WASHINGTON POST: Orlando show home is designed with the multigeneration family in mind

The unusually light colored palette in the main living area creates a calming ambience, a welcome balm after a hard day at the office. (By John Unrue)

To the casual observer, the first indication that there’s something different about the “reNEWable Living Home” on exhibition here are the colors on the outside.

The house is designed in the traditional “Florida Mediterranean” style that’s found throughout the state, but the tile roof is charcoal, not orange, and the facade is not entirely stucco; it incorporates stonework that is a medley of light and darker shades of gray.

Inside this 5,188-square-foot house, designed by BSB Design in Des Moines, Iowa, and built by Meritage Homes, an Arizona-based national firm that is active in the Florida market, traditional styling gives way to a spare modernism. And here, too, the colors are unusual, and the overall ambience is one of calming, quiet grace. That’s not usually the case with a house displayed for the International Builders Show, where multiple corporate sponsors (22, in this case) are showcasing their wares and vying for the attention of several thousand home builders.

The large, L-shaped living/dining/kitchen area is finished in muted tones of light, warm grays and white. The large furniture pieces in the sitting area are upholstered in light-colored cotton and linen, which reflect even more light into these spaces and further enhances their calming, healthy feel, said Aundrea Brown of Intermark Design in Orlando, who designed the interiors.

The real pièce de résistance in this great-space-for-calming-down-after-a-bad-hair-day-at-the-office, however, is nearly invisible from inside, hidden behind a large, ungainly outdoor fireplace. The hard-to-see feature: five geyser-type fountains that sit atop a 20-foot-long, five-step spillway on the far side of the swimming pool. When turned on, this feature creates a mini-waterfall that can be mesmerizing. Even better, it has health benefits — “gazing at moving water is good for your brain,” said Paul Atchley, professor of psychology and dean of undergraduate studies at the University of South Florida.

The exterior of the reNEWable Living Home show house at this year’s International Builders Show in Orlando is an updated version of the traditional “Florida Mediterranean” style found throughout the state. (By John Unrue)

Atchley has studied the healing power of gazing at nature, especially for people who are constantly bombarded with texts, emails and phone calls at work. “We’re not sure why gazing at a non-repetitive pattern — in this case, water flowing down steps — is so restful, but it’s definitely the case,” he said.

The fountains and mini-waterfall also provide a calming background noise, said Stephen Moore, marketing director for BSB.

At night, the fountains, which reach a height of two feet, can be programmed for five light shows with nine colors. Spillways with fountains and programmed light shows have become increasingly popular pool features in Florida, although more for their “wowness” than their calming effects, said Marshall Weiner of Holland Pools in Longwood, Fla., who designed this installation with his partner, James Starks.

Turning back into the house, our visitor might find the same calming color scheme extending to the spacious 840-square-foot first-floor owners’ suite. They might also find that calming is a good description for the rounded shape of the white, free-standing Kohler Ceric Series tub in the master bathroom.

The first floor has a second bedroom suite, tucked in behind the kitchen, and in the far corner, a back stair leading up to a separate one-bedroom apartment. To differentiate this space from the rest of the house, the palette is darker and more masculine. The scale of its spaces also differentiates the apartment. Compared with the first-floor great room, the sitting area here is smaller and more intimate; it is much easier to envision a small gathering of three or four socializing or watching a movie on the big flat-panel TV than it is in the great room downstairs.