Contemporary Style Slips into Traditional Markets

New homes are getting a new look

Lenah Mill model home by Toll Brothers

Lenah Mill model home by Toll Brothers

While the brick-front, center hall colonial-style house isn’t going away entirely any time soon, builders and designers are introducing contemporary features and modern homes into the mix in some unexpected places. In some locations, such as the Line K collection by K. Hovnanian Homes in the Willowsford community in Northern Virginia and the Lexington Village at Avondale townhomes by Lexington Homes in Chicago, the homes completely embrace the modern aesthetic. In others, floor plans and facades are tweaked to incorporate contemporary elements in a more transitional style.

The desire for contemporary style stems from a variety of influences.

“In large metropolitan areas, our buyers are international and transient, so they expect more of a diversity of architectural styles,” says Karl Mistry, a group president for Toll Brothers for Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. “At the same time, we recognize that we’ve served buyers who want the traditional and historic homes in the area, so we haven’t abandoned them. We’re just taking measured steps toward contemporary homes and giving people choices.”

People have many opportunities today to see new designs and new products on the Internet on sites such as Pinterest and Houzz, on TV shows and in person as they travel, says Gary Chandler, a division president for K. Hovnanian Homes in Virginia. 

“Many people are attracted to the cleaner, linear designs in European homes, especially if they’re interested in design,” says Chandler. 
Exposure to homes with bigger windows, lighter and brighter rooms and sleek white kitchens informs people’s desires for their own homes, says Mistry. 

Contemporary exterior features

While contemporary elements have been part of updated floor plans for years, adding modern style to the outside of a home is a little bolder.

“New townhouses being built a decade ago or more looked just like the old single-family homes in Chicago,” says Jeff Benach, principal of Lexington Homes in Chicago. “It was like Epcot, kind of a ‘retro-Chicago’ look replicated everywhere. Over the past few years, builders started designing hyper-contemporary homes, especially on the Northside.”

For example, at Lexington Village at Avondale in Chicago, the townhouses have dramatic vertical boxes with horizontal siding underneath with modern clean lines.

The Line K series of homes, designed by internationally renowned architect and designer Piet Boon and built by K. Hovnanian, were first introduced in Phoenix. 

“It was a leap of faith to bring this home design to Virginia,” says Chandler. “It’s not just a modern feature in an existing floor plan, the design captures a European feel and is minimalist and symmetrical. It was also a challenge to give a two-story home a modern feel, to create an elevation that works in a different market and to find a way to bring in more outdoor living in a completely different climate.”

Glass pocket doors are used to create an indoor-outdoor living space that can be entirely open when weather permits and closed off during winter.

“One of the most popular options among buyers is creating indoor-outdoor fluidity into one large space with sliding glass walls,” says Mistry. “This allows people to use the outdoors as an extension of their living room and has a California vibe that’s unusual in the Mid-Atlantic.” 

In addition, Toll is offering more modern facades.

“Buyers have the option of choosing fewer heavy materials, with less brick and more stone and glass,” says Mistry. “Vertical siding instead of horizontal siding is also a more modern look.”

Retreat at McLean by Toll Brothers.

Retreat at McLean by Toll Brothers.

Contemporary interior features

While open floor plans are not new ins single-family homes, eliminating walls and expanding open space provides a modern look to townhouses, says Benach. The entirely open great room and center island kitchen is a hallmark of new townhouses at Lexington Heritage and Lexington Pointe in suburban Chicago as well as at Avondale.

“Some of our buyers still want a formal dining room and some want a formal living room, too, and those plans are still available,” says Mistry. “We’ve also introduced new designs based on feedback from our salespeople about what buyers tell them. The biggest change is that people want even more open space in the kitchen, family room and casual dining area and they want an even bigger center island.”

Other new features include:

  • Upper level living areas. A popular contemporary addition to floor plans is a loft area on the bedroom level that provides an extra space outside of the basement for kids or adults to use, says Mistry.
  • Streamlined staircases. Toll Brothers has introduced staircases with floating or curved stairs and open treads, sometimes made of wood and sometimes with metal railings or horizontal cable railings. 
  • Sleek kitchens. Modern kitchens have clean lines and sleek cabinets, with thin drawer pulls, says Benach, instead of cabinets with moldings and elaborate details.
  • Modern fireplaces. Linear fireplaces define modern design, says Chandler, because they have a minimalist and symmetrical style. Contemporary-style linear gas fireplaces are a popular element that Lexington incorporates even into their slightly more traditional suburban townhouses.
  • Contemporary bathrooms. Instead of a more traditional tub set into a platform, Mistry says buyers are opting for a freestanding tub or a ‘wet room’ with a large shower and freestanding tub set within a glass enclosure. Floating vanities, which are wall-mounted above the floor, also provide a modern look. 

An appreciation for contemporary elements and modern design can be found in all age groups and among people in a variety of life stages.

“People feel the symmetry in modern design even if they don’t recognize it,” says Chandler. “When all the light fixtures are lined up or paired, the wall-mounted vanities float above the floor, the stair rails are simple, and the doorways and windows have minimal trim, it all adds up to a serene feeling.”

Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades. You can find her on Google+.

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