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By: Lynette Evans
The New American Home, built in Henderson, NV, and put on display for the 2013 International Builders Show, is sleekly modern -- and no place for anyone who has either balance or mobility issues, who has a vision problem, young children, elderly parents or friends who use a wheelchair or cane, or anyone who wears high heeled shoes or indulges in more than one cocktail of an evening.
In other words, for all its NAHB Green-Emerald and LEED for Homes Platinum ratings, The New American Home -- designed and built by the Blue Heron Design Build team: co-founder Tyler Jones, architect Michael Gardner and interior designer Lyndsay Janssen -- faces a very limited number of potential buyers.
With a projected asking price over $4 million, that is not surprising, but it's not only price that will limit potential residents. It's the limits on accessibility, ubiquitous to the point that one visitor labeled the house "irresponsible." Certainly, from the perpective of those of us who are looking to make houses more user-friendly, that word is apt.
And Jones admits as much. According to the National Association of Homebuilders website, Blue Heron's "target client is a professional who has a high powered, maybe stressful, all-day kind of job where they're going all day and coming home to a kind of calm, Zen-like, relaxing type environment. It's definitely not set up for families. It's for a professional single, or a married couple that's very social."
Rear walls slip away and the outdoors flow into the house via contiguous pools and water features. (Photo courtesy Timberlake Cabinetry)
The New American Home is also not part of the "smaller is better" trend we noticed in the Best American Home Award Winners. Indeed, it "hardly resembles the typical American home at all," according to NAHB's website. "Sprawling at nearly 7,000 square feet, the home features a subterranean courtyard, thousands of square feet of artificial water features, massive concrete-like overhangs, metal hand rails, faux-travertine floors and dozens of glass walls. The home is spacious with well defined spaces, multi-directional views, with seamless transitions bringing 17,000 square feet of outdoor living indoors including several water features, lounging areas creating a 'Resort Living' experience."
Things we liked
Long hallways and rooms that open to each other create view corridors. Here the Las Vegas Valley is seen from the master bedroom through a courtyard and an outdoor bedroom. (AFriendlyHouse.com photo)
- The sense of enfilade:"'In any space, if you turn 360 degrees, there's a terminus focal point in the distance,'" Gardner says in the home's Portfolio (put out by Timberlake Cabinetry to accompany the introduction to the house), explaining people walking through the house will "'...understand the deliberateness of these view corridors and layers we've created.'" And surely there are views everywhere, both indoors and looking out over the Las Vegas Valley.
- A unified vision: Blue Heron's process of seeing all the parts of the
project as a single whole is key," says the Portfolio. And that is evident as one moves through the spaces that are linked not simply by furniture and landscape styles but by the repetition of materials such as DalTile flooring and Timberlake Cabinetry's Lausanne cabinets in various woods but similar styling.
At left, Timberlake's Lausanne cabinetry in cherry with java and spice finishes and Dal-Tile's faux travertine floor tiles in the Butler's Pantry. (Photo courtesy of Timberlake Cabinetry)
Local stone encased in steel netting surrounds the master bedroom fireplace and is repeated in the outdoor bedroom. (AFriendlyHouse.com photo)
- Local stone: The rock walls encased in steel netting, reminiscent of the rocky Western hillsides beside highways that are held back with wire fencing. The local stone bridges the indoor/outdoor experience and ties the house even more to its surroundings.
The junior suite features dual gas fireplaces, so there's a fire view from multiple sides of the room as well as from the bathtub. (AFriendlyHouse.com photo)
- Fire: Multiple gas fireplaces and outdoor fire pots, pits and features that warm the spaces visually as well as physically.
The Tranquility Room is a covered patio appearing to float in the swimming pool. (Photo courtesy Timberlake Cabinetry)
- The Tranquility Room: This covered patio could double as a stage set, but bedroom furniture as shown in the model might not be the best bet if you have kids in the pool, and sleepwalkers beware. I assume, in reality, it will be used as a launch pad for swimmers.
A tiled dog-washing station takes up the wall across from the washer and dryer in the laundry room. (AFriendlyHouse.com photo)
Laundry facilities: The main laundry room includes a dog-washing station -- just the place to spruce up your pooch or, if Duke is a Lab or Golden Retriever, to rinse the chlorine off him after a day of dunks in the various pools around the house. A stacked washer and dryer in the master suite's dressing room makes eminent sense.
Kohler's wall-mounted faucet (above right) would be easy to use, but the nubbin-like knobs (above left) on the vanity in the upstairs junior suite bathroom not so much. (AFriendlyHouse.com photos)
Handles instead of knobs: Single-handle faucets from Kohler, including one that serves a built-in steamer in the kitchen, abound, although with a glaring exception in the upstairs junior suite bathroom. Custom doors by Jeld-Wen doors open with handles instead of knobs.
- Indoor-outdoor showers off the master bedroom, right. Not roll-in, for sure, but lovely with rain showers. On the other hand, the upstairs junior suite shower is roll-in, and lacking only a grab bar -- although how a person who needs a roll-in shower would reach that level (the house has no elevator) is not addressed.
