A successful Parade of Homes is a practical and fun guide for folks thinking about moving to this part of Florida, as well as for longtime residents desiring to move up or determined to downsize. Spend two or three days touring neighborhoods of beautifully furnished models, and you soon understand how and where you want to live.
Included this year were big, glossy new neighborhoods in fast- growing Lakewood Ranch and smaller, private enclaves in more established parts of Bradenton and Sarasota. Want water, golf, nature preserve, tennis, boating or plenty of planned activities at a country club? Perhaps you crave the contained village lifestyle with the post office and bank within walking distance? This area has it all, as we all discovered when we roamed through some of the 148 houses during the two-week annual Parade of Homes, organized and presented by the Home Builders Associations of Sarasota and Manatee Counties.
The parade always features a competitive awards process that's more significant to participating builders than the touring public. Winning awards pumps the builders' advertising campaigns and swells pride in the sales staff, but it also says to the buying public that these builders meet and exceed the high standards set by their peers. And it's satisfying to realize the judges have singled out the very laundry room or kitchen you particularly admire. This year 100 industry judges from all over the nation convened to tour the homes and confer accolades such as "best overall," "curb appeal," "floor plan," "architectural detail" and so on.
Lee Wetherington Homes captured the most awards this year with 39, followed by Waterford Construction in Venice with 30. Todd Johnston Homes won 16. Awards were given for the combined counties of Sarasota and Manatee, and homes were divided into price categories. In some categories, there was only a single entry so that one emerged as the winner. (For a complete list of winners in the luxury home category, see accompanying box).
If you experienced déjà vu as you toured some of this year's models, your perception was correct. Many "new" models were actually featured (and won prizes) in previous years. Apparently, builders cannot keep pace with demand; so when they sell the models, they lease them back for 18 months or two years and keep showing them to the public until they can build the new "new" model.
Besides models we've seen before, lots of the brand-new ones conveyed a feeling of been-there-done-that. Floor plans remain relatively unaltered, in a don't-mess-with-success attitude on the part of experienced builders. You enter through elaborate double doors. To the left or right is the dining room. On the other side is the den/library or home office. Straight ahead, you look across a small and elegantly appointed sitting room out to the expansive pool pavilion and outdoor living area. The split plan calls for master bedroom and bath on one side and guest retreats on the other. Kitchen and family rooms flow together at the back of the house and both merge with the outdoor areas.
It's a winning set-up, although there's one feature that didn't catch my fancy: the front-facing master bath. Relax in your royal soaking tub and wave to the neighbors on the sidewalk who are walking the dog. Privacy gardens, half-walls, windows with elaborate curtains or etched and frosted glass are creative ways builders disguise this aspect of the popular floor plan.
The new wrinkle in the past three years has been the upstairs bonus room. A huge, flexible space, often with a private terrace overlooking the pool, this room is usually outfitted as an adult playground with huge-screen television, bar, pool table, plush furniture and trophy case. But sometimes it's shown as a separate, self-contained living space for a teen or another relative planning a permanent stay. The imaginative ways interior designers outfit these bonus rooms was one of the genuine delights of this year's Parade of Homes. I noticed serious potential buyers and casual browsers alike lingered longest in the bonus room, and in the kitchen/family rooms and outdoor living area. I guess those are the places we really live here in Southwest Florida.
Terrific trends & bad fads
* Outdoor living areas as expansive as the indoor space. The outdoor acreage (sometimes totally screened) is arranged in rooms such as the sitting area, pool relaxation pavilion, summer kitchen, bar, barbecue cafe, garden, etc. Meant for year-round use, most of these spaces include a fireplace and weatherized furniture.
* Impressive front doors. Most popular is a combination of beveled glass and luxury wood such as mahogany. The result is jewelry for the entrance. In general, there's a heightened interest in making the exterior entranceway more luxurious with fancy lighting and expensive stone treatments underfoot. Curb appeal is definitely trendy.
