Place: Taco Time
Lunch: Crispy Taco (no tomato), crispy chicken burrito, cheddar fries, Mr Pibb
They usually give you a fork with the cheddar fries. They didn't this time.
"I need a fork," I say.
Frowning Counter Girl points to shiny new automated fork dispenser machine thingie with an expression on her face that says "You should have noticed we installed that without me having to point it out".
(This level of customer service is the norm in Iowa.)
The annual local Home Show Expo opened this weekend. Several local builders get together and build "dream homes" in a new neighborhood that showcase concepts and new technologies. Before the homes are occupied (some are already sold and some are for sale), locals pay $10 each to wander through them and gather ideas for their own dream homes. Each home is usually staffed by representatives of the builder who can answer technical questions, or in one case, by three bitchy realtors who were sitting there bad mouthing other realtors.
This year's show had twelve homes. Previous shows have had far more elaborate properties, even million dollar mansions. Guess nobody's buying those anymore. While each home was custom designed, decorated, and furnished, all of them had similar layouts with certain things about today's homes that drive me nuts.
The rules of modern home building include:
-All homes must not have upper floors, but must have finished walk-out lower levels (formerly known as 'basements').
-All homes must have master suites on the main level. (Because we're too fat and lazy to climb stairs anymore...except to walk-out lower levels.)
-All homes must have 852 fireplaces.
-All homes must have HDTV's hanging above all 852 fireplaces.
-All homes must have showers the size of the kids bedrooms.
I prefer having second and even third floors (the Townhouse of Solitude is a three-story row house format with bedrooms on the third level) but people just seem to hate stairs anymore. The compromise comes with the walk-out lower level format...the front of the house is street level, but the property slopes towards the back so that the walk-out lower level is at ground level on the back side. With the master bedroom on the back side of the main level, the windows are on the second level. Still, the entrance is usually off the living room, dining room, or kitchen, or even a combination of the above in cases where there's entrances on both ends of the suite area. A couple of homes even had access to the walk-in closet end from just off the garage entry.
Showers...what is the deal here? They're getting bigger and bigger. One of the homes even had a walk-through. A walk-through shower! To me, the perfect shower is a standalone unit in an enclosed space that's about the length of a standard tub space but a little wider, and with a full pressure shower head. Or maybe a couple or even a group of shower heads working in concert. Steam will build naturally and you'll feel like your sinuses and head have completely cleared. These bigger spaces can't hold the steam. In fact, one of the showers I saw actually had a steam generator to compensate for this. Really?
(If you ever go to Vegas, stay in a villa suite at the Marriott Grand Chateau. They have the perfect size shower with two full shower heads. It's heaven. And the place is very reasonably priced for what you get.)
Fireplaces...I don't mind one or two (I actually prefer candles for atmosphere), but some of these homes had them EVERYWHERE. And they're all gas, of course. Nobody has real fireplaces anymore. And they're almost always placed where you'd put the TV, so the TV has to hang above them, sometimes six to eight feet in the air. Hello sore necks.
Anyway, on to the homes. If you go to the link I posted earlier, you can download the official home show guide in PDF, which includes technical specs, drawings, and floor layouts of each home. You're welcome.
The development is on a golf course. You can walk right out to the cart path. Some homes even had garages for golf carts.
When you tour the homes, you are required to put on booties. Most take their shoes off and leave them at the entrance, fiddling with booties at each home. I figured out this year that I could just leave the booties on and slip in and out of my shoes without them coming off. So I did that. At at least a half dozen homes, people said "Why didn't I think of that" when they saw this. In a couple of cases, wives saw this and told their husbands THEY should be doing that. In those cases, the husbands universally grumbled and refused to try it.
Home 1 - $499.000
The main floor common area (the big area where the living room, kitchen, and dining room are one big space...which was nearly universal at all the homes) had a huge open ceiling with natural lighting from a sort of windowed mini tower thingie at the top. Whereas most homes had stained wood rails, cabinets, and accents, this home had white wood everything. It had really neat hanging iron light fixtures. The one over the dining room table was made up to look like a large grouping of candles, lit by flickering LED's. NEAT. I wonder if I could find a smaller one to hang over my kitchen island. The master bath was the most elegant of the bunch with mini lamp sconces, a proper size walk-in shower with multiple heads, and a soaking tub in its own mini room off the main bath space. Gorgeous.
