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TheStreet Open House

A Getaway From the Ordinary

If your home is your castle, what does that make your vacation home?

These days, vacation homes go far beyond rustic ski cabins and funky beach shacks. While the second-home market is hot -- accounting for more than a third of residential real estate transactions in 2004, the latest figures available from the National Association of Realtors -- the only way to really get the retreat of your dreams is to build it yourself. Then you can be sure to get the myriad extravagances that no home-away-from-home should be without, whether it's an indoor squash court in your mountain chalet or a home spa in your Hamptons hideaway.

Homeowners often feel the freedom to be more experimental with their vacation homes than they are with their primary residences, says Bill Poss of Aspen, Colo.-based Poss Architecture + Planning. "They want to be fun and they want to have fun."

Many of the mountain homes Poss designs enjoy the luxury of being right on the slopes. A home with ski-in/ski-out access, in turn, demands some special amenities, including a deck with outdoor fireplace for after-ski lounging. You also need a well-designed ski-in/ski-out room for conveniently shedding clothing and equipment at the end of the day.

Some clients prefer that the ski-in/ski-out room be large to accommodate lockers for guests, a restroom and a place to set up hot chocolate, says Poss. "It's set up as a casual yet elegant locker room with benches or leather or fabric seats."

Of course, for the adults to have fun in their vacation homes the kids must be having fun, too. A home theater is one popular feature that provides entertainment for kids and parents alike. But that doesn't mean just a TV and DVD player.

"Every well-fitted luxury home needs a stage just in case you have a budding prima donna. She needs a place to sing," says John Malick, an architect in the San Francisco Bay area whose firm, John Malick & Associates, has designed vacation homes in Lake Tahoe and Carmel, Calif. His home theaters often include amplified sound and a little sound room as well as overhead lights.

Poss, meanwhile, has added a little dressing room off to the side of one home theater in a house he designed in Aspen. "The home viewing room becomes more of an entertainment living room than a strict theater with fixed seating," he explains. "It's more of a party room so they can watch movies and they can also entertain there."

Other popular devices to entertain the younger set include zip cords and trampolines. Malick has even gone as far as including indoor skateboard ramps in one barn on a vacation property.

But it's not just youngsters that take part in the fun and games these days. For another client who played semi-pro basketball, Malick designed a barn with half a basketball court , complete with maple floor.

Another client in Lake Tahoe, meanwhile, wanted to be able to play squash when conditions weren't right on the slopes. So the bottom floor of his Alpine-style chalet was outfitted with a squash court. And then like every well-equipped squash court, it had a dropdown basketball hoop in the back in case more than two people needed something to do.

In addition to the squash court, the bottom floor also boasts a full-blown, modern gym. "From an authentic Tyrolean chalet you entered another world when you went downstairs," Malick says. "Suddenly it became a 20th century world of gleaming stainless steel. You could ride and pedal in luxury."

Five-Story Lake Tahoe Ski Chalet
Source: John Malick & Associates

Less-active vacationers on both coasts, meanwhile, are turning to a more relaxing form of entertainment, building full-scale spas inside their vacation homes. That's more in keeping with the "certain kind of ease" that goes along with the beach houses in the Hamptons, says Fred Stelle, founding principal of Stelle Architects in Bridgehampton, N.Y.

"In every case, the principle thing about the house is how it works as an entertainment center or a sort of summer camp," Stelle explains. "You're here to be outside, and the house is really a refuge."

One 10,000-square-foot refuge on Mecox Bay in Bridgehampton that Stelle's office just finished designing features a home spa on the lower floor, complete with steam shower and massage room.

Like virtually every home he designs, that beach house also includes a dramatic swimming pool. "The number of great days at the beach are limited," says Stelle. So "you extend your enjoyment by having a swimming pool."

The pool at the Mecox Bay home is typical in that it features two vanishing edges -- with the water overflowing on the sides -- that overlook the bay and the rest is flush with the surrounding patio.

Modern Pool in Rustic Barn
Source: Poss Architecture + Planning

Pools are also popular in the mountains. Poss estimates about one-third of his clients want pools, with about half indoor and half outdoor. One family got the best of both worlds by enclosing their lap pool in a pool barn, with long sliding doors that can be opened up in the summer to bring in the fresh air and natural light.

On a more practical level, some attention also must be paid to more mundane issues. In Colorado, for instance, heated driveways are all the rage these days because vacationers simply don't want to waste away their time digging out their cars. "You see that up here because people are short on time," says Poss. "They like all of those conveniences."

The kitchen, meanwhile, requires a delicate balancing act, Poss says. "You want the intimacy of family dining; but you also want the ability for staff to come in for bigger parties," he explains.

Stelle's office avoided this dilemma altogether in one Hamptons beach house by simply building two kitchens -- one for the family and another one downstairs for caterers, using cabinets from the kitchen in the previous house on the site. And in case you were feeling sorry about the caterers having to run up and down a flight of stairs, don't worry. The design also included a dumbwaiter.

The Master Bathroom
Source: Stelle Architects

Perhaps because of that need to entertain -- or maybe it's the Costco (COST) complex, suggests Malick -- vacationers are asking for two of every appliance: two refrigerators, two dishwashers. " Fisher & Paykel drawer dishwasher -- every one wants one or two of those," says Malick. A warming drawer for pancake breakfasts and a spigot over the stove for pasta dinners are also necessities.

In the bathroom, 12-inch diameter overhead shower heads are frequently chosen for their rainfall effect. Voluminous sinks that sit on top of the counter like a bowl are another must in bathrooms.

And the bottom line on all these "must have" accouterments? Well, the homes described above are all multimillion-dollar homes ... and the architects won't talk about prices on specific homes or features. But to quote an old saying: If you have to ask, you probably can't afford it.

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