At first glance, the 8 200-square-foot convertible house built in an exclusive subdivision at a golf and country club in Orlando, Florida, looks like the best party space you've ever seen.
At second glance, the house with the retractable glass walls – which instantly transform certain rooms from indoor to outdoor space – looks like a resort hotel complete with several bars, a swimming pool with a swim-up hot tub and flickering glass-enclosed gas fireplaces with programmable lights.
But as you explore the house, you'll see it's designed as a multigenerational residence that can function as easily for a young family as for an empty-nester or someone who wants to age in place in their own piece of paradise.
"I was inspired by the ranch-style houses I saw in Palm Springs, California, and liked the idea of designing a contemporary style take on those homes," says Phil Kean, architect and principal of the Phil Kean Design Group in Winter Park, Florida. "The one-level house makes it easier to age in place while at the same time this is a very cool house that's great for parties. You can just picture a 'Rat Pack'-style evening with that Palm Springs vibe. Internally, we nicknamed this house Palm Court."
Called the latest New American Home, the Orlando model was constructed for the National Association of Home Builders' recent builders show.
The New American Home provides a glimpse into the future of home design and products with a nod to the midcentury modern past and an acknowledgment of the casual lifestyle enjoyed by today's families.
NAHB's 34-year-old program gives architects and builders an opportunity to showcase the latest design trends, building techniques and green-building practices. Partners in this year's house include landscape architect Mills Design Group of Oviedo, Florida, green building consulting Two Trails of Sarasota, Florida, healthy home environment consultant Wellness Within Your Walls of Atlanta and technology consultant Habitech Systems of Ormond Beach, Florida.
The gated and planned community of Lake Nona, where the house is located, attracts numerous professional athletes who build custom homes there. Residents include professional golfers Annika Sörenstam, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. In a nod to the vocation, Kean converted a planned home theater into a bar with a golf simulator and put in a putting green in a central courtyard.
"I tried to think of who might buy this house and how they would live in it," says Kean. "A lot of homeowners in this community are from out of the country and this is their second or third home. They want lots of light and to be outdoors as much as possible. But we also put in plenty of overhangs to control the direct light."
Kean designed a wing at the front of the house with a living area, a kitchenette, a full bathroom and its own laundry room, and a private outdoor patio.
"The separate wing can work for a golfer with a nanny or for a family who has a lot of guests who stay for months at a time," says Kean. "It would also work for an older child returning to live at home or even a caregiver if someone wants to age in place and needs help with daily living."
The house has more than 8 200 square feet, with an additional 4 200 square feet of outdoor living space, and is priced at $5,929 000. The five-bedroom, eight-bathroom house has a four-car garage with a dog-washing station.
Kean describes his design as having a "figure-8" configuration, with the lake at the bottom, the front door at the opposite end and two courtyards in the middle connected by a knuckle of glass walls. Every space in the house has glass pocket doors that blur the lines between indoor and outdoor rooms. Kean says one of the coolest features of the house is that with a push of a button you can slide all the glass walls open and with another push you can activate screens that slide into place from above the glass walls.
"I've always wanted the opportunity to build a 'pod' house because I love the idea of mini-buildings connected with breezeways that can open or close," Kean says.
The walls of glass can be adjusted to accommodate large crowds and smaller gatherings. Kean says he designed the space to feel intimate enough for a couple to live there without feeling lost in the abundance of space.
Although the Florida weather lends itself to outdoor living for much of the year, Kean says the courtyard design could function in any climate.
"We noticed when we were building the house that the air flow across the pool and into the other courtyard kept the temperature 15 degrees cooler than the outside temperature," Kean says. "Making sure the glass walls are protected with an overhang keeps the rooms from overheating in the hottest months."
Kean says glass walls now have insulation factors that make them competitive with normal walls, so even in colder climates the courtyard configuration could work well.
Entering the house is initially disorienting, since you pass immediately into a walkway that opens onto the putting green. As Kean intended, you don't always know whether you are indoors or outdoors.
