The future of home building has come to Baltimore County, and it's in love with the past.
From billiard rooms to back stairs, from Colonial styling to classic French chateau, from wrap-around porches to fireplaces in every room, the houses in the Home Builders Association of Maryland's Dream Homes '94 exposition pay constant homage to the pleasures of days gone by.
Which is not to say the future isn't present in this nine-house development in a beautiful, pastoral corner of Baltimore County. There are state-of-the-art home-automation and security systems, sophisticated "media rooms" that rival movie theaters and glamorous kitchens that even a Wolfgang Puck could love.
But the nine builders who have been working around the clock to construct, landscape and decorate these homes for tours that ++ begin today have filled them with nostalgic features that are tops a wish list for today's luxury-home buyers.
Even if you're not thinking of buying a new home or building one right away, and even if you have to stretch to pay the $6 fee for touring the homes (a portion goes to benefit the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and Children's House), there's plenty to learn about what's hot -- and what's possible -- in the construction industry of the late 1900s.
Here are a dozen of the most popular features of the Dream Homes. Count on at least some of these trends to start showing up even in more moderate-priced construction.
*Foyers: They're back -- in a big way. Two-story foyers are the order of the day, most with wood, ceramic tile, marble or stone floors, though the Clark Turner Homes Regent Hall house has a compass star inlay in black and white marble and Shelley Construction's Augusta house's wooden foyer is decorated with inlay wood border in a rosebud pattern.
*Formal vs. family spaces: There's a distinction between formal spaces (such as living rooms, dining rooms and libraries), which are enclosed, and family spaces (such as kitchens, breakfast nooks and family rooms), which are open with one space flowing into the next. Dining rooms tend to be extremely formal, with special ceiling treatments or wainscoting, harking back to days of bustles and white gloves.
*Sun rooms or solariums: Virtually a requirement on Baltimore houses just before and long after the turn of the last century, these are coming into their own again. Some of the sun rooms in the Dream Homes have soaring ceilings to go with the multitude of windows.
*Special-purpose rooms: Libraries, playrooms, study-den rooms, exercise rooms and media rooms are prevalent. Landmark Homes' Chase Presidential house has both a conservatory and a solarium, plus a loft with exercise studio and nanny's room and, in the basement, a "movie theater" with big screen, overhead projection TV and red-and-white striped carpeting. Orion Homes Constellation house has a billiard room -- complete with a beautifully refurbished table from the late 1880s, with matching cue rack hanging on the wall.
*Ceilings: They soar over family and living rooms, solariums and master bedrooms. The Landmark house has a 30-foot ceiling in the family room, while Clark Turner's has a striking two-story living room with a huge fireplace and towering mirror at one end.
Ceilings also appear in such old-fashioned shapes as coffers, trays, vaults, cathedrals and domes, especially in dining rooms.
*Balconies: As in medieval castles, where ceilings soar, balconies offer views from the top. In the Clark Turner house, a curved balcony looks out over the two-story living room, while in Scherr Homes Country Mansion house, a curved balcony overlooks a two-story family room (which also has two skylight dormers). And in the Landmark house, a second-floor balcony is the entrance to Fido's Flume, a three-story enclosed spiral slide that ends in the basement recreation area.
*A second set of stairs: As in Victorian mansions, the generous size of the houses -- the smallest is 3,450 square feet -- and the formality of the front rooms makes back stairs a real convenience. In Ryland Homes' Devonshire house, the back stairs run from first-floor family room to second-floor bedrooms and family bath. In the Shelley Construction's Augusta house, they run from first-floor kitchen-laundry area to a playroom and bedrooms on the second floor.
*First-floor laundry room: The wandering laundry room, which began this century out of doors, then moved to the basement for decades before leaping to the second floor in the '70s, has
moved downstairs again. Eight of the Dream Homes' laundry areas are on the first floor, and only Lexington Homes' farmhouse-style Arlington has a second-floor laundry room.
*Wet bars and under-counter refrigerators: These show up everywhere. Scherr Homes' has a wet bar in the library and the master bedroom suite, and Clark Turner's has a butler's pantry off the kitchen with bar sink, small fridge and wine-storage space. The "collegiate hideaway" in Orion Homes' has a small refrigerator in a built-in desk-bookcase unit.
*Built-ins: Features such as floor-to-ceiling bookcases in libraries are also big. The Clark Turner house features a built-in bed in the master suite with large columns flanking a broad shelf in the headboard.
*Multiple fireplaces: As in the days before central heat, the Dream Homes have multiple fireplaces. New technology allows gas fireplaces to be built almost anywhere. Ashley Group's Aspenwood house has a fireplace in the family room with windows on both sides and across the top. Orion Homes' house has a four-sided fireplace between the "cafe nook" and family room. Ryland's house has two double-sided fireplaces on the first floor -- between the kitchen and family room, and the living room and sun room -- plus a three-sided fireplace in the master suite. Landmark's house has fireplaces in living and family rooms, breakfast room and master bedroom.
*Porches: Finally, this is one feature that appears in only two Dream Homes, but probably lots of us hope it is ready to stage a comeback. Williamsburg Builders' historic-looking, gray-sided Carter Manor features, between the family room and the morning room, a screened-in porch. And Lexington Homes' farmhouse-style Arlington has the only wrap-around front porch. Now that's nostalgia.