Designs that were popular during the housing boom will probably need some fine-tuning to make them appeal to the current market. By updating plans, builders can also trim the fat and save money.
Updating floor plans to bring them in line with the latest design trends might seem like a no-brainer; residential architects recommend going through this process on a regular basis. In reality, though, most builders freshen up their plans not as a proactive exercise, but in response to feedback from customers who are comparing new homes to resales.
“I keep telling my builders, ‘You’ve got to make it fresh,’” says Deryl Patterson, a partner in BSB Design’s Jacksonville, Fla., office. “Resales are really strong and they’re kicking new-home construction’s butt. I think it’s because we haven’t innovated enough in housing.”
What’s needed are “cupholder” ideas, Patterson says. “Remember when cars didn’t have cupholders? We’re trying to come up with things that buyers don’t have in their current homes and can’t find in resales,” such as drop zones, owner’s entries, and flex spaces.
Think of it as resetting for the new normal, says James Wentling, principal of Philadelphia-based James Wentling/Architects. Whenever a builder purchases a plan from Wentling’s portfolio, the architect strongly recommends retooling it. “You can just make a few tweaks and really add a lot of appeal to a plan,” he says.
This exercise has the additional benefit of identifying areas where you can cut construction costs and add value to the home. Whether you work through the process with an outside architect or your in-house design team, consider the tangible benefits.
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When GreenPointe Homes of Jacksonville, Fla., started building in a master-planned community in Brooksville, Fla., called Southern Hills Plantation, they introduced the Pinemore, a plan that had been retooled by BSB Design. The 3,000-square-foot Pinemore was formerly the Sandkey — a bestseller for a previous builder who is no longer in the Jacksonville market.
“When GreenPointe purchased the land from that builder, along with it came the plans,” says Patterson. “They decided to make the Sandkey theirs and take a new, fresh approach.”
The plan modifications resulted in a savings of $1,635 per house for the builder. “We used a combination of roof pitches (steeper on the side-to-side pitch, shallower on the front-to-back pitch) to reduce the height of the roof and therefore have less roofing material,” she says. “Also, the roof has fewer hips and valleys, which saved money on roof trusses.”
The Craftsman elevation is one of two new designs created by BSB Design for the Pinemore plan. Notice that the windows and wall elements are more balanced and proportional and the entry is more open and inviting. CLICK TO ENLARGE PLAN 
The original English Cottage and Colonial Revival elevations were replaced with new Craftsman and Low Country elevations. A drop zone for purses, cell phones, keys, and mail was added at the garage entrance (now the owner’s entry). The living room is now a family room that engages with the kitchen, while the dining room is a flex space with windows oriented to the front for better light. This space can be used as extra storage or fitted with a doggie door leading outside. The master closet is now directly connected to the owner’s entry and laundry room. The closets in bedrooms two and three were enlarged.
BSB also reconfigured the kitchen, creating a larger corner pantry and an angled island that seats five. “It used to be that you never wanted to see the kitchen sink when you walked in the front door,” says Patterson, “but now the kitchen sink is the focus. We’re doing giant islands and making them feel like Starbucks.”
The covered patio in the rear evolved into a lanai with an optional summer kitchen and space for a fire pit.
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Wentling redesigned one of his portfolio plans, the Chadwick, to reduce the number of angles and projections and save money on construction. The Chadwick I, a 3,220-square-foot home, is a formal home with a curved staircase, separate living and dining rooms, an extension off the dining room, and a high-pitched hip roof. The Chadwick II is smaller (2,385 square feet), but no less elegant. Fiber-cement siding replaced the stucco, and the roof pitch is lower. Wentling pushed the garage back to allow for a three-car option. The angled stair in the foyer is more economical to build, and by narrowing the foyer he was able to widen the living and dining rooms.
The separate den and living room were combined into one space, and the master bedroom was moved back to give it access to a smaller deck off the gathering room. There’s still an extension for a library/conservatory, but it was made optional so that the plan would fit on narrow lots.
“For smaller homes,” Wentling recommends, “use the full lot width to maximize the street elevation. This implies value to the buyer and captures more views of the private rear yard.”
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Advantage Homes has won multiple awards in the Washington, D.C., marketplace for the Calvert, one of its most popular plans. But the Germantown, Md.-based builder wasn’t content to rest on its laurels.
“We went through some changes to hit different segments of the marketplace,” says Advantage president Rick Centra. “I’m gearing up to build some bigger houses in Virginia and Anne Arundel County, Md., which are premium-priced markets.”
