Huge spec homes feature more kitchen that anyone needs and minimal green features
A friend and I recently went to the Parade of Homes, an annual presentation of custom homes sponsored by the Home Builders Association of Metro Denver. The 2008 Parade, which continues through Labor Day, is at Solterra, a new high-end development on the west end of Lakewood — very near the recent Green Mountain Fire that charred 900 acres of open space and within earshot of Bandimere Speedway and C-470.
The press release enthusiastically describes the ’08 Parade as “eight new custom homes influenced by the hilltowns of Tuscany and France, set on a promontory overlooking the Rooney Valley and rolling foothills of western metro Denver; all on the same street; showcasing the most recent new construction technologies and exterior and interior designs.” Interiors include kitchens, my particular favorite rooms, which to me is reason enough to troll through all that indoor acreage.
You have to know that I like a real kitchen, one that is separate from the dining room and the rest of the house. An open floor plan is not for me, because when I’ve been cooking for company, I want to spare my guests a view of those dirty pots, pans and storage containers that invariably pile up when it’s time to serve the food and, even worse, the dirty dishes that accumulate after each course.
I wish that I had taken a few pictures to share, but I really couldn’t bear to, because I have no interest in encouraging such excess. FWIW, here are some trends in the kitchens of those eight designer homes — homes that, despite the opulent kitchens, I suspect will not be purchased by enthusiastic cooks:
- Dishwashers: Why install only one dishwasher when you can just as easily have two?
- Countertops: Granite is fading as stained and textured concrete is in. The reason, as I infer from a recent Denver Post story called “Counter Culture,” is that it is expensive — and expensive is what the Parade of Homes is all about. Wrote Heather Grimshaw in the Post, “Although pricey — concrete costs from $70 to $150 per square foot, almost twice as much as granite — it allows homeowners to redefine their interior spaces with three-dimensional elements. . . Unlike granite or marble, raw ingredients for concrete are cheap and accessible. But concrete features require handmade fabrication and a variety of custom mixes and sealers. Intricate jobs can take four weeks to three months to complete.”
- Stoves: More ranges than cooktops and wall ovens, all with multiple burners and such brand names as Viking, Vulcan and Wolf predominant. The Parade of Homes is not Kenmore country.
- Cabinet Wood: Nonmatching cabinets and counters. One type of wood used on the kitchen cabinets that line the wall or two that is not open to the “great room” or whatever and another wood entirely on the cabinets of the obligatory kitchen island (one house, in fact, had two islands). FWIW, the cherrywood era seems to be over.
- Refrigerators: Siberia-size side-by-side refrigerator-freezers, all or at least most made by SubZero. A model seen in at least one home features one refrigerator door and three refrigerator drawers, mirrored by one freezer door and three freezer drawers.
- Outdoor Kitchens: Covered patios for “outdoor living” — complete with enormous outdoor kitchens. The simple grill no longer suffices.
- Second Indoor Kitchens: Downstairs family rooms with second full or almost-full kitchens.
- Wine Storage: Wine cellars or wine rooms in the basements.
- Kitchen Sinks: So many kitchens mean more sinks — an extra one or two in the main kitchen (usually on the island and perhaps in a separate bar area) and another in the auxiliary kitchen in the downstairs family room.
Over-the-top-kitchens aside, what amazed me about these roughly 6,000- to 8,000-square-foot prairie palaces is that while they claimed to be “green,” other than Energy Star appliances and regular BuiltGreen standards, they were, by and large, anything but environmentally responsible. These huge homes must be heated and cooled, and while they are well insultated, unless the Denver home builders have changed the law of physics, heat rises to all those soaring ceilings found in multi-story entrance foyers and great rooms. Bathrooms and fireplaces abound. Every home had at least two washer/dryer sets — and one boasted three. Even if these are energy-saving appliances, twice as many have been manufactured, which in turn leaves a large carbon footprint.
And did I mention the abundance of flat-screen TVs almost everywhere? The “champion” was the home whose family room, great room or whatever now has supplanted the traditional living room, where one huge television screen was surrounded by six smaller screens. Maybe that home’s contribution to the green movement is that the presumptive owners won’t have to pull the ol’ SUV out of the multi-car garage to visit a sports bar when they can see all those channels from the comfort of their own over-sized furniture.
Solar collectors in Solterra? Only one house had them. However, each house was equipped with wa-a-a-a-y too many multi-bulb ceiling fixtures, often very close to one another, and not a single energy-saving light bulb was to be seen. One house accomplished zone heating with three (3!) furnaces. A couple of houses had outdoor atriums or open courtyards that would seem to be snow-catchers — except that, of course, the heated floors are designed to melt falling snow. Green? Hardly.
The Parade of Homes is open through Labor Day (September 1) from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and weekends until 8:00 p.m. Adult admission is $12 ($11.50 at King Soopers; $8 for 65-plus and and ages six to 17; under 6 free). To get there and gawk for yourself, take C-470 to the new Alameda Parkway exit and go east to the Solterra entrance.