by Ann M. Colford

The area's preeminent homebuilders display their wares this week at the Spokane Home Builders Association's 2003 Showcase of Homes. Featuring six homes in the Ridge at Hangman development, this home show is a good barometer of what the most discriminating buyers in the area look for. Several of the houses are currently on the market, with prices ranging from $500,000 to well above $700,000. Considering Spokane's average price for a single-family home -- $117,200 in the second quarter of 2003 -- these homes and buyers occupy a niche market in our community, so the amenities seen here aren't for the masses. But what's trendy here today will find its way onto Wal-Mart's shelves soon enough, so these homes bear watching.

The trend toward larger homes continues unabated here, with most of these houses topping out at about 4,500 square feet of finished living space. The triple garage is de rigueur, but at least the garages are set off to the side or rear and do not dominate the facades. The faux French chateau exterior remains popular, joined this year by a couple of bungalows-on-steroids and an ersatz Mediterranean villa. Eclectic interiors are the name of the game, as formal French Provincial and Italianate decor elements compete with the casual muted palette of the rugged Northwest. In the kitchen, the six-burner commercial-style range and oversized refrigerator -- both in stainless steel -- come standard, while options like a wok burner and wine cooler help differentiate one home from another.

The great room maintains its dominance of main floors, preferably with vaulted ceilings, while the newest attraction is a media room -- most often located in the daylight basement -- large enough for a home theater system. Master suites reside on the main floor as well, with bedrooms for children or guests placed in the more remote reaches of the home. A combination laundry-mudroom provides the entrance from garage to interior in most of these homes, but with one exception, the rooms are overwhelmingly small, with little or no counter space for folding laundry and no space for removal or storage of wet or muddy footwear.

A tour of these homes raises a critical question: Does the Inland Northwest have its own regional style, or do we take a little of this and a little of that and patch it together into something that may or may not reflect our lives here in this unique corner of the planet? Paying homage to our history by weaving together the influences that brought us here is one thing; plopping down several thousand square feet of house made of materials with little relation to this place is something else. The most memorable homes in any community reflect its history, both natural and social, as well as the lifestyles and personalities of those who dwell there. Successful landscaping compliments a home and often appears to emerge organically from the site. Spokane's most discerning buyers, along with the designers and builders who create their homes, must lead the way in establishing a bold design aesthetic for our region.

Based on these principles, the most successful home is Pine Breezes, the entry by Copeland Design & amp; Construction. Winner of the awards for best architecture and best landscape, this home is an expanded rendition of a post-and-beam ranch-style house, nestled amid trees and boulders on a steeply sloped lot. The wood-sided exterior is consistent with the wooded nature of the site, while the interior is done with an Asian-inspired modernist influence that reflects the owners' tastes. Architect and builder Gerry Copeland created a kitchen with no upper cabinets to block the view beyond, a compromise the owners were willing to consider to maintain the aesthetics both inside and out. He says visitors to the home have enjoyed its features as much as the owners and the judges.

"People come in and comment that this house feels so relaxing," he says. "The clean lines seem to be just what they're hungering for."

A bank of clerestory windows above the main living area allows ethereal and ever-changing light to fill the space throughout the day. From the living room, a deck cantilevers over a water feature on the home's tree-sheltered southeastern corner. Designed more for sound than sight, the babbling stream adds another sensory element.

"We put it in a place where the sound would come in through the living room window," Copeland says.

If you plan to visit the homes this weekend, wear comfortable shoes, for there's a fair amount of walking involved, even with the steady run of shuttle buses. Slip-ons will make shoe removal easier at those homes without little blue booties. And, speaking of bold design, don't forget to wear matching socks.

Publication date: 09/25/03

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