus a den and two and a half baths and three bedrooms); and direct-access, two-car garages for each home.

The concept behind this example is an interlocking or keyed garage configuration that achieves higher densities than conventional rear-loaded rowhouses. A pairing of units, featuring two-car side-by-side garages and two-car tandem garages, results in a reduced overall building dimension. Two dwelling units that feature front and rear natural light and ventilation are positioned above the paired garage conditions. With street-oriented front doors and entry patios, this concept is a positive contribution to traditional-neighborhood-designed communities. Buildings may also be sited to orient toward semi-private common green spaces. In addition, the ability to add units incrementally to create four-, six-, or eight-plex building configurations improves construction phasing and adds flexibility to variable site dimensions, sales absorption, and financing.

Keyed garage configuration floor plans
Keyed garage configuration floor plan key

4. The up-front kitchen

Sarah Susanka's latest Not So Big House project places the kitchen and eating area adjacent to the front porch, making the outdoor space a natural extension of the kitchen’s habitable area.

Sarah Susanka, FAIA, Susanka Studiosssusanka@notsobig.com


Sarah Susanka showhouse design with up-front kitchen

Most American homes have their primary living spaces — the ones used every day — focused on the back yard, away from the street. We’re gradually coming to appreciate, however, that an over-emphasis on personal privacy can also create an unintended sense of isolation. Buyers are more open to considering the benefits of connection to the street and to neighbors, as long as there is still plenty of private outdoor space. When lots are narrow and access to daylight is limited — as are often the case in denser neighborhoods — the front of the house is both lighter and cheerier because of the wide-open street beyond. 

In this house, the front porch is on the south side, which allows daylight to stream in all day long. By placing the kitchen and eating area adjacent to the front porch, this readily accessible outdoor space becomes a natural extension of the kitchen’s habitable area. 

It was interesting to listen to visitors to the showhouse as they took in this up-front kitchen feature. Even the skeptical became believers as soon as they stepped inside the house. The kitchen pulled them in, and its bright informality with access to the outdoors instantly sold them on the idea. If the goal is a stronger sense of community, this is a powerful and delightful shift away from convention and toward livability and neighborliness.


Sarah Susanka home design with up-front kitchen


5. Community-Focused Front Porches

Sarah Susanka's Not So Big Showhouse project places the primary living spaces adjacent to the front porch to facilitate movement outside.

After the tough economic times we’ve been through recently, home buyers have come to value a sense of community and engagement with their neighbors. Many people love the notion of having a comfortable front porch, where they can hang out in the evenings and on weekends and connect with friends and neighbors strolling by, just as it was with communities a century ago. But no matter how beautiful that porch might be, if it’s separated from the everyday living spaces within the house by a formal living room, dining room, or front parlor, it’s not likely to get much use (out of sight, out of mind). 

Sarah Susanka community-focused front porch design


To facilitate movement outside, the homes at SchoolStreet place the primary living spaces — in this case, the kitchen and eating areas — adjacent to the front porch. By giving every house its own comfortably proportioned front porch accessed from primary living spaces, placing the front porch close to the street, and keeping the width of the street to a minimum so that the two sides feel like part of one environment, the opportunity for those neighborly connections rises dramatically. 

Private space is also important, of course, but having the option to move out toward the street to enjoy the neighborhood and each other is an asset that’s hard to put a price on.

6. Next-gen home design maximizes outdoor living 

Phil Kean's design concept for the New American Home features movable glass panels and a large lanai to maximize outdoor living.

Phil Kean, AIA, Phil Kean Designs, contact@philkeandesigns.com

Next-gen outdoor living spaces allow a “right sized” home to practically double its living area. Opening a home’s main living areas to a lanai deep enough for furniture takes family rooms and entertainment space to a whole new level. 

Phil Kean design for next-gen outdoor living



Phil Kean design for next-gen outdoor living

This 4,183-square-foot home (which was NAHB’s 2012 New American Home) was designed with walls of movable glass panels. Using floor-to-ceiling glass sliders provides plenty of natural light and a connection to the outdoors. Low-e, argon-gas-filled windows and doors limit heat gain, contributing to the home’s energy efficiency. 

The family and dining rooms open to a 561-square-foot lanai, and the living room/art gallery opens to a 569-square-foot pool deck. Sliding the glass walls open connects the indoor and outdoor areas. By using consistent materials and a simple palette inside and out, the spaces blur one into another. The openness makes the home look and feel larger and provides extensive entertaining and living space desired by today’s buyers.

