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New Trends in Home Additions

By PAMELA DITTMER MCKUEN
After nearly four years of economic turmoil, the residential resale market remains mostly in a slump. The remodeling industry, however, is showing signs of revival—a trend driven by the same forces.
  
Before the recession interceded, long-time homeowners, usually Baby Boomers, planned to use their equity and move into a condo or other single-level residence. Now they can’t get the price they expected. So they stay where they are and modify the home to meet their longer-term needs, perhaps by adding a master bedroom suite on
the first floor.
   
One of Roberts’ clients was a new widow when she came to him about four years ago. Her friends encouraged her to move to a retirement community, but she had other ideas. She commissioned him to design and build a family-room addition that could someday be turned into a bedroom and an extra-large bath that could accommodate a wheelchair. Later, she fell and fractured a leg.
   
“The wonderful part was she could move back into her home after rehab and be with her dog and her neighbors and friends, instead of going to an interim facility,” said Roberts. “Her forward thinking allowed her to do that.”
  
Architect Richard Becker of Highland Park has designed first-floor showers and stacked closets that someday can be turned into elevator shafts. New hallways are wide enough for wheelchair and walker turnarounds.
  
Aging-in-place is only one of the scenarios sending the BuildFax Remodeling Index upward. The index, which is based on construction permits filed across the country, was up 22.8 percent year-over-year in 2011. In the Midwest, the index moved 13.8 percent higher.
  
Shape-shifting families also need space, said residential remodeling specialist Don Van Cura Sr. of Chicago. Children go off to college, but they often return to live. Elderly grandparents may join them.
   
“There is a very definite trend to use spaces for multiple purposes,” he said. “People will say, ‘We want a recreational area and an office, but we want the office to also be a guest bedroom.’”
  
Work-at-home spaces are popular, he said. For one family, Van Cura built a tech area with four side-by-side computer stations so everyone could be together and online at the same time.
  
Many homeowners are enlightened about green building and sustainability, but price usually drives their choices of product and material when expanding their living quarters. Utility conservation is huge. Clients gladly pay extra for better windows, LED lighting and heavier walls to hold thicker insulation. After all, energy costs are not going down.
  
As for those beautiful-but-pricey recycled glass counters? Maybe. Maybe not.
  
Overall, clients are choosing quality over quantity, Becker noted. Some are scaling down their plans because of cost. Others are influenced by the small-house movement, which was initiated by architect Sarah Susanka and author of “The Not So Big House” book series.
 
“It’s a different gestalt,” he said. “People are not living so large today.”
  
Agreed Van Cura: “People seem less conscious of building monster things to impress other people and putting more focus on building what will work for them.”

Published: April 14, 2012
Issue: Spring 2012 Issue