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Build Out
20 must-haves for the new modern home

Photos by Dan Bishop

August 2013

If you grew up watching the animated series "The Jetsons," then you’re already familiar with its visionary predictions of modern life: Piloted in 1962, the show’s creators imagined a life chock-full of leisure, with homes flanked by technology in every room, from flat-screen televisions to mobile devices, and remote controls and push buttons for every household task in between.

Fifty years after the show first aired on television, the country’s newest homes aren’t too far off from the space-age capacities perceived by the show’s animators, says Tim O’Brien, owner of Tim O’Brien Homes.

"There are a lot of high-tech gadgets that are getting us pretty close to ‘The Jetsons,’" says O’Brien. "More and more people don’t want to be doing maintenance — they want to go outside and have fun and enjoy life."

This mentality has changed the needs and wants of homeowners and continues to transform the traditional home. Still, "everything has a way of coming back around," says Travis Rotelli, senior interior designer at Kohler Co.

Rather than place gadgets on full display, homeowners are harkening back to the days when natural materials and furnishings were considered the standard, and handcraftsmanship was considered an art.

Unlike the Jetsons’ cold, futuristic surroundings, Milwaukee homeowners are combining home automation capabilities with classic, even rustic environments, eschewing showy mass consumption for more family space, building efficiency and an overall consciousness for the environment.

The future has arrived.

Home Automation: Twenty years ago, home automation could be considered a central heating and air unit, an electric garage door opener or a security system. Today, home automation systems monitor and regulate temperature and air quality, turn on and off lights, operate small cameras, and lock or unlock doors — often with the convenience of a tablet or a smartphone.

Energy and Water Conservation: From energy-saving windows, to high efficiency toilets, solar panels and automated lighting homeowners are demanding eco-friendly features throughout their homes. These are often aided by home automation systems.

Touchless Fixtures: It’s no surprise that touchless fixtures appear most often in the kitchens and bathrooms of new homes. These are areas where germs can easily spread. With touchless faucets, for example, families can ward off cross-contamination during food prep and combat the flu season by eliminating touch points and making hand washing a cinch.

Digital Showers: A family is likely to have their differences, especially during the morning routine. That’s why some manufacturers have created digital fixtures, such as showers: programmable for up to five family members, these fixtures regulate temperature, shower pressure and even play music from a convenient touch pad.

Digital Appliances: Much like programmable fixtures, homeowners can set temperatures, turn appliances on and off, and apply others settings, such as a timer, from a remote or digital application. Homeowners can expect more "smart concepts," in the future, says Colder’s spokesperson Randy Felaer.

Media Rooms: A few years ago this would have been the "computer room;" usually a converted bedroom. Today, home builders are adding in separate media room for families with children, or those who want to keep their quasi-formal living rooms free of toys, gadgets, electrical cords and other digital clutter.

LED Lighting: LED lights are long lasting and energy efficient. Used as ceiling lighting, tucked into crown molding, or placed directly into walls, LED lights give off bright or ambient glow, and are often part of home automation lighting systems.

Stainless Steel: After a long reign by eggshell-colored appliances, stainless steel holds firm as the most sought-after finish for kitchen and other home appliances. A few manufacturers are trying to push slate finishes to the top, but it hasn’t caught on, says Felaer.

Color Appliances and Fixtures: Behind stainless steel, however, color appliances are slowly making a comeback, says Rotelli. "It’s something that never really left," he says. "It’s a fresh take. It makes a statement that you put thought into your design." Homeowners are a bit savvier when it comes to choosing a palette, however, he says. These aren’t your grandmother’s matching avocado appliance set.

Hardwood Floors: During the past few years residences are forgoing carpeted floors for natural hardwood. In Wisconsin, light colored oak and maple varieties still rule the roost, but birch and ash styles are growing in popularity due to their resilience and durability, says Michael Wichert, owner of Wicks Wood Flooring in Waukesha.

Quartz Counters: While granite styles are still popular, the durability and variety of colors contained in quartz make it the No. 1 choice, says Kate Ewings, interior designer at Nonn’s Design Showplace in Waukesha. Unique sheens, marbling, thicker slabs and a little bit of sparkle in the stone help to personalize a homeowner’s kitchen. Grays, taupes and other earth tones remain the standard.

Country Kitchens: These kitchens are not necessarily country in style but in function: open spaces with plenty of room for family and friends to chat, and make meals together. Apron front sinks (salvaged or purchased), cast iron touches, and expansive kitchen islands play into the organic gardening movement and open concept living.

Painted Cupboards: Homeowners have gone from light to dark woods to white cupboards and back again. Ewings says this year’s trend is painted cupboards in earth tone colors, and muted primary colors, such as sea foam green, enhancing the country kitchen look now popular.