Technology, audio systems, and the home theater experience are also important to the next-gen homeowner. In the home’s family room, a retractable media system with digital surround sound provides entertainment for the indoor/outdoor family room and is even viewable from the pool. The media experience is available at a touch by using the wall-mounted iPads or a smartphone. When the system is activated, motorized shades cover the windows, lights dim, and the projector and screen lower from the ceiling. 


To ensure this indoor/outdoor space is comfortable throughout the year, retractable motorized screens are built into the lanai. Depending on the density of the mesh chosen, up to 90 percent of the home’s conditioned air is held in.

Phil Kean design for next-gen outdoor living, floor plan


7. The One-and-One Great Room scheme

In smaller homes, a typical great room can become uncomfortably tight. The One-and-One Great Room by Dale Patton of Danielian Associates not only feels large, it lives large. 

R. Dale Patton, Danielian Associates Architecture + Planningdpatton@danielian.com

Given the current economic climate, small, efficient homes are making their mark on today’s housing market. As architectural designers, our goal is to make these small homes feel larger with design elements like open floor plans, diagonal views, and flexible indoor-outdoor relationships. Our One-and-One Great Room not only feels large, it lives large.

A typical great room has three zones: kitchen, dining, and living. With smaller homes, these areas can become uncomfortably tight. The One-and-One Great Room merges the number of zones into two spaces: a large eat-in kitchen and an expansive living space (hence the tag “One-and-One”).

The example presented here is a 1,650-square-foot home with a living zone that can comfortably accommodate six-plus people and a large flat-screen TV, a dining table that seats eight, and a kitchen that easily absorbs an upgraded appliance package with a 48-inch range and refrigerator.

Floor plan for the one-and-one great room scheme by Danielian Associates


The One-and-One Great Room will be a great opportunity for certain groups of home buyers. We feel move-down buyers will find this concept attractive as they negotiate the realities of small-home living. Young families will enjoy this layout, as the dining table becomes the hub for homework and “griddle-to-plate” family meals. And for those who entertain, this plan can accommodate a large party with free-flowing space for relaxed circulation.

As we emerge from this economic downturn, re-evaluating the allocation of space is essential in making sure we are providing flexible options that align with the needs of today’s buyers. If done correctly, we can give our clients an edge on the resale market.


8. The Legacy House

Dahlin Group's John Thatch presents a house design concept that can serve multiple generations as a family moves through life.

John Thatch, AIA, LEED AP, Dahlin Group Architecture Planningjthatch@dahlingroup.com

In this challenging world, we return to our past to move forward. Traditionally, a home has provided a safe harbor for a family of multiple generations (i.e., “grandma’s house”). We need homes that can serve multiple generations as a family moves through life — starting as a young family and then transitioning into a maturing family, older generation, graduates, and finally the next generation’s family.

Legacy House exterior, front


This 2,751-square-foot, 52x52-foot plan reflects that heritage, providing a place that can be flexible enough to handle a family’s needs through multiple generations. The first stage may be a home for a young family that offers the opportunity for a one-bedroom rental with its own entry that will help offset mortgage costs. Then, as the family’s needs change, the upstairs provides additional bedrooms and bonus room possibilities that can be tailored to fit their needs. The next possibility is a distinct place for the returning graduate, offering a private residence as they begin to live on their own. This space can also provide an independent suite for the grandparents that will keep them active and involved with their family. Finally, the plan can serve the family’s next generation as a starter home, with the parents moving upstairs and their kids moving into the three-bedroom first floor. 

Legacy House floor plans


A Open plan — family orientation

B Base plan — two children’s bedrooms

C Traditional plan — bedroom, loft/bedroom, bath

D Separate entrance for parent’s suite

E One bedroom apartment, family, or rental

F Private entry to secondary family unit/rental unit

G Wraparound porch providing covered entries for all house options

H Downstairs parent’s suite — bedroom, living, bath

I Potential full kitchen at stairs

J Potential wine cellar in lieu of stair with kitchen option

K Wall kitchen or desk option


9. The living apart together house

Jerry Messman of BSB Design presents a unique house plan geared for people who are looking to share housing.