Home 2 - $695,000
This was the home I was most looking forward to seeing, based on the home show guide (which I'd previewed before going to the show). The round tower in front holding the circular staircase looked SO cool. Alas, this house was also the biggest disappointment. The kitchen was walled off from the living room (though their was an arched opening through). The television must have been EIGHT FEET IN THE AIR to clear the fireplace below it. The ceiling fan was unusual...it didn't have blades, but two circular fans hanging from a center pole. Weird. The master bath shower was HUGE. So big that it ran the entire length of the bathtub (a large standalone tub directly in front of it) with enough room for a generous entrance door past the tub's end. The master closet was small in comparison with the others. This house actually had a small second story to access the kids rooms and a kids bath.
Home 3 - $749,000
The cool factor in this home started with the copper kitchen sink. The lower level entry had a barn-like sliding track door, which was also kind of cool. There was a dedicated home theater space that was way too open for my taste, and the screen STILL had a fireplace underneath. There was a neat wine cellar sort of hidden behind the screen wall.
Home 4 - $899,900
The first impression I got was when I walked in the door and saw the office just to the right. Beautiful wood beams in the ceiling. Great space. I walked in further to see a great open common area done in a very western theme. The decorator, Colorado Classics, lived up to their name. Every bathroom had a deep soaking tub (not a large jetted tub, just deeper than normal). The lower level had a REALLY impressive bar. It was a HUGE rectangular U-shaped thing with a natural feel wood top. The lower level also had a dedicated golf cart garage.
Home 5 - (SOLD - No price displayed)
This home was custom built for an Italian family who re-purposed a bunch of stuff to give this home an old world feel. This included an arched stained glass window (from an old church) above the living room, and hand-distressed wood beams and trim. The commons area was just beautiful. The two negatives I noted about this place...The laundry room is too far from the bedrooms, and one of the bathrooms had a urinal. This is a dumb idea in a home.
Home 6 - $849,000
The highlight here was a staircase just off the dining room that led to a beautiful sitting room with a rotunda overlooking the golf course. It had a mini kitchenette. There was also a bedroom up there. The master bath had a walk-through locker room-style shower designed for two, and a tub with LED lighting to light up the water. TV in downstairs bar area displayed an alternating sequence of exterior security cameras. You can get drunk while watching for intruders, giving yourself an exciting new level of paranoia.
Home 7 - (SOLD - No price displayed)
For once, there's no TV above the fireplace. Instead, it's in a built-in cabinet NEXT to the fireplace. At floor level. Seriously? Am I the last person in the world to sit in my chair and have the center of my TV at eye level? So I can just stare straight ahead? What is wrong with you people? This house also had a Christmas tree. Christmas in July. I once was driving through Nebraska in July and one of the welcome centers was throwing a Christmas in July party. Weirdos. One of the bathrooms had a sink with a flat surface that the water runs off of into sort of culverts to the side. Okay. The master bath didn't have a tub, but DID have a proper size shower (with loads of shower heads) and...a coffee maker. And a mini fridge. Many people walking through declared this genius.
Home 8 - (SOLD - No price displayed)
This was the FIRST home with a properly positioned TV in the common area. No fireplaces at all aside from the back deck. That didn't stop them from mounting the TV WAY too high on the theater space wall. This was the home with the steam generator for the shower. The steam generator was in the walk-in closet right behind the shower wall. It was exposed, albeit in sort of a cubby hole. This home was the least 'grand' feeling of the twelve. The highlight was probably the dual bunk beds with a center ladder/stair thing. Those were cool. Decent space for four kids, if having four kids in one room is even legal anymore.
Home 9 - $659,000
Very beautiful, throughout, but the highlight was the master bath. That had skylights that really let the daylight in and a wide walking space that had more people than just me going "Oh WOW" as they entered. The lower level bar had some cool hanging lamps. Me: "Nice lamps." Guy: "Thanks."
Home 10 - $515,000
Nothing remarkable. Home theater space was the best so far, but still flawed with the built-in cabinets limiting TV size.
Home 11 - $399,900
Though each home was staffed by people to answer questions, none reached out to me even though they reached out to others because, even though I dressed nice, I'm freaking scary looking. This house was the exception. The woman manning the helm was very nice and welcoming. This house had the best office with its corner double-door entry and its double size compared to the others. Even at this price, it had a nice master suite. And a proper size shower. If I were in the market, this would be the house on this tour I'd seriously look at.
Home 12 - $525,000
Hey! A Nest thermostat! Which is the only remarkable thing I remember upstairs. Downstairs had an exercise room complete with a mirror wall. Young couple: "We need those mirrors." Best home theater space of the show with a front projector, two rows of stadium seating, and a popcorn machine. Yes, they were making popcorn and allowing you to sit there, eat, and watch the movie.
(No, I didn't.)