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Growth spurt in big homes

More buyers are two families who have become one. Many want to provide personal space for each child.

February 06, 2005|Chuck Green | Special to The Times

The 12- and 13-year-old boys share a bedroom, however. "They knew each other before Karen and I met, and it's an unusually big bedroom."

Like the Gentzlers, Schermerhorn and Jensen, who paid $1.2 million for their home, searched for about a month.

"One reason we bought so quickly was the boys really liked it," said Schermerhorn, who works in administration/management in the aerospace industry. "It's got a big living room and family room combination. It's almost like a gymnasium."

For both families, being blended also meant the parents had to make some compromises in their housing choices.

"If we only had the kids every other weekend, I'm sure it would have been different," said Jessica Gentzler, 32. "Every other weekend, I would have said [the boys] could share a bedroom and we would have moved into a three-bedroom house. But when it's half their life and they're here during the week, for my husband, it was really important for them to have their own space."

The Gentzlers also might have opted for a home that required less work.

"I think we would have rather moved into a house that was perfect," she said. "This house and the interior are a little older; not everything was brand new and the perfect style we like, but there is so much space."

Likewise, Schermerhorn said he and Jensen, a 43-year-old accountant, probably bought a larger home than they had originally envisioned. "Even though they wouldn't be with us full time, we wanted to make sure our kids were comfortable and would want to spend time with us," he said.

Besides a generous number of bedrooms, builder Cleland said he also designs homes with bathrooms that provide extra privacy. "In some of our homes, we'll put the sink outside the toilet and shower area, so each bedroom has its own sink."

Despite the large number of blended families among his customers, Cleland does not believe builders are solely catering to this market but are responding also to the demand for larger homes driven by a desire for prestige. "It's just the fact we're conscious of" that segment, he said, "and know we need to have X amount of bedrooms to satisfy our clientele."

For Schermerhorn, pulling together a blended family has been challenging even with adequate bedroom space.

"The issues of creating a stepfamily are so far beyond what we ever dreamed they would be that it's hard to even describe," he said of his blended family of six. "It's rather staggering what it takes to pull that many people together and have them go on vacations, live together, accept each other as someone who's going to be around a lot. We can't pretend to say we were really prepared for all that."

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Tips for better blending

Housing blended families under one roof can be a challenge logistically, financially and emotionally, said Aileen Braun, director of the StepFamily School in Garden Grove, the West Coast affiliate of the StepFamily Foundation. She offered the following guidelines to help in choosing a new home:

* Stay in the same community. A child's home environment is changing significantly, so the more you can do to maintain the community environment, the better the transition will be for all members of the blended family.

* Have a space for every child. If individual rooms are not possible, have big enough bedrooms so that each child has his or her own bed and private storage space. Children should not sleep on the sofa bed and live out of suitcases when they visit. It's heartbreaking for children to know their presence in the home vanishes as soon as they leave and the sofa bed is folded back up.

* If possible, have an area where the children can play freely. Choose a home with space for them to make noise that cannot be heard throughout the rest of the house. This encourages the children to have friends over, without encroaching on the space of the adults.

* Make room for the stepparent. Where can stepparents go to get out of the fray? An office or workshop that is off limits to the children is recommended. A common complaint of stepparents with no biological children is that they feel that they "do not belong" in their own home.

* The master bedroom should be a sanctuary. This is the only place the couple gets to be just a couple. This room should be spacious and out of earshot of where the children and their friends play.

Chuck Green can be reached at cgreenj@aol.com.

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