Advantage teamed up with KTGY Group, Vienna, Va., to reinvent the 4,000-square-foot Calvert. Many of the new features will be incorporated into the builder’s 2013 product line, says Centra. For instance, the old brick elevation is less colonial and more Arts & Crafts. It features multiple textures, colors, shakes, horizontal siding, stone, and upgraded garage doors with lights and board-and-batten shutters.
To trim costs, jogs were eliminated as well as full brick on the gable. For greater functionality, the porch was deepened to 8 feet, and the steps leading up to it were widened — from 3 feet to 6 to 8 feet.
The new Calvert has fewer angles, which makes it easier for buyers to furnish, says Centra. It has the same number of windows, but they’ve been repositioned to maximize energy efficiency. And it now runs on one HVAC unit instead of three. “Just from a replacement-cost standpoint, it’s terrific,” he says.
KTGY enlarged the kitchen and pantry and squared off the family room and morning room for greater functionality and economy in the foundation wall and framing. The laundry was moved to the second floor (a more desirable location, says Centra), and wasted space in the master bath was recouped for larger vanities, a more sumptuous walk-in shower, and added linen storage. The morning bar was eliminated from the master sitting room because it’s no longer popular with buyers.
KTGY redid the old first-floor laundry room as a planning center with cubbies, a homework center, a drop zone, and a recharge zone. Such features, optional in other builders’ homes, are offered as standard by Advantage. The new Calvert “gives buyers another 100 square feet and it costs me less money to build,” Centra says.
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Houston-based David Weekley Homes is conscious of the fact that buyers live differently now than they did five or six years ago. They don’t want to pay for extra square footage if it won’t be utilized. Therefore, Weekley’s plan updates typically include eliminating the formal dining room in favor of a larger kitchen and study and a powder room; a study that’s open on two sides to allow for multiple uses; a first-floor bedroom suite; a drop zone; and an optional “super shower” in the master bath (a large shower in place of the soaking tub).
“With the multi-generational family becoming more common, the aging of the baby boomers, and kids often coming home after college, we found that the need for a second first-floor master was growing,” says Bob Rohde, VP of research and design with David Weekley Homes. Rohde says drop zones with coat hooks, backpack racks, and storage are being added to all of Weekley’s plans, but as a centralized area that isn’t part of the utility room.
The Huntsburg plan reflects these lifestyle changes. The 3,709-square-foot home gained about 50 square feet in the transition and features an open study that’s less formal, but still private. For improved workflow, the cooktop was moved off the kitchen island to the counter facing the dining room. The second bedroom was turned into a suite with its own bath.
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One of the top three sellers in the Dickinson Homes collection is the Hartford model. Since it was introduced by the Iron Mountain, Mich., builder in the mid-1990s, the Hartford has been tweaked on an annual basis in response to feedback from customers and salespeople. Project manager Mario Santoni says the most visible changes have been made to the front elevation.
The original Hartford was a straightforward ranch with a 4/12 roof pitch. Taking into account the latest design trends and building products, Dickinson’s in-house architectural and engineering departments have modernized it with a higher roof pitch, a covered porch, different window sizes, and decorative gables.
Over the years, Dickinson has made a number of customer-driven alterations to the plan, adding a first-floor laundry room and expanding the master bath to include a separate tub and shower, a double vanity, and more linen storage. Interior features such as a living-room fireplace and built-ins were added, and the garage increased in size. The overall square footage also increased, from 1,600 to more than 2,000 square feet.
“It really has the minimum number of interior walls that are needed; we try to keep it very open,” Santoni says. “Our big tag phrase is value engineering — no wasted space and no products, items, or materials that aren’t necessary.”
1. Get rid of rooms that are no longer important to buyers, such as formal living and dining rooms.
2. Add popular amenities, such as pocket offices, island kitchens, and drop zones.
3. Make the kitchen work well for entertaining as well as cooking. Expand islands to incorporate additional seating.
4. Take out some of the hidden costs that buyers don’t appreciate. “Ask a buyer whether they’d rather have an extra hip-and-girder set in their roofline or granite countertops,” says Deryl Patterson, a partner in BSB Design’s Jacksonville, Fla., office. “I think you know the answer.”
5. Re-evaluate the spaces between rooms for such potential uses as a butler’s pantry, bulk-storage closet, curry kitchen, or pet-care station.
6. Connect the laundry room to either the master bedroom or master bath with a hallway entrance to serve the rest of the family.
7. Eliminate the soaking tub in the master bathroom in favor of an oversized walk-in shower.
8. Include a “snore and more” room — a den/study or secondary bedroom with direct access from the master bedroom. Active adults, in particular, appreciate this feature.
9. Freshen up the street scene with a new elevation.
10. Pay attention to outdoor living areas, from the front porch to the side and back yards. In other words, demonstrate to buyers how you’re utilizing the entire lot.