The notion that your home is your castle has taken on new meaning as threats of war hang over the heads of Americans, and January's International Builders' Show detailed ways the industry hopes to meet the country's changing preferences in housing.
The annual convention of the National Association of Home Builders showcased housing experts' visions of cutting-edge designs, while 1,300 manufacturers and suppliers introduced new residential building materials and products in Las Vegas.
"We've noticed a stay-at-home trend that has affected new housing built after 9/11," said Jill Shannon of Serrano/Parker Development Co., a homebuilding company based in Northern California. "Privacy and security are now more important than before. With people longing for the good old days, homes that resemble the styles of the '20s and '30s are back in style. Such homey features as Dutch doors and window seats are coming back.
"A home is not just an investment; it's a refuge," Shannon said. "Since people aren't traveling as much or taking as many long vacations, they're making their homes a destination in themselves."
Changes in home shoppers' outlooks can even be reflected in color.
"Trends in colors reflect the nation's mood," said Doris Pearlman, president of Possibilities for Design in Denver.
"With the emphasis on homeland security, a new palette of colors was needed. We wanted colors that are calming and soothing, comfortable and safe. Plus, there's a new emphasis on real wood, the rustic, traditional look," Pearlman said.
"We've seen avocado die and be reborn as khaki. New blues are emerging with the revival of patriotism. Blue also suggests stability and spirituality. All things American are hot, including antiques," Pearlman.
Not only the colors are changing.
"By the end of this decade, the outside of houses will look about the same, but they will be built with more synthetic materials," said Gopal Ahluwalia, staff vice president for research for the homebuilders. "Inside, the living room probably will disappear, though the dining room will stay. The kitchen will remain the focal point of the house, and baths will continue to be more luxurious."
U.S. Census Bureau figures show that 37 percent of new houses completed in 2002 were 2,400 square feet or more, compared with 9 percent in 1971. One reason for the demand for larger houses is because today's buyers can afford them.
"Couples are getting married later and many have dual incomes, so they can buy more house," Ahluwalia said.
Gary Garczynski, president of the homebuilder group, noted that 54 percent of new houses have wiring for high-speed Internet access, 38 percent have multiline phone systems and nearly half have a security system.
"Homebuyers increasingly are demanding energy-efficient designs, wiring for high-speed Internet access, automated home security and climate-control systems," Garczynski said.
"There's also a growing emphasis on finishes and materials that minimize the time it takes to keep houses clean. These features are expected to become fairly standard in new houses of all sizes," Garczynski said.
A survey by the association asked builders what changes they expect in new single-family homes in the next five to 10 years.
Some respondents said homes will be larger, others smaller, noting rising costs for land.
But builders also saw floor plans with more flex space; more master bedrooms on the first floor and larger master suites. Many said aging baby boomers will spend more on frills, while entry-level buyers will spend more on extras.
Randall Lewis, executive vice president of Lewis Operating Corp. in Upland, Calif., believes that changing lifestyles, not just demographics, will shape the houses of the future.
"Homes designed 10 or 20 years ago do not fit today's buyers," Lewis said.
"In the last few years, we've been busy building as fast as we can. Now builders should start adding more excitement to their houses."
New outdoor features can add up to "almost a second house in the back yard," according to Joan McCloskey of Better Homes and Gardens.
The outdoor features include dining gazebos, elaborate barbecue pits, waterfalls, even private retreats or granny flats.
"Gen-Xers [born between 1965 and 1973] relate more to their grandparents than to their parents, so they love dining rooms and antiques," McCloskey said.
"Appliances are multiplying, such as the warming drawer in the kitchen. Like the microwave, it caters to staggered dinner times. In high-end homes, his and her baths are coming."
Architects voiced their design ideas and concerns. "Our biggest concern is that all houses will look alike. But in the last five years we've started to see different styles of architecture, not just rubber-stamp designs and cookie-cutter houses built on long streets where no one knows their neighbor," said Art Danielson of Danielson Associates in Irvine, Calif.
"We have to avoid fashion statements that don't last. Homes should age well for the decades," said Carson Looney of Looney Ricks Kiss in Memphis, Tenn.
And Roger Lyons of Penn Lyons Homes, a modular home manufacturer in Selingsgrove, Pa., indicated that a culture of instant gratification is playing a part in demand for such building techniques: "People like to get into their homes faster."
John Handley is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune