Parade of Homes: A celebration of Urban Sprawl and those of us that love it


I love to walk around in new houses. I also love to watch houses being built, and walk through the construction site at various stages. Since I no longer install alarms or high-end audio/video systems in people’s homes, most of the houses I get to walk through are ones that I could afford. Sometimes I will get brave and tour a house valued beyond my price range. I am a little critical of house layout, design, and build quality, and it makes me feel better to walk through a very poorly designed or built $300K house, because I can say to myself even if it was affordable, I would not want it.

This past weekend, while sitting around pondering what to do, we decided to check out the Parade of Homes. Since I live right down the street from Gettysvue, that seemed like a great place to start.

The first stop was a house called Le Mason, which was named for the builder, Mason, and a French word “Le” to make it sound more tantalizing. The house was, as most $800K houses in Knoxville should be, beautiful. They had taken design cues from “Bjorn’s book of what’s cool,” and decorated the house very elegantly, including many European accents. I did not particularly care for the floorplan of the house, and they put the laundry room in the master suite. Yes, you read that correctly. In the hallway from the master bedroom past the closets to the bathroom was the laundry room.

One of my favorite touches from these “upper bracket” homes was the concept of taking a piece of furniture, like a dresser, and turning it into a bathroom vanity. Basically, they cut holes in the top for fixtures, cut out enough of each drawer for plumbing, and voila! They have a nice deco vanity. I only made the mistake of pulling out one drawer, which promptly fell apart in my hand. I managed to get it back in before anybody came into the room, but it was close. Obviously it was not finished.

With that taste of luxury, the only thing left to do was to go see the Vista homes. For a mere $10 per person, we could roam freely around four homes valued around $1-$2 million each. The interesting thing about a $2 million home (in Knoxville) is that it is more like a big showroom for products, including appliances, trim work, fixtures, and building products than it is a home. All those cool appliances and fixtures you walk past in the store, drooling, on your way to the affordable versions are in these homes. The homes felt more like a museum to me than a livable house, but I would love the opportunity to test that theory.

It is not so much that these houses had things us commoners cannot have as much as it is the collection of all those things under a single, very expensive roof. For example, my house has a central a/c unit, and yours probably does to. The Pontarian II had 5 (five!) units. Almost all these homes had massive whole-house audio/video systems, and many of them had television sets behind the master bath mirrors. Next time you rennovate your master bath, simply cut a tv-sized hole in the wall behind where the mirror will be, run some electricity, make a clear spot in the mirror, install it, and you will be puttin’ on the ritz.

Other simple-to-duplicate touches included the elegant looking painting techniques and patterns, which can be done by following some instructions posted at Home Depot or Lowe’s, and by buying a few stencils, sponges, or templates. It would help to be artistic.

Touring houses such as these is a great way to find out what is cutting-edge in home styling or comfort. The most interesting kitchen feature I saw was the use of “hidden” appliances. I am not referring to taking a refrigerator and applying a face that matches the cabinets. These were hidden so that they became part of the cabinets; when you thought you were opening a utensil drawer instead you found a refrigerated drawer containing fresh vegetables. Or, in one case, you would open a lower cabinet where cleaning supplies might normally reside, and find an ice maker. Another nice touch was the “over the stove” pot filler, which was an extendable faucet to fill pots while they are on the stove. A man walking by told his wife she could use it to put out her cooking fires.

The audio/video systems in these houses were not impressive to me. Most of the high-end televisions that were on display had very poor picture quality, except for the digital projector systems. Televisions rose out of cabinetry (boring), were stuck in outlet boxes, or were disrupted by sunlight. And the systems themselves appeared to be so complex only a 10-year-old geeky boy or the guy who installed them would be able to operate.

Overall, these massive houses, although beautiful, did not strike me as very livable. But they gave me a lot of ideas about what I want in my next house, and what to do with my current house. I will never have a $2 million house, but the point of the Parade of Homes, I think, is to showcase products and services. It did an excellent job of doing that and helped to inspire me with my current remodeling projects. Of course, it also helped inspire me to hurry up with my remodeling projects so I can sell my house and buy one bigger than a shoebox.

To complete the day we visited a more “affordable” house that was below $300K. It helped soften the transition between L’Eau A La Vista and Pontarian II and my little humble abode, “Le Bjorn de Knoxpatch y no la Vista.”