Which brings us to:
Things we didn't like
- Uneven underfoot: "'This is a house you'd invite your grandparents to, just to show them something they'd never seen,'" Tyler says in the Portfolio. Of course, you'd have to help Grandma up the handrail-less, unevenly placed exterior tile steps (photo at top) and hang onto her to make sure she doesn't catch a heel in the gravel inlays and catapult into one of the five water features that meander through the space. Indoors, raised wooden bridges between the entry and the library and raised shower floor (although the shower is otherwise curbless) keep walkers alert, and wheelchair users out of that portion of the house.
Stepping stones and bands of flooring are interrupted by bands of gravel both indoors and out. (AFriendlyHouse.com photo)
- Gravel inlays: Not only are the dual driveways interspersed with bands of gravel between concrete slabs (a feature we first noticed at the 2012 New American Home in Winterpark, FL, that mitigates runoff problems but that impedes wheelchair users and others with limited mobility problems or high heeled shoes) but similar strips of gravel or pebbles interrupt the entryway and interior floors, making it necessary to watch one's step even indoors.
Tile squares set apart by bands of gravel make entering the house difficult for anyone whose gait is unsteady or whose stride is too long, or too short, to fit the foot onto the tiles rather than into the gravel. (AFriendlyHouse.com photo)
- I was wearing high heeled shoes when I visited, and although I am of medium height (and stride length), I found the entry tiles awkwardly spaced, so that every few tiles, I had to adjust my stride in order to avoid catching a heel in the gravel inlays. It was deja vu to my childhood adventures attempting to walk on railroad tracks.
- Wicked entryway: The front entry (photo at top) is paved with faux travertine steps whose placement mimics the hilly landscape but doesn't make sense to someone attempting to navigate them. With neither visual cues nor handrails, they are positively scary at night, and we heard visitors cautioning each other as they departed the house after dark.
- Risky stairs: Grandma will probably take your word that there's a spectacular valley view from the rooftop deck, rather than climbing up there -- and, for sure she won't want to navigate the spiral stairs that lead from the master bedroom area to the deck off the loft bar. Indeed, during the press party introducing the house at IBS in January, the overheard comments were more often "Watch your step" than "Wow! This is great!" As I climbed the stairs from the basement entertainment center and wine cellar, with the help of the single handrail, a young man started down the stairs, holding onto the railing himself. As we approached each other, he apologize for "hogging" the railing -- something that would never have happened had the stairway had handrails on both sides.
- More rocks: As to traversing loose rocks to climb into the soaking tub in the master bath, Grandma will probably pass on that, too.
Kohler's Abrazo tub sits in a bed of white rocks in the master bath. (AFriendlyHouse.com photo)
- The loose stones and gravel used throughout the space look good, but then we were seeing the house at its most pristine. There hadn't been time for any algae to grow in a shady corner of either pools or patios, or for dirt and leaves to lodge in the loose gravel. As one father of teenagers noted, his kids have a lot of hair, and he could just pricture a week's worth of hair caught in the gravel. Having lived in Las Vegas during howling spring winds, when dust is everywhere, I'm wondering how one would clean this house -- with a leaf blower?
- Too much water: I love water, and pools. The house not only has a pool but also a koi pond, a tranquility pool, a trough of water running from front to back and several water walls, which add humidity to the dry desert air as well as fulfilling their various practical and aesthetic functions. I loved the look of all that water, even as I wondered at how a house that requires thousands of gallons of water (it does evaporate, don'tcha know) and the energy to clean and recirculate it could win LEED Platinum (the top) certification. I realize that, absent the concept of proportion, such excess might be called "sustainable" and "environmentally friendly," but given the finite resources of the planet, proportion should be among the top qualifiers, and disqualifiers, of environmental awards. I mean, really people, is a rich man who uses thousands of gallons of water efficiently really "greener" than a peasant who lets a little of his irrigation water get away from his fields?
The basement patio opens off the entertainment center and is open to the house, and sky, above. (AFriendlyHouse.com photo)
- Irresponsible architecture: One partygoer may have mixed up his acronyms when he declared: "This house sure isn't ADHD compliant," but he had a point. The Americans with Disabilites Act deals mostly with mobility issues but those of us with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder would be equally handicapped -- and possibly soaking wet -- if our attention wandered as we tried to navigate the house.
The builders and their admirers in the press corps crow about "pushing the envelope" with The New American Home -- and there's no denying both the floor plan and visual elements are exciting. Nevertheless, I wouldn't want to be the architect of a house that draws the comments we heard at the preview party, ranging from "not a place for the uncoordinated" to "landmine for calamity."
To find a complete list of manufacturers of the products used in The New American Home and information on the systems that garnered the house the NAHB Green and LEED certifications, click here.
To see the floor plans for The New American Home, click here.
To read a Chicago Tribune review of The New American Home by someone not interested in accessibility issues, click here.