“You don’t need a retirement home, you need a great home for retirement,” ~ Francisca Alonso
There is the passion of an artist, the preciseness of an engineer, and a profound empathy for the human condition that informs a conversation with architect Francisca Alonso, one that is as captivating as the transformative vision she has for residential design in the 21st century.
Francisca and her husband/architect partner of 30 years, Antonio, are co-founders of AV Architects + Builders, established in 2001 and based in Great Falls, VA, just outside of Washington, D.C.
Francisca’s father was the famous architect Melvin Villarroel Roldan, who has designed luxury resorts and hotels on the Mediterranean coast and all over the world. When Francisca and Antonio launched their business in 2001, they decided to carry on the legacy of resort-style living. The company’s mission is, “Building custom dream homes designed around your lifestyle, that make you feel like you are on vacation, every day of the year.”
While there are many formative pillars of AV’s design philosophy, Francisca sums them up with the following tenets:
Removal of Clutter
Control of clutter is a key ingredient to a happy house. It’s rejuvenating. It’s like a detox. At the end of the day we don’t need so much. When have you ever walked into a luxury vacation home that had clutter? When you are staring at clutter, it creates distractions, so make certain that multiple storage solutions are a part of your home design.
Every indoor space that we design has a mirror image in an outdoor related space. A master bedroom has a patio. A great room may have an outdoor grotto. A front entrance will have a front porch.
A 2,000 sq. ft., home, for instance, should have at least a third of that – 700-800 sq. ft. – set for designed outdoor space.
Double the Windows, plus Limited Hallways and Doors
Our designs call for double the amount of window space in a standard home in our area. And there should be at least two viewpoints to the outdoors and nature in every spot in the house, all of which reduces stress and adds to your well-being. This requires broad open-concept floor plans, multi-use spaces, and the limiting of hallways and doors.
(Many of Francisca’s window designs, especially in bedrooms where windows have to provide egress in case of emergency, have an almost Mondrian quality, with offset panels virtually creating a piece of art in glass. The offset allows for one large casement window – facilitating egress and allowing for cross ventilation – while smaller windows of different sizes and shapes infuse design interest.)
Quality of Materials
We don’t want you to have a lifetime membership at the hardware store, so we build with materials that last. Instead of using pine trim we use PVC, which is rot-free. We use aluminum windows, so you don’t keep painting them, and engineered quartz or porcelain instead of granite so you don’t have to keep treating it. You should enjoy your home, not have to maintain it.
Smart Home Peace of Mind
Home security from your smartphone is so easy to do nowadays. We design a fully integrated system that controls lighting, alarms, temperature settings, and locking systems. The system can even detect moisture in specific areas and will send a message to your phone that will tell you if there is water under you dishwasher. It’s all about safety and energy efficiency.
But Francisca and her team have added another layer to the concept of stylish resort living, and it is outlined in a book she authored called, Nesting for Empty Nesters, The Vacation Style Living Approach to Aging in Place.
A magna cum laude graduate of The School of Architecture at The Catholic University, Francisca is also CAPS (Certified Aging in Place Specialist) certified, a prestigious designation bestowed by the National Association of Home Builders. It is with that training that she imagines a residence that uses smart design to prepare your home now for a better quality of life in retirement and beyond.
Francisca explains, “People are living much longer and more active lives these days. If we design or remodel a house for a couple in their 50s, they may live there until they’re 90. So why not build blocking now behind a wall that can anchor a grab bar or handrail in 20 years? Why not build a curbless shower with no doors that looks sleek now, but will allow disabled access in 30 years? There are hundreds of beneficial manifestations of Aging in Place design.”
In this regard, Francisca seems to think of everything. She is currently working with researchers at a Washington D.C. area university on building a sensor into a shower floor, or any space, that will detect an unusual compression of the floor that might be consistent with a fall, which can then be signaled to a family member for follow-up.
In addition to her father’s influence, Francisca admits to an affinity for Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, which is hinted at with some of her flowing horizontal rooflines. “Wright designed a home that was built for the end-user,” she describes. “Architecture is not monumental or ornamental, it’s designing for a person and how they will operate in their home.”
And like its co-founder, the company is passionate, precise, and profoundly empathetic in bringing trusted and flexible home design solutions to those of us approaching a fulfilling and active life as seniora. In Francisca’s sage affirmation, “You don’t need a retirement home, you need a great home for retirement.”
AV Architects + Builders | Great Falls, VA 703-865-5065 | avarchitectsbuild.com