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The Washington Scene

Southland Sets Tone for Capital Homes

September 07, 1986|JOHN BETZ WILLMANN | Special to The Times

WASHINGTON — Southern California is still setting the residential building trends and styles that are adopted by home builders in the East.

For decades, aggressive Washington area builders have visited Southern California subdivisions to obtain dynamic ideas for design and merchandising. As a result, innovations seen here often reflected trips made to West Coast building sites.

In particular, Washington area builders obtained their confidence to do contemporary-styled subdivisions from visits to the Los Angeles area. The same goes for the introduction of cathedral ceilings, skylights, atriums, garden rooms and extended "live-in" kitchens.

On a recent visit to Southern California, Ann Pitheon of Housing Data Reports made some observations that have been passed along to her clients in this area. For instance, nine-foot ceiling heights were found on "first floors where a homeowner statement is made." The additional ceiling height enables a small room to appear larger without adding many square feet of space.

"That's really a throwback to the old days when the houses that we grew up in had ceilings of nine feet or more," said veteran Washington realtor Earl Farr.

Vaulted ceilings and cathedral-ceiling bedrooms with plant shelves add drama and excitement to traditional room arrangements, Pitheon reported to builders here.

Additionally, she said, new moderately priced Southland dwellings usually have "kitchens that have become comfortable living spaces, opened up with breakfast bar countertops." This is highly pertinent, according to Pitheon, because separate living rooms and family rooms are less prevalent on the sunnier side of the United States than in the more traditional East.

Also, those cold fluorescent lighting fixtures in kitchens are giving way to warmly luminous ceilings and attractively boxed lighting fixtures.

Building-attuned visitors from the East also are impressed by the Southland's clerestory windows, fenestration over an entry door, Palladian windows, garden windows, floating walls, floor-to-ceiling corner windows and oversized box bay windows with built-in seating to enlarge the mood of small spaces.

As a matter of personal observation, one of our neighbors recently renovated by installing a large, boxed bay window with a storage space beneath the window seat. It's become the talk of the neighborhood and a hot item on the remodeling lists of residents in our still-growing subdivision. Enlargements of family rooms that abut kitchens are the most popular improvements.

Other West Coast residential elements that turn on Washington-area builders include mirrors accenting a wall to give the perception of added space in a small bathroom. Also, floor-to-ceiling mirrored closet doors are used to increase visual space. Sliding glass doors leading to patios are already fairly common hereabouts in a variety of new home subdivisions.

With a growing recognition of the empty-nester market, new-home builders also are providing master bedrooms on the first floor and first-floor dens that can double as guest bedrooms.

In addition, home builders who do their work within a 30-mile radius of the White House never cease to come home from a trip to Southern California with more positive ideas for landscaping. That outdoor emphasis includes decks, plantings, creative walkways, patio furniture and hot tubs.

Area housing consultant Edwin L. Stoll summarized that the real difference between new homes in Southern California and metropolitan Washington is mainly that there is just so much more innovation and excitement in many more houses built in California.

"Of course, there's a difference in the climates," Stoll noted, "but there's also a difference in the living styles and traditions of the people who buy houses. We are now becoming more casual in our living and house styles here--and we can credit the Southern California influence for a lot of that transition."

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