Building homes from a woman's point of view has made Shane Wenzel a believer.

"Homes designed by women for women makes sense," says the Calgary homebuilder and senior vice-president of sales and marketing for Shane Homes and Creations by Shane Homes. "I think builders have something to learn from ladies about how to craft a livable home. But first, attitudes toward female consumers have to change."

Shane Homes recently introduced two model homes that Wenzel calls his star real estate attractions - Yaccato I and Yaccato II.

"What differentiates these homes is their attention to details, featuring the conveniences of everyday living from a woman's perspective," Wenzel says.

Dave Olecko, Business Edge
Shane Wenzel of Shane Homes checks out the spacious granite island countertop in the kitchen of the Yaccato II showhome.

The 1,708-sq.-ft. Yaccato I, which was introduced in November, is priced at about $250,000 and is in southwest Calgary's Bridlecrest community.

Targeted at the entry-level market, the model has a gourmet-style kitchen, anchored by a central island with raised breakfast bar, deep pot drawers, an abundance of counter and cupboard space, and a sink tilt-out tray to hide the mess of scrub brushes and soap. There is also a large walk-in pantry that has motion-triggered lighting. The Yaccato II, which came to market in late April, galvanizes the gender design strategy, blending similar interior design elements to its predecessor with additional must-haves identified by women's focus groups that saw the initial blueprints.

"We documented their wishlists and had our draftsperson, Loralie Shears, incorporate their ideas and design several floorplans," Wenzel says. "Then we took the floorplans back to the women for feedback, went back to the drawing board again - and repeated this until we came up with something everyone was happy with."

The result is the Yaccato II in the northwest Calgary community of Royal Mews. The open, breezy 2,407-sq.-ft. two-storey home (selling to an upscale market at $400,000), has a nine-foot main floor ceiling, three-way gas fireplace separating the atrium nook and great room, as well as a second-floor family room with a vaulted ceiling and IT (information technology) centre.

"Functional living space, plenty of storage areas and the organization of those spaces were the main concerns expressed to us," Wenzel says. "This floorplan was truly designed by women from start to finish."

Equal-sized children's bedrooms are a signature of the Yaccato II design component. "So that the kids won't need to argue with Mom over who has the best or the largest room," Wenzel says.

Well-planned master bedrooms were also high on every women's priority list.

The Yaccato II master has a decorative lighted art niche at the entrance and a wall niche to tuck a dresser out of the way. The four-piece ensuite is more spa than spartan with oversized shower, built-in seat and two steps up into a corner soaker tub surrounded in slate.

There are also dual his-and-hers vanity tops and extra hideaway nooks in a makeup table that can accommodate a multitude of health and beauty accessories.

The two models are named after Joanne Thomas Yaccato, who inspired Shane Homes to take up the gender-design gauntlet.

Thomas Yaccato is the author of The 80% Minority: Reaching the Real World of Women Consumers and president of a Toronto-based consulting firm that specializes in helping companies apply gender intelligence to create long-term connections between companies and Canada's most powerful consumers - women.

"We first met her at a homebuilders' conference in Edmonton about two years ago, where she gave the keynote address speaking about how the role of women is too often forgotten when it comes to designing a home. She wowed us," Wenzel says.

Thomas Yaccato was later invited back to Shane Homes to conduct a workshop for the company's design, sales and marketing teams.

"Her research told us that women in families do most of the house hunting, that single women buy more homes than single men do and that women control 80 per cent of every consumer dollar spent," Wenzel says.

"Also, women tend to spend more time in the home when there are children in the family unit, so they have stronger opinions on what features they would like in their home."

But most designers are men, Thomas Yaccato says.

"Almost all of the decisions about whether to purchase a particular home are made by women," she says. "I asked the people at Shane to take a stroll through their homes and see it from a woman's perspective.

"For example, kitchen cabinetry should be placed where women can easily reach them, not high up at the ceiling accessible only by a ladder.

"And the garage entry should open to a large mudroom that provides not only generous elbow room for the family to remove their coats and boots, but also storage aplenty with lots of shelving, coathook racks and cubbyholes for the kids to stow their sports gear and backpacks," Thomas Yaccato says.

The reaction from Wenzel's colleagues - other homebuilders - has been mixed, he says.

"Some think it's a good idea, some won't say and some think that the homes are just gimmicks and there's nowhere to go with them. But we felt we had to build them," Wenzel says.

Peter Simpson, CEO for the Greater Vancouver Home Builders' Association, says that whether it is innovations such as toilet seats that automatically come down or old ideas making a comeback - such as laundry chutes - all homes built today are designed with women in mind.

"Not just because women are the primary home-buying decision-makers, but also due to the fact that more women are entering the fields of architecture and home design, and thus influencing new-home features," he says.

Thomas Yaccato praises Shane Homes for taking the risk.

"Not many builders would see this through," she says. "What Shane Homes has achieved is to build a concept. But they went beyond the hypothetical; they transformed it to a reality that people can buy and enjoy."

Wenzel says: "We did bring our ladies' focus groups through the homes during the construction stages to further refine their comments and what further changes they would make.

"From here, we'll monitor how the Calgary house-buying consumer reacts to our design approach and deliver these styles of homes to other cities - and build as many as the market will bear," he says.

Wenzel says his company believes in the potential of women-designed homes.

"Most builders know the influence women have on the home-buying process, though they don't act on that market reality," Wenzel notes. "But they will. It only takes one of us to get the ball rolling and others will surely follow."

(Jack Kohane can be reached at kohane@businessedge.ca)