NOTE: Altough this article refers to what's happening in Ottawa. certainly, everything would be applicable to Toronto & GTA.
Buying a house used to be easy because builders didn’t offer options. You talked to your banker and signed on the dotted line.
Now, house shopping is like finding a magical bathing suit — the one that makes your waist look smaller, legs longer and chest parts voluptuous.
We consulted an expert panel of architects, builders and designers to sort through the racks of housing options and come up with a short list of what will please your banker, save the environment, impress the guests, coddle the chef and make room for the kids and their computers.
SINGLE, TOWN OR CONDO
The single family home used to be king (or queen) in Ottawa’s housing market, for example, but that was before rising land prices pushed the average price out of reach for many buyers. The average new single in Ottawa costs $485,000 and that’s before factoring in upgrades.
The single now represents 35 per cent of sales, condos range between 20 and 25%, and the ever evolving townhome captures the rest, says Shawn Bellman, director of marketing for Richcraft homes. Townhomes are getting bigger and more sophisticated, appealing to first-time buyers, grandparents and folks who don’t want to cut a lot of grass.
THE BIG ON SMALL
Buyers are putting big homes on tiny lots to curb rising prices, says Mr. Bellman. A 44-foot lot is the new 50-foot lot, with 35-foot lots representing more than 50% of Richcraft’s single family home sales. Richcraft will soon join builders such as Holitzner, Minto and Mattamy, who are already building single homes on 30- and 31-foot lots.
You can fit a 2,680-square-foot house on a 35-foot lot and a 2,100-square-foot house on a 31-foot lot, says Mr. Bellman. And every builder in town has a home over 3,000 square feet on a 38- or 40-foot lot in their portfolio, adds veteran housing specialist Ron Desjardins.
CONDOS AND SPACE
Condos have shrunk in the past six years as builders try to keep prices within reason, says David Chick, executive vice-president of Domicile Developments, which recently released the Kavanaugh, a 132-unit building on Beechwood Avenue. In the past year, Ottawa’s average condo has shrunk by about 100 feet to 830 square feet. There are also condos well under 600 square feet designed for first-time, younger buyers. However, older buyers want more space, says Mr. Chick, adding several buyers combined two units at the Kavanaugh to end up with more than 2,400 square feet of space.
Condo buyers want generous master bedrooms, big enough to handle a king-size bed, says Chick. Ten-foot by 10-foot bedrooms just don’t do it for these buyers, who also want a generous walk-in closet that can be customized to hold their stuff.
OPEN AND LIGHT
Walls are disappearing in new homes and in renovated spaces, says architect Linda Chapman. Windows are getting bigger to improve natural lighting and to connect with outdoor gardens. “People really want openness, where the dining room, living room and kitchen are all open to each other and flowing. Rooms are definitely not hived off any more.”
Kitchen islands are getting bigger so friends can sit around and be entertained and families can share a casual meal, says Mr. Bellman. Larger islands are also practical because many include recycling centres, adds Dan Gauthier, senior designer for Potvin Kitchens, which works with several builders, including Richcraft and Minto. “They aren’t pretty or sexy, but you have to put them somewhere.”
Larger islands are also replacing the breakfast table, says Mr. Bellman.
Granite is also slipping in popularity, being replaced by quartz and Corian on countertops, says Mr. Gauthier. Look for a new product called Geostone, a manufactured product that contains recycled glass, adds Ms. Chapman. Stainless steel also holds a slim slice of the kitchen market.
Traditional cabinets are gone, says Mr. Bellman, replaced with a Shaker style that is contemporary and urban. Ecru and grey tones are the hot colour for cabinets.
Eclectic styling is also warming up contemporary kitchens, says Lauren Connolly, a designer at Astro Design. Rustic stools, matte-finished brass light fixtures and multiple work spaces and big pantries are de rigueur.
And back to those oversized islands — the bigger the better, says Ms. Connelly. “I have seen islands that can seat 12, but you need a big house.”
Natural stone is popping up in spa-inspired bathrooms, softening the contemporary edge of kitchens and making a statement on a two-storey wall, says interior designer Linda Nolan.
Ms. Nolan used natural stone in the spa bathroom of a home at Mont Tremblant, and then hung mirrors on top. “It is very Zen, very cool and very peaceful.”
She has also added the stone (it’s actually a product called Thinset and available at Merkley Supply) to kitchen backsplashes, and it’s on a fireplace in Richcraft’s 2,680-square-foot Baldwin model home. “There is no mantel, so the fireplace is contemporary and again very simple and Zen,” Ms. Nolan says.
CONNECTING TO THE OUTDOORS
Stone used inside a house is being repeated outside, connecting the two areas, says Ms. Chapman. Large windows are also connecting the spaces, while adding lots of natural light.
Work is almost finished on a very traditional 1937 home on Huron Avenue in West Wellington, where Ms. Chapman added an ultra modern two-storey addition at the rear of the property. Light floods through large windows that come down and touch the kitchen countertops, including a wide shelf where the owners plan to grow herbs. The dedicated cooks and gardeners step out onto a back deck and down into their garden.
In Kanata South, Monarch has borrowed California and Florida’s pre-occupation with outdoor living and created a private courtyard. Large patio doors and windows look out into the courtyard in the Blackstone neighbourhood.
The homes industry has gone green, with front-loading washing machines that use a cup or two of water, low-flush toilets and low-flow showerheads. Earlier this year, the Ontario Building Code was tightened, making it mandatory for all builders to meet Energy Star levels of insulation.
But while green is good and people expect it, but they don’t want to pay more for it, says Dany Bonneville, vice-president of Bonneville, the Montreal-based company that has built 35,000 energy-efficient modular homes in the past five decades. Buyers want high-tech windows and the super-efficient furnace in the base price of the house, he says.
NOTHING BUT HARDWOOD, MAYBE CERAMIC
When it comes to flooring, there is no compromise, says Mr. Desjardins. Buyers expect and get hardwood flooring throughout the main floor of single family homes and many townhomes as a standard feature. If it isn’t standard, then builders usually offer it as a signing bonus. Ceramic in bathrooms and entrance areas is also essential.
A novel twist on hardwood is a grey milk wash, says Ms. Nolan. “It looks very cool and very natural.”
GET CONTEMPORARY, DARLING
Natural light, open floor plans, urban touches and Zen finishings all add up to a recipe for Ottawa’s growing affection for contemporary living, says Ms. Chapman. Mr. Bellman calls it urban transitional. It is all about a casual lifestyle, where people like to entertain around an oversized kitchen island and look through an energy-efficient, wide, plate-glass window to a garden beyond.