Many years from now, if anthropologists were to look at area houses built in 2013 and beyond, they might surmise we had finally stopped pretending we’d ever use that formal dining room; they would notice some of our outdoor kitchens rivaled the ones indoors; we found a place other than a small hallway table to drop all our mail, backpacks, purses and other gear when we walked in the door; two-car garages were no longer enough; we worshipped storage space; we wanted our parents and family to be comfortable when they visited or came to live with us; we were enamored with vinyl plank flooring. And those anthropologists would have a hard time finding a traditional study or office.

From floor plans that revolve around “mother-in-law suites,” three-bay garages and “drop zones,” houses are reflecting our ever-evolving culture, with some of the most dramatic changes in kitchens — both indoors and out.

After being cooped up all day at work and school, U.S. families like to spend evenings enjoying food and company outside, industry trackers say.

An overwhelming 85 percent of consumers prefer to cook outdoors, according to a May 2012 poll by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. In these parts, a mild climate makes outdoor cooking possible year round.

No longer considered a luxury, outdoor kitchens are becoming a standard feature in remodels and new construction, said Murphy Yates, owner of League City-based Harbour Classic Builders. Yates’ firm builds houses ranging in price from $400,000 to $3 million. Not only is demand for outdoor kitchens sizzling, but owners are sparing little expense. Today’s outdoor kitchens go far beyond the rusty barbecue pit and include high-end appliances such as Sub-Zero refrigerators, Wolf gas grills, sinks, large flat-screen TVs, cozy and inviting furniture and other amenities.

“Outdoor living areas have become increasingly popular,” Yates said. “They can accommodate more people; they have more seating areas.”

Back indoors, the kitchen also is reflecting our more casual approach to dining.

Kitchens have evolved beyond a place to prepare food. The walls between the hardly used formal dining room and the kitchen are coming down to create a more open feel, said Will Holder, president of Trendmaker Homes.

Trendmaker this year announced it would build a 700-home development on 372 acres just north of the intersection of Clear Lake City and El Dorado boulevards, marking the first major residential project in the Clear Lake area since the 1990s. Houses in that development will reflect new trends. Trendmaker also plans to acquire 100 lots in Harborwalk, a high-end masterplanned community in Hitchcock.

More families are using center islands as preparation areas and places to entertain. The setting creates a cozy and casual place where people have room to gather, Holder said.

Increasingly, the family room, the kitchen and dining area are open to each other, Holder said. The openness creates a perception that the house is larger than it is, Holder said. Super clean lines have replaced arches and drops, he said.

Once upon a time, the only bedroom on the first floor was the master bedroom, Holder said. But Trendmaker is seeing a demand for guest suites, or so-called “mother-in-law” suites, on the first floor. Buyers often want the suites for their parents to eventually live in or stay in during visits. First-floor suites also offer guests privacy, Holder said.

“Frankly, we don’t design a house that doesn’t have one anymore,” Holder said.

Three-car garages also are becoming the norm, Holder said. The style is usually tandem, meaning that from the outside, the garage appears to have only two bays, but one side will have a garage spot to park two cars in tandem. Most people want the third car space to store lawn mowers, bicycles and other items, he said.

“Drop zones,” or backpack stations, also are in high demand. Such areas are just off the garage, and families use them to hang purses, install backpack racks and unload items. Some put a desk and mail slots in the zone and use it as a station to pay bills. The zones are meant to reduce clutter.

In the past, people wanted studies to put their fax machines, computers and all the necessary wall outlets. But with the ubiquity of laptops, tablets and wireless gadgets, the demand for traditional studies and offices is on the decline, Holder said.

In resort or vacation properties such as in Harborwalk, builders are including spaces to accommodate elevators.

So what about floors? One of the most asked for alternatives to carpet is vinyl plank flooring, said Steve Mataro, owner of DSW Homes. Made from polyvinyl chloride, more commonly known as PVC and resins, vinyl plank flooring has the look and feel of hardwood, but none of the hassles that go with it, Mataro said. Vinyl plank, which costs substantially less than hardwood flooring, is available in a variety of patterns and styles, including wood, stone and tile. It can be installed by “floating method,” meaning it isn’t glued down. That means it can be installed on subfloors that are less than perfect, Mataro said.

“People with kids and pets like it,” Mataro said. “Pets won’t harm it like hardwood floors and kids can leave wet towels and spill drinks on it without ruining or warping it.”

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