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posted: 4/20/2014 12:01 AM

First impressions are important to builders, homeowners

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  • A grand staircase and open layout has a great impact on guests when they enter a new home.

    A grand staircase and open layout has a great impact on guests when they enter a new home.
    Courtesy of Lexington Homes

By Sherry Giewald
Daily Herald Correspondent

A home's entrance -- like a warm embrace -- greets guests and welcomes them inside.

Builders know the importance of what first meets the eye, whether it's grand, opulent, rustic or unique.

Often people want to focus on the kitchen and bath, but the exterior and entry should be the star of the show, said Brian Brunhofer, president and owner of Meritus Homes.

"The first impression is huge, and we want it to feel comfortable and glamorous but also showcase how the rest of the home plays out. It's an important aspect of homebuilding."

The entry sets the tone for the home's style and mood and allows homeowners to show their personality with color, unique lighting fixtures, mirrors or artwork.

Homebuilders offer buyers many ways to make their entry memorable.

Lexington Homes

"We're certainly paying attention to the entry as opposed to it being an afterthought," said Jeff Benach, president of Lexington Homes.

"The front entry is one of the major design elements that makes the difference of night and day. Take it away, and the home is just like a lot of other nice houses."

Lexington's Woodleaf at The Sanctuary Club in Kildeer offers custom and semi-custom homes that allow buyers to create an entryway that reflects their personal style by designing it from scratch or modifying one of the builder's plans.

Several plans include a center entry with high ceilings that gives the home a grand, open feeling and creates a single point from which all the other rooms flow.

Benach said every house needs a design element that makes the entry stand out.

"Where the eye gets caught when you walk in the door is a big part of the architectural process," he said. "Another factor is how the home looks from the street. The entry becomes part of the elevation, and we're juicing the front gables around the front door."

Meritus Homes

Similarly, Meritus Homes focuses on the buyers' immediate reaction to the home from its exterior and interior entry.

"When you look into the home, what do you see -- windows with views, fireplace, stairway? It's all about space and the perception of space," Brunhofer said.

Meritus builds all its homes with 10-foot first-floor ceilings, which enhances the entryway even when it does not have a two-story or volume ceiling, so it still feels very large when you walk in.

"The tall ceilings give definition to the foyer while transom and upper-level windows flood the space with light. Often buyers accent the foyer with light fixtures that become the centerpiece of the space," Brunhofer said.

For a traditional look, an open entryway with the stairwell dressed up with a beautiful railing is also appealing. For a more modern design, the front rooms and stairwell are all open to each other while a wide hallway gives sight lines to the kitchen and family room at the rear of the home.

Flooring is also an important part of the entryway with most of Meritus' buyers choosing hardwood flooring throughout the first floor for a nice flow that ties everything together from the moment one enters the home.

Kinzie Group/Enclave of Heritage Estates

At Enclaves of Heritage Estates, the entrance starts well before you get to the home's front door, said Christine Lutz, director of residential sales for Kinzie Brokerage. The company is handling sales and marketing for remaining inventory at the community and building out the rest.

One's first impression is a gorgeous, stately gated community entrance with a lot of fieldstone and boulders that has the feeling of an estate. This is important because it sets the tone for what lies beyond.

"Also important are the home's surroundings," Lutz said. "If your home sits next to like-type properties, this sends a nod as to what to expect throughout the subdivision.

"We pay a lot of attention to the facade of the home with full brick fronts, which give the elevation of the home an impressive look. Several homes will have covered porches."

A porch is the beginning of the entrance to the home. The builder also features full wood doors with glass side paneling that allows in the light.

People spend a lot of money on finishes in the entry, she said. With historic styles, they like a distinctive chandelier and other adornments to give it the wonderful, period look.

Several floor plans at Enclave of Heritage Estates are designed with a clear line of sight from the large entry foyer straight through to the oversized fireplace in the great room.

Morgante Wilson Architects

Inspired by vacations at a Tuscan villa in Italy, a family that became John Leonard's clients now live with the look and feel of Italy in their own home in Glencoe.

The clients fell in love with Italian architecture when they were there, which was the motivation for the entryway project, said Leonard, an associate with Evanston-based Morgante Wilson Architects.

In the grand entry, a winding staircase leads to the second level where a circular opening looks down into the spectacular space as light transfers down. A beautiful chandelier lowers at night to light up the entry and staircase.

The entry flows into a grand hallway where beautiful doors march all the way down to the main part of the home. With the perception of glass, some doors feature mirrors, which offers privacy for the room beyond.

"This is not your typical suburban home," Leonard said. "The client wanted tile in most of the areas of the first floor, particularly the entry and kitchen. Every one of the Mexican fired clay tiles was custom made. It's wonderful. The floor is heated, and the tile throws off the heat well.

"They love the house," Leonard said. "When it was finished, they had a large party for all the contractors."

Also an associate with Morgante Wilson Architects, America Garcia was the project manager for a fabulous vacation home in Colorado.

The New York residents and avid skiers wanted a tranquil getaway home up in the mountains with gorgeous views from almost every room. They previously had a condo down the mountain they would use two or three times a year, but now they wanted a home.

"They like a natural vibe, which begins with the entry, with an open floor plan and carefree environment where the family can see each other from every angle and be together," Garcia said.

The unusual entry with dry sack, sandstone and gray stone welcomes you into the 3,500-square-foot residence where the combined kitchen, dining and living rooms offers views on three sides. Bedrooms include the master bedroom, two bedrooms on the second floor and two sleeping quarters in the walkout basement. It's very compact and space is used very efficiently.

"The patio with fireplace is terraced into the side of the mountain," Garcia said. "It's pretty spectacular."

To the left of the entry, three large windows look straight into the mountain.

Natural light is really important. With floor-to-ceiling windows, it's bright and light. It has a more modern look with a touch of tradition.

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