What's In — And Out — In Home Design?

A pair of elegant and beautifully-designed staircases leading the way to the upstairs spaces.

Stately palms surround this placid pool and raised patio. The Villa Milano model by Toll Brothers. The Jupiter Country Club Signature Collection. Jupiter, FL.

Warm, welcoming and comfortable. These words describe the ideal place to get away at the end of the day. The kind of place you want to spend relaxing weekends with family and friends. In a word, your home.

Many homeowners have moved beyond the desire for a private refuge and are instead focusing on creating inviting entertainment areas  a place where family and friends are always welcome.

"The home isn't just for the person who lives there anymore," said Linda Rossi, a marketing manager for Toll Brothers, a leading builder of luxury homes. "It's where people create memories and share their lives with family and friends. The emphasis is now on making a home feel inviting and comfortable."

Toll Brothers, which builds in 230 communities in 19 states, studies the preferences of its home buyers and model home decorators to help determine the latest trends in home decor and design.

"When our buyers begin selecting flooring, designing their kitchens and picking options, trends become obvious," Rossi said. "That combined with the expertise of our model home decorators keeps us up on what's in and what's out."

So what are home buyers looking for?

For starters, one of the most apparent trends in home design is happening outdoors. Courtyards  both interior and front entry  are in big demand. "Courtyards can literally transport you from a city street to a quiet calm even before entering the home," Rossi said. With outdoor fireplaces, comfortable seating and even soothing water features, courtyards are a simple but elegant way for home owners to make a great first impression.

Behind the home, more emphasis is also being placed on creating outdoor entertainment areas around resort-style swimming pools. "The backyard itself is becoming more like a resort with cozier seating as well as larger pools with more features  from waterfalls and fountains to in-pool seating and creative water slides," Rossi said.

In addition, outdoor kitchen areas have been added to the basic barbecue grill. With refrigerators, wine coolers, sinks and ample counter space, there's rarely a reason to leave company to go indoors.

However, when weather or time of day keeps company inside, there are plenty of ways home owners can still impress and entertain.

Game rooms and home theaters have surged in popularity. Game rooms typically offer game or billiards tables, mini refrigerators or a wet bar and perhaps a children's area with board games and junior-sized seating. The home theater has become elaborate with stadium-style seating, large popcorn machines, huge movie screens and state-of-the-art equipment.

Elsewhere in the home, some recent trends are continuing  with a twist.

Stainless kitchens continue to grow in popularity. But today, refrigerators, ovens, cook tops and even microwaves have now gone high-tech. "We've seen refrigerators that have a camera inside and a TV screen outside so you can see what's inside before you even open the door," Rossi said. "There are programmable ovens, stove tops and even microwaves that can 'sense' how long something needs to be reheated for."

With all this technology dominating the kitchen, Rossi said there are still some ways home owners can add a touch of old-fashion warmth.

"Fireplaces are now being found in some unconventional places, like in the breakfast area or near the oven," she said. "We're also seeing fireplaces outdoors, in the master bath and really, throughout the home."

Speaking of master baths, while the home is no longer all about the homeowner, a personal retreat is often found in the master bath. "We call them spa-like baths since they can be so lavish," Rossi said. "We've seen negative-edge bath tubs, dual-head and over-sized showers and whirlpool tubs. The master bath is the one place in the home that is truly a luxury specifically for the homeowner. It's their private sanctuary."

Homeowners are also likely to leave their cares behind in specifically designed meditation rooms. The rooms often take the place of a spare bedroom, den or even a guest suite. Meditation rooms can incorporate Feng-Shui elements for balance and can include large groupings of candles, piped in nature sounds, books on natural healing and big, cushiony chairs. Other possibilities include a massage table, indoor hot tub or wall-to-wall yoga mats.

"The premise of the meditation room is that it's a quiet place to unwind," Rossi said. "No TVs, no harsh lighting and lots of space to stretch out and relax. The decor is typically very subtle. Bamboo floors or mats, soothing greens and neutrals on the walls and small tabletop water fountains for background noise.

Katie McKenzie is a contributor to NewHomeSource, where you can search for and get information on new homes and new construction communities. You can find her on Google+.

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