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Craftsman is in, faux Tuscan is out

Exposed rafter tails are in, while expanses of faux-European exterior stucco are out. Ten-foot ceilings are in – but 20-foot ceilings are out. Whatever the style, the “kitchen altar” is a must.

Smaller house plans sell best.

The typical plan sold by is about 2,100 square feet. “People want more efficient plans,” said James Roche, CEO of the California company. “What they don’t want is a room that doesn’t get used.”

Years ago, house plans were among the most popular features in The Observer’s Home section. Readers clipped plans and saved them for years.

Now the plan business has migrated online. Roche’s company features 40,000 plans, more than any other outlet.

Some things haven’t changed in this new digital world.

Smaller plans were among the most popular when they ran in the paper, and most were bought by empty nesters looking to downsize. Still true. Roche said 60 percent of his sales are to families whose kids are leaving home. “They want smaller plans with more details. ... They’re trading square footage for a nicer kitchen.”

Raleigh’s Sarah Susanka, the superstar of the “Not So Big” movement, is among those whose plans are featured on

Back then, a handful of plans sold best. So well that we had to lean on the plan companies to keep them from running the same plans over and over. That hasn’t changed, either. “A few (plans) do seem to do more than the others,” Roche said. “They tend to be small, luxury homes.”

Plan sales remain a good way to measure the changing tastes and lifestyles of American families.

“Craftsman dominates, especially over the last year,” Roche said. “And I mean that broadly – everything from a North Carolina lodge to a traditional bungalow.” These are homes with eye-catching details, especially on the exterior, that hint at quality workmanship.

A good example of a popular Craftsman plan is No. 434-17 at (Go ahead and check it out. You know you want to.)

Also growing in popularity is a style Roche calls transitional modern. “Not midcentury modern, with expanses of glass. More farmhouse modern. Squint your eyes and it looks like a farmhouse.”

An example is plan No. 888-13. (You don’t really have to squint.)

Customers are no longer buying plans for pretend Tuscan mansions of stucco, he said.

Finally, even if you’ve never heard “kitchen altar,” you know exactly what he means. Whether the home is Craftsman or contemporary, it will feature an open layout with a huge kitchen island. The island is the hub and heart of the home. Like a preacher, Roche said, “You can stand there and survey your flock.”