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The lowdown on going uptown

Improving your homeAmericans once feasted vicariously on the miles and miles of opulence on display each week on "Dallas," "Dynasty," "Falcon Crest" and "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."

It was the big '80s, full of big hair, big homes, big everything. But then the bubble burst, changing our collective sense of what constitutes luxurious living, according to Paul Winans, a San Francisco custom designer/remodeler.

Today, it's a new world of scaled-down luxury, a form-meets-function fusion of productivity and pampering with a good measure of high-tech ostentation thrown in to keep the hoi polloi at bay.

"With house values going up, people are not able to change homes as easily as they used to, so now they are almost financially constrained in terms of moving," says Winans. "If they like where they are, it makes sense to almost over-invest as long as they're going to be in the house for a while."

And while a J.R. Ewing-size spread is no longer necessary to enjoy wealth, any improvements better be consistent with the new S-word: style.

"For the major builders here, it's all style," says Lenn Harley, a real estate broker with Homefinders.com in Maryland and Virginia. "Style, style, style."

To achieve the requisite style, you still need all the right ingredients. Design? A must. Materials? Only the best. Price? Like they say, if you have to ask ... Yes, money still definitely matters.

Let's take a look at the new luxury home -- and hold on to your wallet!

 

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My kitchen, myself
The kitchen has undergone the greatest sea change during the past decade. One thing's for sure: Your mother wouldn't know the place now.

"The gourmet kitchen is really the most important selling feature in Maryland and Virginia," says Harley. "Generally, they look for a downdraft cooking island, upgraded cabinetry, side-by-side refrigerators with dispensers and anything but vinyl on the floor. It's also the floor plan. They want the kitchen and breakfast area open to the family room. That's a real must. Open floor plans, definitely."

Jim Strite, president of Strite Design & Remodel of Boise, Idaho, has done his share of gourmet kitchens and admits it involves considerably more than new cabinetry and appliances.

Looking to put in that 36-inch Viking or Wolf six-burner commercial stove with convection oven? Better have $4,000 handy. You'll also probably need a larger gas line core-drilled through the foundation and perhaps flooring support.

Entertain a lot? Dual dishwashers and dual sinks are a must. And that cooking island? Installing the power updraft hood may be a little tricky.

"If you have a second story, we need to get that thing out through a closet or a joist," says Strite. "You don't just vent these things with your standard hood; it's rated to the stove. That's why so many of these guys have their hair standing straight up."

A kitchen remodel from Strite Design starts -- starts -- at $100,000.

"We are generally expanding the size by bumping out exterior walls or opening interior walls to gain more space because when you put in that size of stove and sub-zero freezers, you start needing additional space," he says.

Expect to pay double that for starters in the big city. Winans estimates a gourmet kitchen with granite or tile countertops, island with hood, tile or wood flooring and good task lighting (a boomer must) would run between $200,000 and $225,000 in the Bay Area.

"It used to be that nobody except those who lived in the house would make it to the kitchen, and now it's the area of the house where people probably spend more time than any other part of the building," Winans says.

"That drives the desire that the kitchen function well and look really good. It's less of a needed institution and more of a way of expressing who you are."

Here we are now, entertain us
Remember your parents' formal living room that nobody ever used? It is fast being refitted into a state-of-the-art entertainment center, rivaling gourmet kitchens for bragging rights among those in the dough.

Everett Collier of Collier/Ostrom Enterprises in San Francisco says one of his current entertainment-room projects would blow your mind. Situated in a 2,500-square-foot residence at the Four Seasons Hotel, it features an automated ceiling-mounted drop-down theater screen and projector, a drop-down 54-inch plasma monitor (figure on $10,000 to $30,000) and auto-closing blackout curtains.

"The clients are spending $250,000 to $350,000 on the audio-visual system alone, not including the lighting system. I don't know how many miles of cable we have for the lighting system. We have one whole closet just devoted to the lighting controllers," he says. "Everybody that is in this market wants to have the latest and the greatest."

Collier estimates that the average entertainment center would start at well above $100,000, and resale be damned.

"The more sophisticated the client, the less concerned they are about resale. These people are looking to hold onto these properties for a while and money is usually not an object. They are looking for an experience. Typically, our clients have at least two homes. They aren't concerned about money, they're concerned about value. And this is going to be extremely valuable to them because this is where they're going to spend their time."

My sweet master suite
And so to bed.

As a homeowner with caviar dreams, you either already have a master suite or you will have. If your remote even hesitates on an HGTV program, you can almost smell the herbal bath now.

"People want a Jacuzzi, a steam room, a shower, a bidet, two sinks, marble and granite, recessed and accent lighting, radiant floor heating," says Collier. "The dream master bath might cost $250,000 to $500,000 depending on the neighborhood you're in. You may want greenhouse windows, skylights, interesting angles, Doric columns, lots of molding."

Collier recently installed a plasma TV behind a two-way mirror in a master suite "so that when the TV is on, you can see it while you're shaving or putting on makeup and check your stock prices." Installed cost: $10,000.

Up in Boise, Jim Strite says an entire master suite remodel can run as little as $50,000, provided you stay within the existing space.

"It all depends on fixtures and coverings," he says. "We've spent $35,000 just on stone."

Speaking of stone, Harley says two-story marble foyers are all the rage in scaled-down luxury.

Strite says the cost of a marble foyer would start at $20,000, but if you're thinking of adding a second story to the space, brace yourself: it will usually involve raising the roof, at a cost of $50,000 to $80,000 in Boise.

And no luxury home would be complete without a wine cellar, right? If you have the space, ideally in the basement, Collier estimates you can have a state-of-the-art wine vault for anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 and up, depending on the size of your collection.

Then again, if you've exhausted your trust fund on the gourmet kitchen, entertainment den, master suite and palatial foyer, Strite recommends one of the new 136-bottle, multi-temperature wine units that fits in your kitchen and starts at only $1,500.

But what fun would that be?

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Mississippi.

-- Posted: July 1, 2003

 

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