News & Observer, By Christa Gala

If you’ve got any age on you at all, you probably grew up in a home where you shared a bedroom with a sibling—or a bathroom at least. Maybe you remember being shushed during a phone call while the family watched television in the den. These days, however, some homeowners are asking builders to create separate rooms to accommodate different hobbies and lifestyles, entire spaces reserved for painting, praying, exercising, and growing plants, among other things.

“If you go back to the fifties, housing was really a shelter and a place for people to live and have the necessities,” says Jon Rufty, owner of Jon Rufty Homes, Inc. “As disposable income has allowed people to do more, you started seeing more bedrooms and bathrooms. We’re especially seeing more single-purpose rooms, where in the past spaces were designed more for multi-tasking.”


Rufty, in business 17 years, isn’t talking about bonus rooms or mud rooms or the wonderful walk-in closet, all of which have been mainstays in homes in many price ranges for decades. It’s possible, however, that these rooms were early inspiration for the requests he receives now—the catalyst that got the mind imagining.

Rex Bost, president of Bost Custom Homes, says most of his high-end clients request wine cellars, theater rooms, saunas and exercise rooms. But now people are getting more creative, says Bost, who’s built a two-story greenhouse and even a Christmas room, in which the tree stays up all year and sliding doors off a common area open to reveal the tree when the holiday approaches.

He’s also had requests for what he calls a back room kitchen or scullery, featuring full cooking and cleaning facilities as well as storage for cookware.

“The purpose for that room has ranged from having a place for caterers to work to keeping strong cooking smells out of the main living areas,” Bost says. “It also has sprung from the recognition that the kitchen is the gathering hub of the home and needs to be more open and less cluttered.”

What’s causing homeowners to customize these high-end homes so specifically?

“One of the drivers of the pull-out-the-stops design has been the shift toward placing a larger portion of their investments in real estate versus financial markets,” says Bost, with 19 years of homebuilding experience.

Rufty attributes the change over the past decade to an increase in income as well as heightened awareness for each family member’s individuality.

“There are so many things that builders and technology can do now to make a house more comfortable,” Rufty says. “Instead of just the looks or function of a space, clients are really wanting to understand how comfortable it can be and how easy it can be to maintain.”


Rufty and Bost both build custom homes that cost millions of dollars and sprawl in size up to 14,000 square feet. Not just dream homes—dream castles, some of them.

But this idea of customizing a space for leisure, hobby or lifestyle is definitely trickling down. When Brent and Caryl Webb of Cary bought their upscale home a few years ago, the former model home, built in 1998, had all kinds of amenities—and intercom system, hardwood floors, skylights, gourmet kitchen and a master closet the size of a bedroom.

After setting up their daughter’s bedroom and a guest room, there was one bedroom sitting empty. Brent Webb decided it was the perfect place for a state-of-the-art theater room.

“The idea grew over time,” says Web. “I had a regular TV with surround sound in our old house but when we moved into our new house, the price range and a number of options for surround sound and video equipment was much broader. This expanded my imagination, and I started visualizing something more than just a big TV.”

He started sketching the room within a month or so of moving in.

“I have a book where I mapped out the ideas as they floated in and out of my head,” says Webb. “I started with no real price in mind. It was important for me to decide on the concept, then work my way back to a price point my wife would agree to.”

Webb spent a little more than a year working on the room himself before he called in the pros to finish it off.

“Because I did a lot of the work myself I had to get creative. I built the ceiling lighting tray out of cheap lumber, then laid regular white rope lights, and covered the tray with deep red felt with gold stars and a gold rope border. To soften the room for sound and to keep it from resonating throughout the house, I replaced the door with a solid core door and bought sets of red velour curtains, one to cover the windows and the other for balance on the opposing wall.”

Today the 11-by-14-foot room hosts a gigantic maple screen enclosure built by a local firefighter who specializes in woodworking. It holds a 92-inch projection screen, front speakers, infrared controls, built-in subwoofers and two lighting zones.

“With the cabinet and completed electronics, we have a beautiful, functional theater room for about $13,000,” says Webb. “This was more than we targeted but we could not be happier. Seating is the last major piece and that will be about $3,000.

“We use the room about five days a week between us as a family and our 13-year-old with her friends: there’s an X-Box in there for them…well for me too,” Webb continues. “We still go to the theater every once in a while to see a new release, but we usually wait for the DVD to come out.”


Price wise, Webb did pretty well with his room, largely because he did some of the work himself. Bost says the average theater room he builds averages an additional $40,000, but he’s outfitted a room for as little as $6,000. An exercise room, one of the simplest modifications, would cost roughly $10,000 for a 12-by-16-foot space, Bost says.

With other rooms, price isn’t as much a consideration as quality and propriety. “Every house is so different and so special,” Rufty says. “We’re doing a lot of religious rooms. That is a very important part of a lot of cultures. So you have to worry about the materials used, the orientation, and their relationship to the house. It is not ostentatious, but it’s very nicely done with high quality materials and symbols that put our clients at peace.”

Rufty says that most of his custom-built homes require him to work with suppliers all over the world, because clients often get ideas from personal and business travel. “They’re seeing features and amenities in certain areas that they’re enjoying doing while they’re there and now they’d like to do that back at home,” he says. With custom homes in this price range, details mean everything. For example, one of Rufty’s clients insisted upon hand-cut stone, not the pre-cast kind that is easily available.

“We had to send a project manager over to India to meet with the quarry over there to have the stone cut correctly,” says Rufty. “We brought in 18 container loads of hand-cut stone.”

Do the rooms in our homes say as much about us as the home itself? Why do some homeowners go to such lengths in their quest for the perfect abode? Bost sums it up like this:

“Because they can, and real estate is currently considered a safe place to put your money.”