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updated: 9/2/2014 9:42 AM

Home designs for busy families

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  • Today's kitchens have large islands, many containing small refrigerators so kids can get snacks while doing homework or quickly grab a soda without disturbing the cook.

      Today's kitchens have large islands, many containing small refrigerators so kids can get snacks while doing homework or quickly grab a soda without disturbing the cook.
    Courtesy of Morgante-Wilson Architects

  • For some time, mudrooms have been common in larger custom homes. However, now many suburban homebuilders offer the "owners' entry."

      For some time, mudrooms have been common in larger custom homes. However, now many suburban homebuilders offer the "owners' entry."
    Courtesy of D.R. Horton

  • Many busy families want a "command center" where they can pay bills, use the computer and be close to kids doing homework.

      Many busy families want a "command center" where they can pay bills, use the computer and be close to kids doing homework.
    Courtesy of M/I Homes

  • Families are more organized when they have dedicated space to enter and exit the home, said Elissa Morgante, principal with Evanston-based Morgante-Wilson Architects.

      Families are more organized when they have dedicated space to enter and exit the home, said Elissa Morgante, principal with Evanston-based Morgante-Wilson Architects.
    Courtesy of Morgante-Wilson Architects

  • There are many ways a busy family can utilize flexible space, like this second-floor loft that is furnished a small, second family room.

      There are many ways a busy family can utilize flexible space, like this second-floor loft that is furnished a small, second family room.
    Courtesy of William Ryan Homes

By Jean Murphy
Daily Herald Correspondent

There is no question. Families are busier today than ever.

While it is true that in the days of Ozzie and Harriett, many people produced larger families and didn't have the modern mechanical tools that we have today to make life easier, in today's families, most men and women work outside the home. They don't have the luxury of accomplishing minor little household tasks, like throwing in a load of laundry, between their professional tasks.

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They are only home in the evenings and on the weekends and they want to be able to spend that time watching their children's sporting events and socializing with friends. They want to spend as little time as possible handling the mundane chores of daily life.

So homebuilders are discovering that the more tools they can incorporate into their floor plans to help keep these families organized and moving through life smoothly, the more homes they will sell.

Owners' entries/mudrooms

"We have been incorporating tricked out mudrooms into our custom home designs for the past ten or 12 years," said Elissa Morgante, principal with Evanston-based Morgante-Wilson Architects. "Our Midwestern winters are so brutal that we need to give our clients a place where they can deal with all the junk you need to wear like boots, coats, mittens and hats."

Over the years, that space has morphed into a centralized organization room for everyone in the family, complete with individual cubbies for books and backpacks, drawers for hats and mittens, a large wall of hooks for coats, a closet for the extra coats, a bench for taking off wet shoes and boots and even an out-of-the-way place to charge electronic devices.

"Having one place for everything stops a lot of that frantic searching that happens when a home doesn't have a large mudroom," Morgante said.

Such a room generally needs to be no smaller than 6 by 8 feet if you have a family of four or five because "you need space for everyone to stand while taking off coats and boots if you all come in together," she added.

"Large mudrooms are great for keeping clutter out of the kitchen but still having it close enough where it can be easily accessed, " said Brian Brunhofer, president of Meritus Homes of Deerfield.

"We make sure that there is enough space that homeowners can store items like paper towels from their Costco runs and that they can also organize the electronic items, coats, hats and school materials. Many buyers even want us to install individual lockers for their children so that they can shut the door and not see inside. Structure and functionality are the keys to mudrooms," he said.

Lexington Homes is also including high-end mudrooms in their custom homes at Woodleaf at The Sanctuary Club in Kildeer, said Jeff Benach, co-principal.

"We first did this in our single-family homes in Bridgeport in the city. We put an emphasis on creating an entrance for the homeowner and equipping it with cubbies and other things to make it easy to set things up for the kids to leave in the morning," he explained.

The city buyers loved it so much that Lexington is now offering enlarged mudrooms in their suburban custom homes, too.

"That leftover space between the garage and the kitchen is no longer an afterthought. It has evolved as it has registered with homeowners and builders alike that that is the primary entrance to the home," Benach said.

In recent years these large, very organized mudrooms have ceased to be options that only custom homebuyers could consider.

"They have really come into fashion with mainstream builders in the past year," said Cheryl Bonk, vice president of sales and marketing for M/I Homes of Illinois. "Everyone likes the idea of having a place with enough space and the right types of space to drop keys, backpacks, coats and boots and be able to readily find them again."

The key to designing a mudroom, Bonk said, is not over-appointing it and taking away the homeowner's flexibility.

In most cases, she added, the laundry room and the mud room have been separated in the homes being constructed today. Sometimes the laundry room is on the second floor, close to the bedrooms. But in other cases, even when it is on the first floor, it is separate from the mud room.

"You don't want the mudroom to feel like an afterthought, so it is important to make it proportional to the size of the home. Six by 8 (feet) would be the minimum. Others are as big as 8 feet by 12 feet," Bonk said. "Getting a nice big mudroom is one of those perks that come with buying new construction."

Chalkboards and corkboards for posting reminders and family calendars have also become fixtures in these organization rooms.

"The key for builders is to make sure the space is in the right place so that it can be used however each family chooses. You have to remember that Millennials are list makers. They are used to doing things quickly and the more you can help them with that, the better," Bonk said.

