Senior Editor

Susan Bady has been writing about the housing industry for 30 years. She is senior editor of Professional Builder and Custom Builder magazines, and produces the Design Innovation e-newsletter.  Bady has also written for such consumer magazines as Cabin Life and Better Homes and Gardens’ Home Plan Ideas. You can reach her at sbady@sgcmail.com

Looking at the future with Charter Homes & Neighborhoods

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The Lancaster, Pa.-based home builder talks design trends and creating new neighborhoods in the dynamic Pittsburgh market

January 03, 2017

The start of a new year is the perfect time to share a list of home-design trends, this one courtesy of Charter Homes & Neighborhoods in Lancaster, Pa. Here is Charter’s  top five:

  • Super Kitchens: Anchored by massive granite or marble islands, Super Kitchens can now absorb a wide range of family activities, not just food prep and cleanup. Super Kitchens often come with dual appliances — two dishwashers, two stoves, and even two refrigerators. Oversized storage accommodates the weekly Costco trip for bulk supplies.
  • Toy garages: Families are spending more and more time in their garages, with some outfitted as lofts that serve as next-generation man caves, equipped with wet bars, flat-screen TVs, and gaming systems. Builders are making garages deeper and wider to accommodate motorcycles, RVs, and other “toys” along with the other family vehicles.
  • Generation-plus living: This allows a core generation of moms and dads to live with their Millennial children or older parents, and sometimes both. It’s driving demand for homes with flexible floor plans that can transition over time. What was once a kid’s playroom might become a Millennial’s bedroom. A bonus room, with an attached full bath, can be retrofitted for grandma’s extended stay. Basement kitchenettes once used for family movie night now provide full and separate living quarters for another generation. Expect to see more dual-master floor plans for parents and kids, and homes with separate, private living accommodations for whatever the family’s future holds.
  • Spa bathrooms: Ironically, even though more Americans than ever prefer showers over baths, the bathtub still remains an important centerpiece. But the trend points to freestanding, slipper-style tubs that look as if they’re cast from a single block of marble. Meanwhile, the practicality of the shower is being expanded to include steam rooms and full saunas.
  • Personalized outdoor space: Small private backyard structures are replacing mass-produced sheds and detached garages. In their place are potting sheds with glass roofs, raised garden beds, and decks that draw the outside in. Even spaces that have been forgotten or neglected, such as back alleys, are seeing a renaissance as a new focal point for barbecues, tailgate parties, and kids’ activities.

In addition to building bigger garages for cars, trucks, motorcycles and other grown-up toys, builders like Charter Homes are carving out space in the garage for, among other things, potting rooms that are just steps away from garden beds. Photo: Courtesy of Charter Homes & Neighborhoods

According to Charter Homes’ president Rob Bowman, the company has learned that rather than pick out items individually for the kitchen, buyers want to be presented with a package that incorporates all of those features. This finding is based on extensive research, of which social media is a big part.

“We take note of what people post on Pinterest and what they talk about on social media,” says Bowman. “That’s a data set we never had before. Today [home buyers] assemble their own style boards, which we used to do [for them] 10 years ago.”

With multigenerational living on the rise, the demand for space to accommodate adult children and/or grandparents has grown. The basement family room with its kitchenette is ideal for transformation into living quarters like these. Photo: Courtesy of Charter Homes & Neighborhoods

Keeping in step with the multigenerational housing trend, Charter Homes just released a new series of homes where bedrooms can be configured to the needs of a particular household. For instance, two secondary bedrooms and a shared bath can be converted to an owner’s suite with a private bedroom, bath, and closet. “My Russian grandmother lived with us when I was growing up,” remarks Bowman. “I remember the things I learned from her, and how I appreciated having three generations in the same house. It was a significant experience in my life.”

Home designs aren’t the only thing being examined and fine-tuned at Charter Homes. The company recently brought its trademarked concept, the Great American Neighborhood, to Pittsburgh, Pa.

“Pittsburgh is a “surprisingly dynamic, youthful, energetic town [that] has literally, over the past two decades, reimagined itself,” Bowman says. “They’re up for doing things better, whether it’s high tech, which has found a real footing there, or those in creative professions.”

The Great American Neighborhood replaces the traditional suburban subdivision with neighborhoods that blend proximity to shops and other amenities with time-honored architectural principles, multigenerational housing options, and a range of housing prices. “It’s a neighborhood model that delivers the ability to have life a walk away in the suburbs,” says Bowman.

Within this model are many housing choices and levels of service, such as exterior maintenance. But the key is that rather being segmented by age, “everyone is living on the same street,” he says. “People can make an earlier decision about where they choose to live, and be part of a neighborhood that is multigenerational and allows people to age in place differently than they were able to do in neighborhoods that we were planning 20 years ago.”

To date, Charter Homes has developed six Great American Neighborhoods in the Pittsburgh region. The latest neighborhood, Hastings, is located on a former hospital site. The first homes will be delivered in 2017. While the company will close approximately 50 homes by the end of 2016 in its other Pittsburgh locations, “Hastings is, by far, the signature neighborhood.” Bowman’s excitement is palpable, and contagious.

 

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