DALLAS — "Back to The Future" could have served as the slogan of the 42nd annual convention of the National Assn. of Home Builders that attracted an estimated 60,000 builders and others here.
Traditional values and designs prevailed at the New American Home in suburban Dallas and the Renovated Ranch on the city's upscale north side, two popular tours away from the convention complex.
The future was in the Convention Center in the form of a full-scale mock-up of NAHB's Smart House project. This is an attempt to revolutionize residential wiring with a single-cable, closed-loop system, computer-age technology to eliminate the danger of short circuits--a major cause of home fires, as well as the electrical shock hazard that is a constant cause of worry to parents of young children.
Aside from the changes in technology, most housing design specialists don't expect big changes over the next five years. At least that is a conclusion drawn from a study conducted by Color Design Art, Pacific Palisades, unveiled at the convention, held Jan. 17-20.
Beverly Trupp, founder and president of the interior design merchandising firm, put 100 housings specialists together in a four-month "Delphi" study that resulted in 270 predictions on housing in the near term. Another group reduced that number to 10 "MegaPicks" destined, they believe, to influence housing into the last decade of the 20th Century.
"People don't purchase houses with the same mind-set as selecting a new car or buying clothes," Trupp said at a press conference where results were announced. "When it comes to putting down roots, even the rebels of the '60s want the traditional comfort and security of home ownership. These traditional values are why the American home will continue on an evolutionary path."
Trupp's seers--(the "Delphi," in the study title is named after the Greek city and the oracle of Apollo)--predicted that changing demographics will raise activity in the move-up market, increasing its future importance. This will be at the expense of first-time buyers, the study predicted, agreeing with a builder poll taken during the four-day convention by the NAHB itself.
Coincidentally or otherwise, the Delphi group found that furnished model homes will not be replaced by computer-displayed simulations and other futuristic technology. Designing model homes for builders throughout the nation is the main business of Color Design Art and a handful of similar companies.
One set of forces is encouraging urban in-filling while a second set is pulling new housing outward from the core of the nation's cities, the panelists found. They predict that builders will again be looking at in-filling urban and close-in suburban areas, largely with attached high-density housing, and that single-family detached housing will continue to be popular wherever it can be built.
David J. MacFadyen, executive vice president of the NAHB Research Foundation and the godfather of the Smart House, said using a single cable system--for everything from the low-voltage doorbell to appliances and lamps and cable television, would virtually eliminate a jungle of spaghetti-like wires found in the electrical systems of today's homes.
The big obstacle to widespread adoption of the technology of the Smart House comes in the form of the thousands of building code jurisdictions that jealously guard their preserves with code variations from the standards that drive up the cost of housing. By way of contrast, Japan, often cited as the very model of high technology in building, has a national building code, as do most European nations.
The New American Home, a 2,200-square-foot move-up house (it's on the market for $269,000) designed by New York architect Robert A.M. Stern is as traditional on the outside as anything in Westchester County, New York, as in Trammell Crow's Westchester planned community where it is built. Inside, the house has the kind of volume--especially in the two-story-high family room--that today's buyers have come to expect from houses in all price ranges and sizes.
The formula seems to be to give the buyer a thoroughly traditional look on the outside, while providing completely modern spaces on the inside. Like virtually all houses in this part of Texas, it is a brick house, with the bricks painted white.
In the complex itself was NEST '86, a contemporary-detailed update of last year's NEST '85, both of which were designed by Barry Berkus of the Berkus Group, Santa Barbara. The paneled, three-bedroom house was built by Nash Phillips/Copus Inc., an Austin, Tex., manufactured home producer and was co-sponsored by Professional Builder magazine.
The design of NEST (New Expanding Shelter Technology) permits a wide variety of exteriors tailored to regional tastes--brick in Texas, stucco in California, siding in New England--with 11-foot-high ceilings in most major interior spaces, Berkus said.