Homebuyers Increasingly Choosing Unusual Options for New Homes

Pampering yourself with an outdoor shower or a screened porch for a newly built home personalizes your home, but some buyers use their imaginations to take customization to another level.

A small room for private meetings decorated in Arabic style. Two chairs and two small sofas are sitting in front of a small fireplace.

This room, in a Partners in Building custom home, can be used as a prayer room. Home shoppers are choosing unusual features like prayer rooms and outdoor tubs in their new homes. (Photo Courtesy of Partners in Building.

When told they can have anything they want in their home, some buyers will ask for anything from secret rooms to a hydro-therapy pool, prayer rooms and specially outfitted craft rooms.

Hiding Your Vices

When Eric Tovar, owner of Churchill Classics, a custom builder in Rockville, Md., designed an addition to a home in Potomac, Md., a simple plan for storage beneath the addition morphed into a secret hideaway “like something from a James Bond movie,” says Tovar.

“We built a door behind a bookcase so that when you pulled on a particular book it tugged on a wire so the door would open,” says Tovar. “The whole addition cost about $400,000. It had a ventilation system so you could smoke cigars in the room, a humidifier so you could store cigars, three piped-in beer taps and a temperature-controlled wine cellar. Underneath a deck just outside the secret room we added a hot tub with lighting and music.”

Pampering Your Spiritual Side

In the Houston area, prayer rooms are a popular option for people of Hindu and Muslim faiths, says Jim Lemming, president of Partners in Building, a custom builder in Houston and Nashville.

“Our buyers know the best location for the prayer room and which way the windows should face,” says Lemming. “We have to design the home around it to avoid having drain pipes next to or above the room for Hindus because of their religious beliefs. Muslims typically just want a room that can allow one or two people to kneel for prayer.”

Lemming says some buyers have a religious consultant work with their builder, architect and interior designer to make sure the space meets their spiritual requirements.

Second kitchens, while becoming more common for multigenerational residences and for homeowners who like to entertain frequently, are sometimes installed to accommodate Jewish families who maintain a kosher diet that requires complete separation of meat and dairy products.

“We built a complete second kitchen in the basement for a rabbi and his family in addition to the full kitchen on the main level,” says Tovar.

Sumptuous Outdoor Spaces 

In Hawaii, spiritualism can sometimes take the form of hydro-therapy, says Erika Alm, vice president of sales and marketing for Kohanaiki, a luxury resort community on the Big Island.

“Swimming pools and Jacuzzis are pretty common here, but one homeowner built the Jacuzzi in the middle of a pool so you have to swim back and forth through cool water to get to the warm Jacuzzi,” says Alm. “The pool is designed to mimic the color and texture of the ocean with three layers of tile in seven different colors. When the sun hits the water just right, it creates a dapple effect on the ceiling of the whole house.”

Another buyer at the resort opted for a deep-soaking tub outside inside of a shower, set in the shade beside a lava wall covered in bougainvillea and surrounded by lush tropical plants.

“The homeowner loves to read in the tub and decided to indulge that pleasure outdoors,” says Alm.

Outdoor spaces in the Washington area can be elaborate, too, but Tovar says many homeowners want a screened porch so they can use the space during three seasons.

“A lot of these screened porches have beautiful beaded ceilings, tongue-and-groove flooring, sound systems and even fireplaces so people can use them in winter,” says Tovar. “One included a $7,000 outdoor grill on the porch along with a wood-burning fireplace.”

Entertaining outdoors is common in Hawaii, so most of the homes at Kohanaiki have the dining room on a lanai protected by an overhang.

One homebuyer at Kohanaiki chose a 16-foot piece of a Monkey pod tree that had been planted by Mark Twain when he visited the island in 1866.

“It took six men to carry the wood onto the property and the owners designed their entire outdoor bar and entertaining space around that wood,” says Alm.

Indulging Your Interests 

Lemming says one of his buyers loved fish and asked for a massive custom-designed saltwater aquarium to be installed in his family room, which required sophisticated pumping and filtration systems.

“We’re seeing more people create a hobby room or family command center on the first floor, sometimes linked to the garage or the kitchen or a laundry room,” says Lemming. “People used to put a tiny craft room in a corner of the basement, but now people are designing beautiful custom rooms with windows, cabinets, a center island and sometimes a sink or a microwave, depending on whether they are scrapbooking or doing beading or anything else.”

While not every personalization costs a fortune, sometimes indulging your imagination can get pricey.

“For custom homebuyers, creating an experience and atmosphere in their home is far more important than money,” says Alm. “They are willing to spend whatever is necessary to create the home they want for themselves and to share with their guests.”

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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