Jerry Messman, AIA, BSB Designjmessman@bsbdesign.com


The living apart together house



Living apart together house plan


Living apart together house plan key


What we are seeing now — and expect to see more of in the future — are situations where household formations include people who are looking to share housing together. Think sister-sister, father-son, friends not co-habitating, etc., who look out for each other and would rather share space than live alone. The problem from a product design standpoint is creating a layout that provides ample private living space for each resident that is more than a bedroom/bath combination and offers quality shared public living space within the plan to encourage peaceful coexistence. We believe that household niches will become more splintered, and builders and designers will have to develop better targeted product for the smaller niches. 


This product starts out as a fairly traditional single-family house, so virtually any builder can build it. Where it differs is more about the layout, features, and amenities offered (or duplicated) to meet the specific needs of the household combination.

The living apart together house elevation


10. The Courtyard Neighborhood Concept

Larry Garnett's design concept blends the setting of a cozy courtyard neighborhood with a narrow footprint that wraps the home around an inviting and functional side yard.

Larry W. Garnett, FAIBD, Larry Garnett Designs, larrygarnett@larrygarnettdesigns.com

Common courtyards are nothing new. One of the most prominent concepts in California in the early 1900s, these historic neighborhoods are incredibly sought after today. Recent developments based on this idea have also enjoyed success. 


Courtyard neighborhood design site plan
Courtyard neighborhood site plan key

Our design blends the setting of a cozy courtyard neighborhood with a narrow footprint that wraps the home around an inviting and functional side yard, complete with a fireplace, covered dining space, and a cooking area (see plan, left). A carefully designed courtyard such as this provides a certain allure and tangible sense of safety that cannot be duplicated with most typical home designs. The generously sized front porch provides a semi-private place to relax with family and friends. A rear lane accommodates automobiles, reserving the front of the home as a safe and delightful place for neighbors to visit and children to play. Such a unique design offers the two key elements — emotional appeal and a functional daily living experience — that can inspire people to purchase a new home.


15. Detached garage with flexible living space

Larry Garnett presents a design reminiscent of a historic carriage house, with a garage that has room for two cars and a fully equipped living quarters above.


Detached garage with flex living site plan
Detached garage with flex living plan key

Reminiscent of a historic carriage house, the garage has room for two cars and a fully equipped living quarters above. With the dedicated extra parking space, this living quarters could provide additional income as an economical rental unit. It is also ideal as a private guest quarters or secluded space for an adult child returning home to live. It might even be used to house a live-in caretaker, perhaps allowing the homeowner to extend the number of years they can remain in the home. 


Detached garage with flex living home design, exterior
Detached garage with flex living home design, floor plan

12. Five development opportunities for builders

Donald Evans of the Evans Group presents 5 hot design opportunities for the home-building community. 

Donald F. Evans, AIA, NCARB, The Evans Group Architecture Planning Interiorsdevans@theevansgroup.com


Market-Rate Rental Apartment Homes

Market-rate rental housing design

In today’s recovering economy, market-rate rental apartment homes may be the only housing option for many families. Therefore, these rental homes should feature warm exterior architecture, three or four bedrooms, lofts for home offices, elevators, garages, lodges instead of clubhouses, and a concierge in lieu of a leasing agent. It’s a whole new game with a whole new set of players for this market segment, and accommodating family life is absolutely critical.

Duplex Cottage Student Housing

Duplex cottage student housing design

Student housing at universities across the U.S. is changing. Universities are allowing private-sector builders to provide the student housing on or near campus so they can concentrate on their core business — educating our youth. Parents are looking for safe, convenient, cost-effective solutions, and these duplex cottage homes with separate garages are a great solution.

‘Smart-Sized’ Multi-family Housing 

Smart-sized multifamily housing, elevation
Smart-sized multifamily housing


Multi-family homes (four-plex, six-plex, and more) that are “smart sized” and designed in the modern vernacular are in demand. What do I mean by smart sized? The home should be long on savvy design but short on price — both initially and over the life of the house. The marketability of the modern vernacular has been gaining strength during the past several years, and as the market emerges buyers are going to want something fresh and clean.

Multi-Generational Living Solutions

Multigenerational housing solution

Since 1990, the number of multi-generational households has grown approximately 40 percent. There are now some 50 million Americans (almost 17 percent of the population) living in multi-generational households across the U.S. And for some, the trend isn’t about the economy at all — it’s about family. With retiring grandparents as the first generation, dual-income working parents as the second generation, and a resurgence of households with three, four, and even five kids, what better solution for everyone both financially and emotionally. 