Bamboo Floors: It can take more than 40 years to grow a tree, which is why some owners are choosing more eco-friendly varieties, such as bamboo. In Southeast Asian regions, a bamboo tree can be regrown in seven years.

Open Concept Layouts: Homeowners are erasing parlors and formal dining rooms from architectural layouts to build an open concept home. Kitchens often flow to casual dining areas and great rooms creating a warm, inviting space.

Salvaged Materials: Purchased from a supplier, or gathered from a home deconstruction site, homeowners are insisting on the use of salvaged materials, including windows, doors, woods, tiles, kitchen and bath fixtures and metals. Salvaged goods not only add rustic charm and unique touches to these new homes, but are also environmentally friendly because they are recycled.

Hand-scraped Wood: Playing off of the salvaged look, hand-scraped wood reveals the knots and grains not typically revealed in treated wood varieties. Homeowners are craving natural materials, and character throughout their homes.

Zen Bathrooms: Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, most traditional bathtubs were tucked against a wall and were surrounded by curtains and tile. Today’s upscale homes turn their bathroom fixtures into art. Stand-alone toilets, tubs in blacks, metals and woods and central showers with unique showerheads and finishes are the focus of these minimalist spaces.

Seasonal Rooms: In a bid to extend the home and reconnect with nature, new homeowners are requesting seasonal rooms. Similar to the breakfast nook but more functional, these rooms feature lots of windows; often double doors that lead outside to a deck, patio or yard.

Tiny Homes: Could you live in a 500-square-foot-home? The movement to connect with nature and live a more fulfilling life without material measurement has inspired thousands of people to test the waters by building and moving into these tiny spaces. It hasn’t taken off in Wisconsin, yet, but president of Stevens Point-based Revelations Architects/Builders Corp. (with homes not quite as extreme at about 750 to 1,500 square feet), Bill Yudchitz, says people on the verge of retirement and other local homeowners are increasingly considering these small structures their second home.

Ideas on parade during MBA Tour

Beginning Aug. 17 and running through Sept. 8, the Metropolitan Builders Association invites area residents to tour newly constructed homes in its annual Parade of Homes.

The national event, which began in Milwaukee in the 1940s, will feature 17 custom built homes by 14 local home builders.

This year the featured homes are located in The Glen At Blackstone Creek Subdivision in Germantown and in the Quail Haven Subdivision in nearby Menomonee Falls.

A single ticket grants admission to both locations.

The homes feature the latest trends in home building as well as interior design. "What this event provides to consumers is one of the few places to see ‘the best of the best’ of area builders," says Kristine Hillmer, MBA executive director, adding that the homes include model homes, residences and homes for sale. "These are homes that have never been open to the public, and will never be opened (to the public) again."

Building representatives will be on hand to discuss home features and to answer guest’s questions, Hillmer says.

The three-week event will be the scene for a number of special events, including those honoring local Realtors and community leaders.

More than 30,000 people attended the event last year, either to gain ideas about future home building or to gain ideas about interior and exterior design, says Hillmer.

"Some people come simply because they have gone to the event every year for the past 20 years," and enjoy seeing the changes in home building and design trends, she says.

The MBA Parade of Homes is open from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends and on Labor Day. Tickets are $8 when purchased in advance online; $10 at the gate, $6 for seniors, and $6 for children. Children younger than 3 are free. For more information, go to

Conditions favorable for new home building

By Kristine Hillmer - Executive Director/Metropolitan Builders Association

The metropolitan Milwaukee home building market is once again demonstrating that residential home building is a major driver in a regional and national economic recovery. One- and two-family building permits continue the third straight year of increases, and we’ve seen a robust spring building season. Now is an excellent time to build your dream house: interest rates continue to remain low, and there has been an increase in new construction lending to consumers with good credit.

The Metropolitan Builders Association’s Parade of Homes returns Aug. 17-Sept. 8 in two premiere subdivisions in Menomonee Falls and Germantown. This year’s Parade of Homes will feature must-see model homes built by southeastern Wisconsin’s most experienced home builders.

Glen at Blackstone Creek, Germantown

This Germantown subdivision offers homeowners a truly unique, carefree living experience. It’s an intimate community of beautiful, easy-to-maintain homes nestled near broad green fairways, manicured greens and the Little Menomonee River, where residents enjoy walking trails, scenic views and ponds that bring nature into their lives each and every day.

Quail Haven, Menomonee Falls

The Menomonee Falls subdivision is a premiere residential community offering single-family lots that include municipal water and sewer, curb and gutter, underground electric, telephone, cable and natural gas service. This same subdivision hosted the 2012 Parade, but this year’s event features all new homes.

For additional information about the tour, go to



This story ran in the August 2013 issue of: