While still offering luxury features galore, Dream Homes '95 broadens appeal this year by topping out with $372,900 model and moving to Anne Arundel. Bells & Whistles


For those of us who don't have his-and-her walk-in closets; octagonal bathrooms with whirlpools to soak in; wet bars in our sprawling master suites; state-of-the-art sound systems hidden behind our walls; high-ceilinged, ceramic-tiled foyers or mega-TV media centers . . .

For those of us whose ceilings run more to flat vanilla Sheetrock than ornate coffered or vaulted; whose cellars are junked with the accumulated stuff of our lives, not good wines in tall racks; whose kitchen counters are less Corian than Formica . . .

Well, we can dream, can we not?

And for the second year, the Home Builders Association of Maryland is trying to capture a sluggish market's fancy. Dream Homes '95 opens Saturday with six homes in fast-growing Odenton that range in price from the mid-$290s to the mid- $370s. It's an opportunity for the building industry to wow tens of thousands of visitors with some of the trendiest and toniest in technology and design.

"It's intended to show what can be done using a pretty basic floor plan," said Stephen Hembree, an assistant general manager at Orion Homes, which is building a 2,975-square-foot model. The "bells and whistles" -- as he put it -- make the homes somewhat more expensive than the usual residences in new subdivisions.

But these homes offer a less opulent selection than the first HBAM Dream Homes subdivision last year in northwest Baltimore County, where the residences listed for as high as $775,000.

"Most people certainly couldn't afford what they saw last year," said Baltimore architect Bruce Finkelstein. "There were features on top of features, one ka-boom after another."

This year's show, which runs through Sept. 24, is located in the Piney Orchard planned community in Anne Arundel County. HBAM officials are hoping its location -- almost equidistant from Baltimore and Washington -- will help draw as many as 100,000 visitors, or twice last year's traffic.

The builders, in addition to Orion, include American Homes, CC Building Corporation, Landmark Homes, Patriot Homes and Ryan Homes.

Ryan is the second-largest builder in the Baltimore region, with more than 10 percent of units sold in the second quarter of this year, according to the Legg Mason Realty Group. Landmark and Patriot are fifth and eighth, respectively.

The show is also an opportunity for co-sponsor Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to promote its EnergyWi$e technology. All homes are being built to the specifications of the BGE program, aimed at shaving energy bills through better insulation, windows and other features. The developer of Piney Orchard, BGE subsidiary Constellation Real Estate, is the developer of the Dream Homes site.

The show, which is also sponsored by The Baltimore Sun and North Arundel Hospital, will include a "Dream in Progress" home. CC Building Corporation has not finished its interior work. HBAM will use the partially finished home as an educational tool to demonstrate the building technology that goes into construction. Roof trusses, floor joists, mechanical systems and BGE's requirements will be visible.

Even at their more modest scale compared with last year, the homes are at the upper end of the Baltimore region's price range. In the first half of this year, for example, Ryan's average price for a detached home was $181,752; Landmark's was $253,392; Patriot's was $202,293. The typical detached new home in the region sold for around $195,000, according to Legg Mason.

Still, "this is right out of our product line," says Ryan's marketing director, Bob Coursey. "It's not a one-of-a-kind unit."

The Dream Homes provide a variety of floor plans and appliances, and most of the homes have four bedrooms. American Homes' entry has five, along with four and a half baths. And spacious, two-story foyers are the rule. Patriot Homes' model, the James Monroe, has six art niches in its foyer.

Patriot Homes' dining room, 11 by 12 feet, has the potential to be used as a study, with built-in cabinets. This reflects a common trend among the homes -- flexible space that can be used for more than one purpose as residents' needs change.

Orion Homes' living room stands out, and not only because it is one of the largest -- 16 by 16 feet. "We're all pretty proud of the two-story living room," said Allan Wilson, supervising construction of the Orion home. "It gives this a tremendous look as a floor plan and a real good open feeling." An added feature in the living room is the speaker system tucked invisibly into a wall, tied into the home's sound system. What looks like a dimmer knob in the wall controls the volume.

Landmark's living room is similarly spacious. The designers put a studio on the second floor that overlooks the room. Two-story turret bay windows gives the Landmark living room a distinctive look.

Split staircases are another common feature in several of the homes, allowing access to the second floor from the kitchen as well as the foyer.

"That's becoming more prevalent in designs," said Larry Pryor, sales manager for Landmark. "You very rarely do anything in the foyer. It makes more sense to pop down [from the second floor] to the family room or the kitchen."

But buyers in the mid-Atlantic expect to see a staircase when they enter a home, so the split staircase meets that need, too, Mr. Pryor said.

The homes all have libraries or studies. In some cases, the library is placed in the front of the home, just off the foyer (Orion), while other floor plans have it elsewhere. Patriot has placed the study in the back of the first floor, where it can be converted into a bedroom. Ryan also has a study that can be turned into a bedroom, with access to a bathroom and closet space.

Most of the kitchens feature preparation islands, pricey counter tops and ample pantries, and have adjoining breakfast areas, morning rooms or sun rooms.

The designers of all the homes included spacious family or great rooms at the rear of the house. Ryan Homes' family room is two stories, next to the kitchen. American has a two-story great room that shares a two-way fireplace with a "media room" that holds an entertainment center.

The show homes -- with their media centers, finished clubrooms, wet bars and other amenities -- reflect the growing trend toward "cocooning," Ryan Homes' Mr. Coursey said.

"Home is a refuge. When I get home Friday night, both of us want to veg out. People spend more time at home," he said.

The most interesting features may be in the show's master bedrooms. Not content with just one walk-in closet, Ryan's model has two. Patriot and Orion have fireplaces in the master suite. The six homes' master suite ceilings range from vaulted to tray to cathedral. The Orion master suite has a wet bar. Several of the suites have sitting rooms. American's model has a "secret room" off one side of the walk-in closet.

One of the more unique master baths can be found in the Patriot home, an octagonal room that has a tray ceiling, dual vanities, and a Jacuzzi. "There's been a lot of super-luxury baths, but it's unique for the price range," said Patriot president Rick Kunkle. "I've seen it before, and I thought we could do it in a smaller house," such as the James Monroe model Patriot has built at the Dream Homes site. "It's not a mansion. We do have a lot of homes that are going to have the same size and the same quality."

Exteriors range from the French country manor style of the Patriot model to the California stucco-like facade of the Ryan home to the stone and siding finish of the American Homes' Fancrest entry.

The back of American's model is dramatically given over almost entirely to windows. The lower level of the American model can hardly be called a basement. It has a wet bar, a media room, and a family area. "You don't feel like you're in a basement," said Dave Matthias of American. From the basement, one can walk out onto a patio that sits under a deck built off the first-floor, another interesting feature of the model.

Interior work and landscaping will keep workers on site virtually up to opening day. "We're going to be right down to the wire," said Patriot's Mr. Kunkle. "We wanted to show some different interior trim detailing, more than just a regular model home that you can see any weekend." That takes more time. But Patriot is on schedule, he said.

Mr. Finkelstein of HBFplus said the Dream Homes show is a good opportunity "to break out of the normal everyday preconceived notions" of home design and see what's new.

But he says people tend to focus on the dazzling features and pay less attention to the logic of the floor plans. The openness of second-story overlooks and plans that minimize walls and maximize the flow from one room to the next need to be balanced against the need for privacy.

"Try to focus on what something feels like, not what it looks like," the architect says. "How do I feel when I come up the stairs? Do I like the relationship of the kids room in relation to the master bedroom?"

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