Real Estate

a house 
a house

The Cedarock, one of the designs by the Johnson 
family that includes space enough for several generations of a family.
The Cedarock, one of the designs by the Johnson 
family that includes space enough for several generations of a family.

Finding space for home owners’ various endeavors and keeping a small environmental footprint are challenges to American home builders.

One approach is rooms that serve double functions: Guest bedroom as study; dining room as library; large laundry with space for exercise equipment; above-the-garage bonus room as home office or theater; basement as playroom or teen getaway.

Sometimes totally separate spaces are needed and require what builder Will Johnson calls a casita — a little house within a house. He and his family — wife Laurie, son Ben and daughter-in-law Rebecca — have designed a collection of casitas that allow double functions without folding down the Murphy bed or closing up the dining table.

“We have developed a couple of plans that I am really excited about that really reduce utility costs when two families are sharing the space,” Will said.

The square footage of the main part of the house is approximately 2,400 square feet. A 1,000-square-foot, walk-out basement apartment is set up so the person in the basement can come and go without disturbing the people on the main floor.

The tri-level design has space for an elevator, which makes it totally handicap accessible.

“The plan was developed based on a typical beach house where you enter on beach level and go up,” Will said.

“The nice thing about our tri-level plan is you get out of your car and step right into the elevator and are in the upstairs kitchen area,” Laurie said. “In the basement apartment, the elevator opens to the bedroom. It also goes up to third-floor bedrooms.”

The elevator is $18,000, but makes the entire house handicap accessible at all levels. The estimated cost of building the tri-level Woodbridge plan with high-end amenities such as granite countertops and the elevator is $650,000.

Ben “draws” the casitas using CAD computer software in his home office space. “It is really satisfying to find solutions to both interior special problems and exterior looks,” Ben said of the homes he designs as part of the family business. “That’s what a good house plan is — a solution to a problem. The problem being: what’s the best possible way to live in this space?”

The Sterlingwood and the Cedarock are estimated to cost $570,000 each to build, even though the Sterlingwood has 2,547 square feet and the two-story Cedarock has approximately 3,317 square feet.

Not surprisingly, the Johnsons’ family lives inspired the casitas. Rebecca and Ben work at home so much they need a separate office space to preserve the sense of family life when work is done.

“It is nice to go to work upstairs and then come home — down to the main floor,” Rebecca says of the house she and Ben share now in Chatham County. “So many people I know from Research Triangle Park are working at their homes now. They tell me how nice it would be to have some separation from office and home . . . not having it connected but having a breezeway so they could, in essence, take their hats off and walk home.”

Will and Laurie started seeing the need for a separate space when Ben was a youngster.

“What started us down this track was Will finishing off a large 20x20 room above our garage — just three steps above our main-floor living space on the other side of our kitchen,” Laurie said. “The room had an adjacent bath. It allowed our parents to have their own space to relax in when they came to visit, yet be close enough for the grandkids to visit.”

More recently, Will and Laurie had the three experiences that await almost all baby boomers: a parent with failing health needing to live in a handicap accessible home close to family, kids moving back home after college and a hip replacement.

“Will’s Dad lived in a house with his bedroom on the second floor,” Laurie explained. “After a stroke, he couldn’t get into assisted living because he needed to use a wheelchair.”

“I built him a handicap accessible home,” Will said. “But it would have been so much easier on everyone if we had been living in a casita at that time.”

The Johnsons now live in Chapel Ridge, where, Johnson says, 25 percent of the homes are occupied by two generations of the same family. Johnson has been living and building there for the past four years, albeit not in a casita.

“It was still very cost efficient for all of us when Ben and Rebecca lived with us after graduating from Elon College,” Will said. “If this house had been designed as a multi-generational house, they could have lived with us indefinitely.”

Most recently, Will had both hips replaced in May. “We did the Green Tour on May 14, and Will did it in a wheelchair,” Laurie said.

Happily, Will built his Chapel Ridge home to be handicap accessible. It is low to the ground so there is just one step to get out the door. It has a roll-in shower among many other universal design features.

“We are just really big believers in green-built, handicap-accessible and multi-generational,” Will said. “We are planning all of our future homes to incorporate these features.”

Casita plans and architectural drawings are available for $1,500 each. Johnson has designs for lots in Chapel Ridge, Park View and Meadowmont.

For more information log onto www. or call 919-932-2100.