* Master bath. Size-wise, it has peaked at about the square footage of a Manhattan studio apartment. The usual luxury division amenities include a television, separate water closet, enormous shower with several jets and seating area, oval soaking tub with jetted spa, telephone, marble floors and counters, vanity area for makeup, finely detailed cabinetry that looks like freestanding furniture, and lighting like Versailles.
* Bye-bye bidet. Once a European feature in the master bath, you barely see one anymore. Clearly, American women aren't interested.
* Granite countertops in the kitchen and bar area. In the luxury division, there's no end to the selection for this durable status rock. Dark, rich colors flecked with sparkles are more popular than lighter tones.
* Bigger, better closets completely outfitted with built-ins for convenient storage. This allows the bedroom to be furnished with more ornamental objects. Clothing is neatly put away in closets, so you no longer need a dresser or chest of drawers,
* Laundry room. Bigger, prettier, more fully equipped and elegantly furnished than three years ago, with separate areas for flower arranging, crafting, dog bathing, etc. Today's laundry room is spacious, multi-purpose and treated with design respect as to wall and floor finishes, quality cabinetry and art.
* Wallcoverings. While faux-finish treatments are still popular, especially the Venetian plaster technique, we're seeing an increased use of luxury wallpapers in every room: borders, accent walls, wrap-around papers and murals.
* Color. White walls are passé in Southwest Florida homes. Instead, expect a range of yellows from pale daffodil to Tuscan gold, terra-cotta, sage and celadon green, sky and ocean hues of blue, deep crimson, chocolate brown and various shades of taupe in both the tawny and pearl gray tones.
* Side-entrance garage. Happily, in the luxury division, the snout-house (one with front-facing garage) is a thing of the past, and the three-car garage seems to be standard.
* Skimpy lot, huge home. When land is at a premium, this is what happens; and it's happening in every new neighborhood. Some affluent buyers choose to acquire two house lots to give their dwelling some breathing room. Others appreciate a cramped lot that's filled with house-there's no lawn to maintain.
* Exterior and interior ornamentation. We saw more useless towers, turrets, fluted and twisted columns, pilasters, niches, coffered and tray ceilings, hand-painted beams, mosaics and multiple moldings than most edifices can visually endure. Ostentatious ornamentation is what builders are using to set some Med-Rev creations apart from others. Some seem ever more like Disney fantasy castles, full of frou-frou accents that don't mean a thing in terms of practical living. Applause to the brave builders who believe simple lines, balance and a lot size that's proportional to the structure on it are what make a stately home.
Parade of Homes 2004 winners
Luxury Home Division
(Tie) Clarendon II, Ashland in The Country Club at Lakewood Ranch, Pruett Builders: Curb Appeal, Architectural Detail.
(Tie) Ballina, Legends Walk in The Country Club at Lakewood Ranch, John Cannon Homes: Curb Appeal, Landscaping (Trent Culleny Landscaping).
(Tie) Wilshire, Grosvner Gardens, University Park, Todd Johnston Homes: Kitchen, Master Suite, Floor Plan, Overall.
(Tie) Woodbridge, Warwick Gardens at University Park, Marc Rutenberg Homes: Curb Appeal, Kitchen, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Overall.
(Tie) Allora VII, Blythefield in The Country Club at Lakewood Ranch, John Cannon Homes: Master Suite.
(Tie) Addison, Legends Walk in The Country Club at Lakewood Ranch, Lee Wetherington Homes: Curb Appeal, Kitchen, Master Suite, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Interior Design, Landscaping (Sun State), Swimming Pool (LeeSure Water Pools), Overall.
(Tie) Villa Di Lencia, Legends Walk in The Country Club at Lakewood Ranch, Pruett Builders: Floor Plan.
The Grand Floridian, Sloane Gardens at University Park, Anchor Builders of Southwest Florida: Curb Appeal, Kitchen, Master Suite, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Overall.
Nariah, Portmarnock in The Country Club at Lakewood Ranch, John Cannon Homes: Curb Appeal, Kitchen, Floor Plan, Master Suite, Architectural Detail, Overall.
Villa Bramasole, Mayfair at University Park, Najjar Construction: Curb Appeal, Kitchen, Master Suite, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Overall.