Adjacent to the putting green are three bedrooms with glass walls facing the green and views through the rest of the house across the swimming pool to the lake and golf course. Each of these bedrooms feels almost like a hotel room, with a walk-in closet and a private full bathroom as well as access to an interior hallway that runs across the front of the house and around one side to reach the kitchen.
At the center of the house is a glass-enclosed great room with a covered lanai on either side and access to the putting green and the swimming pool. At one end of the great room are a bar and a glass-enclosed, temperature-controlled wine room. Just beyond the bar is a doorway into the kitchen and family room.
The contemporary kitchen features sleek modern glass and high-gloss white cabinets; a hidden door that leads to a pantry; and state-of-the-art appliances from Wolf and Sub-Zero, including a built-in coffee maker that can make up to eight different brews of coffee, a hidden refrigerator and freezer, dishwasher drawers and an induction cooktop on the center island.
The kitchen is open to a family room with a glass wall facing the pool. Just beyond the family room is an outdoor kitchen and bar with space for dining and relaxing and gazing at the swimming pool. A game room is on the other side of the outdoor kitchen.
On the opposite side of the great room is a four-sided, glass-enclosed gas fireplace that provides separation yet a visual connection between the master bedroom wing and the rest of the house.
The master bedroom, which also has two glass walls, is connected to an outdoor sitting room with a fireplace. The bedroom has a corner fireplace, two walk-in closets, a private laundry room and a morning bar. The master bathroom has a free-standing soaking tub set in front of a glass wall and an open shower with multiple shower heads that can be programmed for each user. Although this bathroom looks contemporary, the open shower makes it functional for aging in place.
Beyond the outdoor sitting room is the spa, which includes a glass-enclosed exercise room facing the swimming pool, a steam room and a bathroom. The beach-entry swimming pool and hot tub include programmable colored lights.
Just past the master bedroom toward the front of the house is the golf simulator room, which has a built-in bar and seating.
Although this house is primarily all on one level, a set of stairs and an elevator lead to another entertaining space: an open roof with an outdoor kitchen and bar flanked by two terraces, each with its own fire pit.
Despite the extensive indoor-outdoor space, which you might think would allow conditioned air to escape or cause more electricity to be used, the New American Home has been built to achieve Emerald status, the highest possible level of sustainable construction recognized by the National Green Building Standard. In addition, the house is expected to be certified by Energy Star, EPA Indoor airPlus, the Building America Program and Wellness Within Your Walls.
"We worked with Phil throughout the design process to select the most energy efficient products available and to design the house to be as energy efficient as possible," says Drew Smith, chief operating officer of Two Trails. "We looked at every aspect such as the shade overhangs and put on an Energy Star roof coating to reflect light away from the house. We sealed the attic space so we could put key air conditioning ductwork in conditioned space."
The architectural design also helps conserve energy.
"The pod-style design makes it easy to control heat and air conditioning so you can just use sections of the house at a time," Kean says.
The house has four zones: one for the guest bedrooms at the front of the house, one for the exercise room and billiards room, one for the public spaces and one for the master bedroom.
The steps taken lowered the Home Energy Rating System rating to 54, which is about twice as energy efficient as a standard newly built house. Smith says adding solar panels brought the house to net zero status, which means that the house produces as much energy as it uses.
"While most people know that Energy Star appliances reduce your energy consumption, the most important thing we did, especially for a house this large, is that we used 100 percent LED lighting," Smith says. "We also used the most efficient air conditioning units and the most efficient wall insulation available."
The Kohler plumbing fixtures in the house are low flow, although Smith says they made an exception for the showers.
"From an indoor air quality standpoint, as well as convenience, one nice feature is that we installed a series of hoses for the central vacuum system," Smith says. "Instead of dragging a hose from one room to the next, you only carry a light wand to attach to each hose."
Each vacuum station is vented to the outside, which keeps the indoor air cleaner. Even the two garages have exhaust fans vented to the outdoors.
"The gas fireplaces are all glass-enclosed, which is also good for air quality, yet they throw off heat, which is good for the occasional cool nights you get in Orlando," Smith says.