Jeff Rexford, a designer for Leff, said he’s looking at six to eight rebuilds in Fountaingrove where the original homes had multiple levels, like a step down into a family room.
“We’re suggesting it’s far safer and more convenient to have everything on a single level,” he said, noting that steps can be problematic for everyone, from small children to adults who have a disability or even a short-term injury.
Rexford said another new concept in universal design is entryways with a gradual incline that gently ramp toward the door rather than steps. Carpet, he said, “is a thing of the past.” It’s harder to effectively clean and harder to walk through.
Other changes that make homes safer and more accessible include placing ovens higher so you don’t have to bend over. Levers are replacing doorknobs and showing up on plumbing fixtures because they’re easier to use and don’t require a big grip.
A new house presents an opportunity to make even small upgrades, Rexford said, like making electrical outlets higher up on the wall rather than the old standard of 12 inches.
Counter space-sucking vessel sinks are out, he said, as well as sunken bathtubs that have proven impractical over time.
Thinking longer term
Christopherson has observed that people are no longer looking at their homes as a short-term investment.
They’re not thinking, ‘I’m only going to live in this home seven years.’ They’re thinking 20 or 30 years,” she said. “So these newer designs give them extra options. The days of one use for a home or a room are gone. People want flexibility to accommodate how they want to live down the road.”
It all represents a current consumer demand for living spaces that can be used in a variety of ways, including multigenerational living. Lucia noted that the high cost of caregiving for elders, housing for young adults and even the need for child care, is drawing families together, sometimes with multiple generations under one roof.
Some preparing to rebuild also are asking for attached or detached second living units — what used to be called “granny units” — to accommodate aging parents or adult children who increasingly are living at home longer or who are coming back home for economic and other reasons. Sometimes those adult children have young kids of their own to add to the mix.
Others are opting for accessory units as a potential income stream to rent out short- or long-term. Incorporating a small apartment or studio into an existing house is more cost effective than building a whole separate building on your property, builders say. And with 5,283 homes, apartments and granny units burned in Sonoma County in the fires, the city of Santa Rosa and the county have loosened fees and some restrictions to make it easier to build them.
Granny units are officially defined as attached or detached residential dwellings under 1,200 square feet, located on the same parcel as an existing single-family dwelling. They must provide complete, independent living facilities, including sleeping, cooking, bathing and sanitation.
Christopherson said fire victims, reflecting current trends, are also asking for more bedrooms, and they’re willing to have smaller bedrooms to do it.