Make Your House a Superhouse

The kitchen or bathroom remodeling you're considering is a smart investment, but will you enjoy it as much as a bowling alley, wine cellar, or tree house?

Over the past three months has been putting together one monster of a house with our series of articles on "super" enhancements. We consulted designers, homebuilders, appraisers, and various other experts to help us draw up the blueprints on lavish rooms that would add lasting value and one-of-a-kind charm.

If you're looking for smart ways to increase the value of your home, traditional remodeling projects like elegant bathrooms, state-of-the-art wine cellars, and high-design, high-tech media rooms have consistently demonstrated their return on investment—even in today's challenging housing market. But if you want to invest in the fun factor and usability of your home, we'd like to help you brainstorm some unusual ideas you aren't likely to find in any Home Depot (HD).

The Closet Comes Out

While it may seem like an obvious project, many home remodelers tend to forget about the closet. Upgrading your closet will make your wardrobe look and feel better, shave valuable minutes off your morning routine, and bring appreciable charm to your master suite. In homes across the country, closets are becoming bigger, more organized, and stocked from floor to ceiling with lavish amenities (see, 11/8/06, "A $40,000 Home for Your Clothes").

"Well-appointed closets are very popular and something sought after by many homeowners. After they have spruced up their kitchens, bathrooms, and rec rooms, homeowners are wanting to spruce up their closets as well," says Helen Kuhl, editor of Closets magazine.

Many existing homeowners looking for a new closet turn to the leading franchise in the industry, privately held California Closets, a $300-million-a-year business with 104 franchises in 31 states. "The closet used to be the last place in the world you would show your guests, now it's the first stop on the tour," says Anthony Vidergauz, the company president.

Bowling Night

While rec rooms tend to call to mind overturned bins of Lego toys and long nights of Parcheesi and Monopoly, with the right makeover a rec room will become the fun center of your home. Home basketball courts, bowling lanes, and climbing walls are just a few of the unique home improvements vying to turn family fun night into an adrenaline-pumping, sweat-dripping affair (see, 11/3/06, "Beyond the Billiard Room").

Some games are just more fun when you can enjoy them in the privacy and comfort of your own home and in the company of good friends. Private bowling lanes have long been a feature of the most luxurious properties, but they're now becoming an affordable option for enthusiasts who hate the ritual of renting shoes and competing with raucous league nights at the local alley.

The contractors of United Bowling in Yulee, Fla., will install a customized bowling lane in your new or existing home for a fee of $19,000 to more than $110,000, depending on size and amenities. Founder Doyle Claxton says a majority of his residential projects are still done for high-profile residential clients (such as football player Laveranues Coles and actress Sandra Bullock, a current client), but that home bowling alleys have started to become a more substantial part of his business in recent years.

Stock Up on Wine

The basement is another space that regularly suffers remodeling neglect. If you're a wine collector, or have thought about taking it up, a customized wine cellar is the perfect way to transform your musty basement filled with cobwebs and cardboard boxes into an elegant showroom that can store thousands of bottles (see, 11/22/06, "Sophisticated Cellars").

"A wine collection doesn't look like much, but properly presented it shows its true colors," says wine cellar designer Paul Wyatt.

"My clients understand that a wine cellar is far more than a place to store wine. It is a specific symbol of power, of success."

At a minimum, expect to pay a custom wine cellar designer at least $8,000 for a sealed, climate-controlled cellar that will ensure the integrity of your bottles during aging. But you can splurge on the project and get features like display lighting, mahogany woodwork, stone arches, stained-glass windows, and flatscreen TVs.

Going Out on a Limb

When considering your home-improvement options, don't forget the backyard. Once a vehicle for childhood imagination and the test of a father's carpentry prowess, tree houses are becoming a luxury commodity for people of all ages (see, 10/4/06, "Real Estate That Branches Out"). Expensive designs from custom builders can add a space for entertaining, relaxing, or even working to your property.

While many tree-house designers focus on providing a space just for adults or just for kids, the TreeHouse Co. in Kilmarnock, Scotland, has experience in designs that cater to all ages. A few years ago, a project in Fife, Scotland, called for a tastefully designed tree house that would appear to grow out of a 500-year-old lightning-struck cedar tree, and provide a play space for children as well as an entertaining area for adults.

Resale Appeal

The company builders constructed a 45-foot spire with cedar shingles, a copper turret, a side deck, two staircases with multilevel verandas, and a zip slide—all for the enjoyment of the youth. For the parents, they built a deck under the canopy of another nearby tree and connected the two structures with a bridge. As a result, the adults can enjoy their roughly $90,000 investment in the company of friends while keeping a watchful eye on their kids.

Whatever your out-of-the-ordinary home improvement of choice, make sure it's something that you and your family will enjoy as long as you inhabit your abode. Whether you spend $10,000 or $80,000 on a unique space like a bowling lane or a tree house, you're not likely to recoup a lot of that investment when you resell, but if it has lasting appeal, it could in lure potential buyers who might otherwise walk away.

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