Style-Savvy Gen Now Bungalow

Style-savvy gen-now bungalow

As children of the Zoomers, this generation was raised on technology and the Internet, with the home being the center of their world. They are comfortable at home with a plethora of interests and a spirit of adventure. Their numbers are staggering, with 4.5 million reaching age 22 this year. Many are buying homes in this market with the assistance of their parents, who recognize the deals available. Some yearn for authentic architectural detailing of a bygone era, while others demand the clean, simple lines of the modern vernacular.

13. The Flexible Townhome Plan

Bill Warwick of BartonPartners Architects talks about a luxury townhome community with flexible home designs that appeal to a wide array of buyers.

Bill Warwick, AIA, BartonPartners Architects Plannersbwarwick@bartonpartners.com

Flexible home designs that appeal to a wide array of buyers contributed to the success of the Whitehall at Bryn Mawr luxury townhome community in Bryn Mawr, Pa. There are multiple plan options within each of the 28 homes, which range in size from 2,600 to about 3,200 square feet. Third-floor options include a full second suite with private bath or a more traditional second bedroom arrangement. On the fourth floor, buyers can select from a loft, third bedroom (in several configurations), home office, or expanded storage. 

flexible townhome design plans


In a time when it would have been easy to cut down on the level of finish, the development team stood fast and built a highly detailed luxury home. Because of the quality construction and finishes provided by the builder, Vaughan Building Group, the project sold out in just 16 months.

flexible townhome design exteriors



flexible townhome design interiors

With close proximity to an Amtrak Station, regional rail, and a high-speed line, and just two blocks from the commercial center of town, homeowners have multiple transportation options for stress-free commuting. 

Even though the project is in a tight, infill location, requiring a vertical design response, the compact footprint offers four off-street parking spaces to each homeowner. Fitting these new homes into the surrounding vernacular was essential. Design features like covered porches and balconies help form a bridge between the new neighbors and the existing community. These design components helped the builder attract a wide range of buyers, from move down and move up to empty nester and families.


14. High-density detached housing development

Robert Hidey says high-density detached housing offers an alternative product design that has proven to be popular with both buyers and builders. 

Robert Hidey, AIA, Robert Hidey Architects, rhidey@roberthidey.com

Encanto high-density detached elevations


Encanto project, exteriors

Rapidly replacing the much-maligned, attached row/townhouse in the 10 to 18 units per acre range, high-density detached housing offers an alternative product design that has proven to be immensely popular with both buyers and builders alike within the same densities. An increasing number of buyers are attracted to the detached individual ownership made available through a variety of different planning concepts, while builders are pleased to be able to forgo the added liabilities and costs associated with constructing attached projects. 

Equally appealing to both are the broad street elevations devoid of garages and driveways; separation of pedestrian and vehicular circulation through paseos and motor courts; bright and airy floor plans with window and door openings on all four sides; private outdoor spaces; and expansive, landscaped common areas. Most of these pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods include a generous community center and connected swimming pool. 

By minimizing the amount of circulatory roads, this relatively new housing type — sometimes referred to as “clustered housing” — offers detached, affordable living in densities that were once only accomplished by attached housing designs. 

Project: Encanto – Santa Clara, Calif.

Encanto high-density detached design, site plan


8. Single-family feel, carriage home style

Bassenian Lagoni's Dave Kosco offers a multi-family plan designed to live differently than other multi-family options on the market and build more affordably as well.

Dave Kosco, AIA, Bassenian Lagonidmkosco@bassenianlagoni.com

Born out of the recent recessionary environment, our challenge with Santa Rosa was to design a multi-family solution that achieved 20 homes per acre, was affordable to build, and sold at the lowest price point in Irvine Company’s original New Home Collection.

Single-family feel homes with carriage-home style


We sought to design a building that would live differently than every other multi-family option on the market and build more affordably as well. To meet both goals, we crafted the building as an all two-story solution. Each home takes on the attributes of single-family homes in terms of scale and size, partly due to the single-story nature of the plans. Another contributing factor is the abundance of natural light. Each home is positioned on a corner location within the building, which allows in light from multiple sides — unusual for attached homes at this density. By creating breaks in the building to give the ground floor and carriage homes identifiable entries, we created natural light opportunities and avoided the traditional “dark” middle unit problem in multi-family housing. Plan: Santa Rosa at Woodbury East

Single-family feel homes with carriage-home style, site planSingle-family feel homes with carriage-home style plan key


Single-family feel homes with carriage-home style floor plan


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