William Ryan Homes is also actively trying to make the lives of their many dual income buyers easier by designing large mudrooms that are sometimes combined with a laundry room and which sometimes are totally separate. Debbie Beaver, vice president of operations for William Ryan, said buyers then have the option of purchasing the builder's mudroom built-ins consisting of coat hooks, cubbies and an electronic plug-in station.

"We aren't even calling them mudrooms anymore," said Chris Naatz, vice president of sales and marketing for D.R. Horton Homes. "We are now designing 'owners' entries' because 95 percent of the time, that is the way the family enters the home and we are trying to make it an inviting area that doesn't cause stress. So we are making it big enough that there is ample space for storing the items every family uses on a daily basis.

"D.R. Horton is designing the owners' entries to include key drops, electronic charging stations, USB outlets, benches, big walk-in closets and windows for natural light. Lockers are optional. And, in most cases, our laundry rooms are located elsewhere," Naatz said.

"Mudrooms have evolved from hallways with washers and dryers and no space to put anything to much more pleasant, organized entries for owners," he added.

Nate Amidon, director of sales for Shodeen Residential, agreed.

"Busy, dual-income families want their homes to help keep them organized," he said. "We have definitely seen a trend, especially in custom homes, with buyers asking for organizational mudrooms, which we are now calling 'owners entries,' including boot benches, wall hooks and much more in large areas where they can keep everything they need for quick exits in the morning.

"Mud rooms no longer double as laundry rooms. Those have been moved closer to the bedrooms where the laundry collects."

Study/computer stations

Parents' preferences when it comes to where their children study vary and builders are doing their best to accommodate everyone.

Some want them sitting at the kitchen island, out of the way of food preparation, but right where the parents are working at the end of the day so they can help the kids with homework and/or keep an eye on their computer activity. Others choose to have study nooks created on either the main or upper level, but still in an open area where parents can keep a watchful eye.

Still others locate their study areas in a finished lower level or a second-floor bonus room so that once study is done, the computer can easily be used for video games.

"We have been putting study niches in our homes for a decade," said Lexington's Benach. "We even build them into our townhouse models. Creating such niches is a good way to use wasted space in a hallway, for instance."

William Ryan Homes once offered a pocket office off the kitchen for this very purpose, Beaver said, but all of the very portable technology of today has made a dedicated space for study unnecessary. In its latest designs, the pocket office space has been put back into the kitchen.

"At Shodeen, we are seeing buyers choose to have a multiuse flex room in place of a traditional living room. This way they can add doors to the room and use it as a study or a playroom and then the children are on the same level of the home as the parents," Amidon said.

"Many parents are also choosing to make their kitchen islands much more than a cook top and food preparation area. They want large islands with big overhangs so that they can pull up bar stools and the children can study and use their laptops right there," he added.

Naatz of D.R. Horton agreed. "Many kids don't want to be isolated while they are doing their homework. So kitchen islands aren't just for eating anymore. The children can be working on homework while the parents are making dinner. But you need lots of space to make that work, so we are building very generous-sized kitchens."

Other families prefer their children, especially the older ones, to study someplace quieter. So D.R. Horton has designed some of its models showing a study space in a second-floor loft area where they are still visible while on the Internet, but have a little more quiet, Naatz said.

"We have been opening up hallways in our larger homes, giving families a central place outside of the bedrooms for study space so that children aren't holing up in their rooms where parents can't keep track of what they are doing on the Internet," the architect Morgante said. "In other cases we are making the computer area part of the basement playroom so that when they are done studying, they can use that same area to play video games and burn CDs."

Bonk agreed. "We are building second-floor bonus rooms where older kids can study and then hang out. We are even putting beverage stations in them so they can enjoy drinks when they want them and we are making sure these rooms are open enough that the children are not isolated while they are studying, on the computer or hanging out."

Self-serve kitchens

Getting that busy family out the door or just through a normal day can be facilitated by arranging the kitchen, pantry or butler's service area in such a way that children can grab their own breakfast, snack or drink from a bar-sized refrigerator or refrigerator drawer that is far from the main food preparation of the kitchen.

"We are designing custom kitchens so that there are refrigerator drawers for the children that are away from the kitchen's main work triangle. This way they can easily get their own snacks, drinks or breakfast and be more self-sufficient. It really works -- even with smaller kids -- and it is a great way to get that big gallon of milk out of the main refrigerator," Morgante said.

Over the last few years, Meritus Homes has also been creating separate areas where kids can easily access snacks and drinks without further cluttering the kitchen.

"Children generally want to get something to eat or drink quickly and get outside just as quickly, so we are facilitating that by putting small refrigerators along the periphery of the kitchen and incorporating breakfast bars into our kitchens where people can be easily served and where clean up is convenient," Brunhofer said.

Beaver agreed. William Ryan Homes is offering a "super island" option in their kitchens that includes a mini-refrigerator in the island, away from the work area of the kitchen. This beverage center allows children and others to get their drinks without disturbing whomever is preparing the next meal.

D.R. Horton is also building islands with breakfast bar seating and in many cases, they are putting in walk-in pantries where everything is accessible to children and some people are even outfitting them with bar refrigerators for children's drinks, Naatz said.

M/I Homes is offering so-called "livable" kitchens. They are putting a self-serve area in many of their homes' butler's pantry areas between the kitchen and the dining room so that it is out of the way from the main traffic of the kitchen, Bonk said. They are equipping these spaces with mini refrigerators and microwaves at a child-sized height for easy use.

Elsewhere they are installing beverage refrigerators for wine and other adult drinks at a wet bar and sometimes they are even putting a space for a coffee maker and a small refrigerator in the master suite, she said.

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