N.J. Women Find Their Place Designing Homes

From the Washington Post

The book-lined study opening off the living room, far away from the noise and bustle of the family room and kitchen, is for the woman of the house, the designers say.

A small desk is built into one wall of an upstairs room that can serve as a man's study, an exercise room or a spare bedroom.

The kitchen is a room built for two or more, so that several family members at a time can help prepare meals.

These and other rooms with a different look are in a house planned last year by 15 working women at the request of a New Jersey developer, Scarborough Corp., in hopes of drafting plans that meet the needs of the growing group of working couples and their families.

The result of their efforts, a contemporary, two-story stone and wood home here, is an informal, comfortable house with easy-to-clean floors, walls and kitchen and bath surfaces.

Several of the women said the 13-by-16 1/2 foot study, with a cathedral ceiling and large windows, would be more useful to working women than to their husbands. Some also said it is their favorite room in what Scarborough has dubbed the "Working Woman's Dream Home."

"Often the types of jobs women have are jobs with flexible hours. I take a lot of work home so I need a spot where I can work. Now it's my kitchen," said Martha Karasick, director of arts and adult services at a Jewish community center. For Susan Milstein, a computer consultant, the study would be "an escape" and for Carol Smith "a separate place where I really could work in privacy."

Scarborough did a survey of its buyers in 1985 and found that 72% of the company's houses were sold to two-career families, said Vice President Gary G. Schaal. Women usually make the final decision on which house to buy, so--in a move rare for a home-builder--Scarborough decided to ask working women what they would like in a new home.

Not First Time

Initially, the company wanted the women to design a 2,800-square-foot structure costing about $125,000. "But we couldn't get everything we wanted into 2,800 square feet," said Schaal. So the size and the price of the house took a dramatic leap. The working woman's house Scarborough is building in Voorhees has 3,200 square feet of space and costs $235,000.

This was not the first time Scarborough had gone to women for advice. In 1968, the company asked 53 women to help plan the "Mother's Dream House." The home that grew out of their suggestions was a four-bedroom, two-story structure with a "mother's room" opening off the kitchen for sewing and hobbies. The living and dining rooms were large and formal, opening off each side of the entrance hall.

The mother's house went on the market in 1968, priced at $46,000 for the smaller and most popular version. It was available in a four-bedroom model with 2,523 square feet and as a five-bedroom house with 2,904 square feet.

Scarborough has sold seven of the 35 working woman's dream homes planned for its Voorhees development, according to Schaal.

When the New Jersey women first met in May 1986, Milstein said, "a lot of us looked on (designing the home) as just fun, but this has turned out to be really a dream house." But like all of the 15 women who contributed to the planning of the house, she doesn't plan to buy one. Most already own homes.

In many cases, decisions on design features were unanimous, but the laundry room was an exception.

"The laundry was a little bit of a problem. Half the women wanted it upstairs and half wanted it downstairs," architect John DiNisio said.

The architects solved the problem by offering a choice. Space is provided on both floors: When a buyer asks for the laundry downstairs, the upstairs space is turned into a large cedar closet, and a laundry chute from the second floor to the washer and dryer on the first floor is installed.

"The way my life works, I'm usually throwing in the laundry or taking it out as I'm going to sleep," Karasick said. Others wanted the washer and dryer downstairs so they could be near other members of the family while they did the laundry.

"We'd never thought of this before," DiNisio said. His firm, Sullivan Associates, has incorporated the upstairs-downstairs laundry into the design of other houses, he said.

Several members of the working womens' design group wanted smaller living and dining rooms than those requested by the women who helped plan the mother's house 19 years ago. Women who work all day and need to relax when they get home have fewer formal parties than those without jobs, they said.

DiNisio recalled that when the women were working on the house, they told him the "main thing they wanted when they walked into the house was to see the living and dining rooms. No other part of the house."

"I felt very strongly that the living room and dining room, the formal part of the house, should be separate from the functional part," said Jan Goodwin, a judicial secretary. "I don't like to sit in the living room and see the mess in the kitchen."

Milstein also likes the "separateness of the different areas. The entrance area is one section, and the family room is off in another section."

The 13-by-17 1/2-foot living room is sunken below the foyer and dining-room level and has a sliding glass door opening onto a wooden deck on the back of the house. A bay window juts out onto the deck in the adjoining 12-by-13-foot dining room.

Pantry a Hit

A family communications center with telephone, intercom and a place to leave messages is built onto one wall of the short hallway connecting to the dining room.

A large walk-in pantry opens off the other wall, with shelves and a built-in counter and pass-through, which can be closed when not in use, to the dining room. The pantry was another area popular with the women, who said they have little time for shopping.

"When I shop, I buy hundreds of dollars worth of groceries at once, because I don't go shopping more than once a month, so I love the big pantry," Karasick said.

"The pantry is an excellent idea. There never is enough storage space in most houses," Goodwin said. "I like the two sinks in the kitchen, because a lot of time I come home from work and the kids help me" prepare meals. "There's room for us to move around."

Besides two sinks, the kitchen has a generous supply of cabinets. The family room, kitchen and breakfast nook form an open area consuming more than half of the first floor.

Several women said they wanted to be able to work in the kitchen and still be near the rest of the family. One wall of the family room in the home completed in New Jersey is lined with storage bins for children's books and toys. A door opens onto the deck from the breakfast room.

The master bedroom, on the second floor and one of the larger rooms in the house, is "a retreat for a woman weary after a day at work, larger and more functional" than bedrooms of the past, Goodwin said. "It's a place where you can go and read a book, not just a room with bedroom furniture."

It also fits Charlotte Guarino's requirement for "a large and glamorous" master bedroom.

Guarino proposed the large walk-in closet with revolving clothes rack like those that dry cleaners use. The husband's closet is smaller, because "a woman's wardrobe is three times the size of his." The master bath has dual vanities, a tub beneath a large, fan-shaped window and a separate shower stall.

The women were unanimous in wanting a house easy to clean and maintain. "Self-cleaning windows were suggested, but we couldn't do that," Schaal said.

In other ways, however, the house meets the women's needs. Lighting is recessed to cut down on surfaces to dust, and tubs and showers are made of fiberglass. A central vacuum system is available, adding about $1,200 to the cost of the house.

Tiles on the floors are the no-wax type, and the kitchen counters are made of a nearly indestructible material. No solid colors are used on walls and in carpets, because small-grained or flecked materials hide soil, said Linda Newman, an interior designer with Armstrong World Industries.

Women in the design group said they are pleased with the house.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World