Luxury Second Home Design | Elegant Homes by Real Living Real Estate | zzQA Office Skip to main content

While second homes might look similar to primary residences, luxury homeowners prize the subtle features and amenities that enhance their home away from home.

While planning a primary residence is often constrained by the routines and needs of the workaday world, designing a second home can be a more passionate, and carefree and creative, endeavor.

There are myriad reasons for buying a second home, whether it’s a rustic cabin on a lake for weekend jaunts, or a larger, luxury home designed with eventual retirement in mind.  Second homes, according to Real Living Sales Professionals, are no longer viewed by homebuyers as merely places for a weekend getaway or vacation.  Rather, they are increasingly becoming year-round alternate residences because of our ability to telecommute. 

Second homes can be small one-bedroom weekend retreats, or a large family compound that serves as a gathering place for extended family. Second homes can be tucked away in a remote rural location, or located close to a golf course or lake. 

But while three-fourths of buyers want their second homes to be on or near water, an increasing number have other priorities. For many second-home owners, close proximity to the cultural offerings of a big city are an important factor.

A well-thought out design plan

Second-home owners tend to be vibrant, active and exacting people who know exactly what they want. That's why well-thought out plans, especially when clients can't be present during the design stage, are therefore very important says Lisa Prince, designer for Blake & Associates in Long Lake, Minnesota, and Paul Prince Construction in Bloomer, Wisconsin, where most secondary homes are built for between $350,000 to $500,000. "We use the design/build process and work to have most decisions made ahead of time, so the client understands what they will get and there are no surprises in the end," she says.

Although the basic design of most second homes may not differ much from that of primary residences, it's important for clients and design/build teams to make certain they're speaking the same language. In the north woods of Wisconsin, for instance, secondary home owners want what they refer to as cabins, but are really full-blown homes. "Sometimes what they think of as 'just a cabin' is four bedrooms with two or three baths and a two- or three-car garage," says Prince. "They want a second home that's just as large as their primary residence."

Important amenities

Bigger is better for clients who consider their second home a retreat where family members can gather to reconnect. Simple design differences between a first home and a second home can enhance the lifestyle of these second-home owners. For example, Prince's clients often want a fireplace in a great room large enough to accommodate the couple who live there, but also the children and grandchildren who visit. "The great rooms typically are large enough to accommodate everyone," says Prince. "And the floor plans are open to the kitchen and eating area, which is the scheme they seem to like."

Flex space can also be important in a second home, says Gary Carlson, president of Carlson Homes in Scottsdale, Arizona "Flex space is exactly that; it's flexible, so it can be a sitting area, for example, and then if the grandkids come down during the winter, they can play there while the owners stay in the great room. The flex area usually is away from the adults."

For some owners, a second home is a place to entertain friends and business associates. Kitchen design and spacious open floor plans that facilitate graceful entertaining are important design features for these clients.

Most second-home clients, even though they tend to be older, also possess healthy lifestyles, says John Knudson, president, Knudson Gloss Architects in Boulder, Colorado. Owners of second homes in Colorado, as well as those in the north woods of Wisconsin, need space to store sporting equipment such as snowmobiles, skis, and fishing poles, not a common requirement for most primary homes.

In Arizona, second homes tend to be smaller, says Carlson. As in Wisconsin and Colorado, in Arizona the great room concept is used to a much greater degree than in full-time residences. "Homes are designed for visiting friends and family so clients want space to entertain. The secondary bedrooms are larger than those in a family's full-time home. And, in second residences, more attention is paid to the master suite," he adds.

Keeping in touch with the building process from afar

Designing a second home when the owner lives out of town - whether an hour away in the big city, or on the other side of the country - means the design and build processes do not flow in the typical manner.

"Working with owners who live out of town is not a problem. We communicate with them using electronic communication," says Carlson. During the design process, clients receive sketches, and are on the site at least once during design to discuss progress in detail. 

Once construction begins, Carlson regularly sends photographs so clients can track progress. "My superintendent will call once a week to discuss the progress. During construction, owners are out here two or three times. We want them out once before construction; then at the mechanical stage they're out here to review before the drywall stage," he says.

Watching construction progress on a second home custom-designed for your family can be a thrilling experience, even if it's done from afar. Second homes are, after all, affairs of the hearth.