This year's Parade of Homes, produced by the Home Builders Associations of Sarasota and Manatee counties, offered fewer homes than last year for the public to tour but more than made up for it by unlocking the doors to no less than 24 model residences that sell for more than $1 million. The top priced one, Bellagio II (Arthur Rutenberg Homes/M. Pete McNabb), has a Parade price tag of $4.75 million.
Most of these grandiose two-story models are Mediterranean-inspired and are in gated communities such as Lakewood Ranch, which showcases a quartet of million-dollar babies side-by-side in the Teal Creek neighborhood. Others are in places such as Legends Walk and Belmont in Lakewood Ranch, University Park, Silver Oaks in Palmer Ranch and The Inlets in east Manatee County. Sizes range from about 6,000 to more than 9,000 square feet. None of the garages face the street, but are discreetly tucked to the side, usually with additional space for a motor court. These homes seem even bigger because they're built right to the boundaries of the lots. There's no yard maintenance because there isn't a yard.
To tour the luxury division of the 2005 Parade of Homes, one would think America is a nation of readers and scholars. Libraries are everywhere in residences, and they are sumptuous indeed, with rich paneled walls, ornately detailed bookcases and fine wooden desks, even Old World spiral staircases leading to the bonus room or to no place at all. And, yes, there are even books nestled in among small sculptures, flower arrangements and elegant cachepots.
But it isn't the library that's the big draw; it's the outdoor living area and the bonus room, which has evolved into a gigantic treetop suite with a wide terrace and grand view. Buyers want a seamless integration between indoor and outdoor spaces, and all of these homes graciously bow to that requirement.
But if you let your eye follow just the open floor plan that weaves indoors and outside into an airy, harmonious environment, you'll miss a major trend in design-ceilings. Upmarket model home ceilings are art galleries above your head with moldings, hidden lighting, paint and plaster treatments, murals, wall coverings and architectural details such as corbels. Ceiling fans and chandeliers are artfully integrated into glamorous ceilingscapes, and they've never looked better or more appropriate. There's a world of style up there.
A useful feature that builders are including inside the home is a system of electric eye sensor lights. You start up a flight of stairs and suddenly a long row of recessed lights blinks on, discreetly illuminating your ascending path. These motion-triggered lights are also appearing in the laundry room and in the walk-in closet/dressing room. And some considerate builders are creating a motion sensor path of lights from the master bedroom to the bathroom for nighttime safety. This is practical magic, indeed.
Other helpful amenities? Built-in sideboards and buffets in the dining room, some with storage underneath, others just long, floating planes that are convenient and lovely. And who doesn't love the new flat-screen television flush-mounted so it's just part of your wall in the bedroom, kitchen, even master bath?
The new walk-in closet/dressing room in the master suite is wonderfully thought out in most luxury homes, with built-ins for everything from socks and jewelry to special places for luggage and fancy straw hats as well as all the racks and cubbies you'll ever need. This means bedroom space is now free to accommodate just decorative furniture. All the storage is hidden from view. Many of these closets have a drop-down ironing board for quick touchups, three-way mirror and bench or ottoman seating so that you can sit while putting on shoes. There's even wall space to hang art.
Other attractive features we observed this year include more attention to glamorous wine rooms or wine storage areas and greater attention to laundry rooms, which are bigger and usually feature elevated front-loading washer and dryer. The new laundry room has top quality cabinetry, luxury counter tops and even areas for bathing and grooming a small pet.
Range hoods and stove niches are over-the-top gorgeous, like works of art. Banquettes and window seats abound (how practical), and front doors aim to make a regal design statement. The most common style is a stone surround that frames double doors of dark, lustrous wood with art glass insets and a fanlight above. Builders want to establish the "wow" factor before you walk in.
Wall coverings are back with a flourish, even grasscloth; and some rooms have two or three different paint treatments and colors. Color is prominent this year and should encourage homeowners to move away from white or beige.
Every Parade of Homes provides a wealth of winning ideas, and it's always smart to tour models with your notebook handy. Whether you're building or about to begin a remodeling project, you're bound to come away from the Parade with a confident attitude, even if it means you're now going to confidently call in the professionals.
Homes in the Parade compete within a wide range of price classifications beginning with residences for $125,000. In what we've determined is the luxury division, we've listed the winners and their categories. Even though the Parade is officially over, these models (and many more at all price points) are open for your inspection and inspiration all year-round. You can parade on in anytime you wish.
Todd Johnston Homes, Wilshire at Grosvenor Gardens at University Park: Curb Appeal, Kitchen, Master Suite, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Best Overall.
Pruett Builders, Villa DiLencia at Legends Walk in The Country Club at Lakewood Ranch: Architectural Detail.
Arthur Rutenberg Homes/M. Pete McNabb, St. Augustine VII, Legends Walk in The Country Club at Lakewood Ranch: Curb Appeal, Master Suite, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Best Overall.
John Cannon Homes, Sydney, The Estates in Silver Oak at Palmer Ranch: Kitchen.
Lee Wetherington Homes, Villa Natalia, Belmont in The Country Club at Lakewood Ranch: Curb Appeal, Kitchen, Master Suite, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Best Overall. This home is also a winner in the subcontractor competition of Landscaping, Pools, and Interior Design.
Anchor Builders, Santa Barbara, Teal Creek in The Country Club at Lakewood Ranch: Curb Appeal, Kitchen.
John Cannon Homes, Temora, Teal Creek in The Country Club at Lakewood Ranch: Master Suite, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Best Overall. This home is also a winner in the Subcontractor competition for Pools.
Najjar Construction, Villa Bramasole, Mayfair at University Park Country Club: Curb Appeal, Kitchen, Master Suite, Architectural Detail, Best Overall.
Pruett Builders, Villa Del Mar II, Teal Creek in The Country Club at Lakewood Ranch: Floor Plan.
Arthur Rutenberg Homes/M. Pete McNabb, Bellagio II, Teal Creek in The Country Club, Lakewood Ranch: Curb Appeal, Kitchen, Master Suite, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Best Overall. This home is also a winner in the Subcontractor category for Pools.