Yearning for a place to unplug, meditate and pray, some people are transforming parts of their homes into houses of worship.
These latest spiritual spaces are no longer relegated to a single altar in the corner of the room. Homeowners are creating meditation gardens, yoga and tai chi studios and private chapels. Rather than tacking these spaces on as afterthoughts, architects and builders are incorporating them into home plans from the start.
Tony Hanslin of Grantham, N.H., built a 225-square-foot Asian-inspired tea house three years ago. The space features sliding doors and a mahogany floor, and is surrounded by Japanese gardens, a stream and a dry pond consisting of natural-colored pebbles. Mr. Hanslin, who spent about $400,000 on the tea house and landscaping, says he goes there for one or two hours nearly every day.
“It’s very sparsely furnished so there’s room to meditate, teach tai chi and do tai chi, and have the occasional cocktail party,” says Mr. Hanslin, a former builder who is 70 years old.
Builders and architects say homeowners typically want clean lines, Asian-inspired detailing, natural materials and light-colored woods, like maple, bamboo and oak. They also want water features, such as fountains and waterfalls, and a view of the outside, says Walid Wahab, president of Miami-based Wahab Construction, who sees 50% more requests for meditation spaces now compared with five years ago.
Joji Yoshimura and his partner, Michael Kronstadt, built a 1,100-square-foot addition to their ranch-style home in Sunnyvale, Calif. Inside are a tea room; mirrored studio for yoga, tai chi and qigong, an ancient Chinese healing art; a master-bedroom suite and a media room. The addition, designed by architect John Lum in San Francisco, was completed in 2006 and cost roughly $400,000. The interiors feature handmade sliding screens and tatami mats. Outside is a 15-foot by 15-foot koi pond and bonsai tree display.
Mr. Yoshimura, age 62 and a clinical psychologist, grew up in a traditional Buddhist family and meditates daily. Mr. Kronstadt, 66 and a project manager for a biomedical-device firm, began meditating regularly about four years ago—in part because of the tea room. “It was easier, or more right, or less awkward to actually have a real meditation space, so I didn’t feel as self-conscious as I might have if I just started meditating at the kitchen table,” Mr. Kronstadt says. Now, every day after work, he practices “walking meditation” in the tea room or simply sits on the cushions.
Mr. Yoshimura likes the tea room for another purpose. “It’s set up to entertain. I have people over for snacks or dinner,” he says.
Private spaces in the home for prayer have been around in the U.S. since the colonial period but went out of style in the 1960s, when communal worship became more popular, says Duncan Stroik, professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame who studies sacred spaces. In the past 10 to 15 years, luxury homes, in particular, have seen a resurgence in private prayer spaces. “What we’re seeing is some people who believe in prayer are willing to spend significant money to have a beautiful room dedicated to that in their house,” he says.
Prof. Stroik says meditation spaces are an outcry against our increasingly mobile age. “People need to get away. You might not be able to get into the country, but you can go into a room and pray and meditate,” he says.
Johnny Miller, owner of OakBridge Timber Framing, is building an 860-square-foot chapel for a Presbyterian couple in Howard, Ohio, northeast of Columbus. The free-standing chapel will have wooden pews that can seat 60 people and a curved, cathedral-style ceiling that will be high enough “to make it feel like a church,” Mr. Miller says. The timbers will have several Bible verses carved into them. The chapel will likely cost about $400,000, he adds, noting that the price per square foot is higher than many luxury homes due to the extensive amount of detailing.
Once the chapel is completed in the fall of 2014, the couple plans to use it for worship, weddings, christenings and even funerals. “They’re busy with their lifestyles. They want to have it located on site and close by,” says Mr. Miller, adding that he gets twice as many requests for spiritual rooms now than he did five years ago.
The owners, Jeff and Debi Johnson, are building the chapel on the property where their weekend home is located. Mr. Johnson, a jeweler, says he modeled the chapel off the church where his family attends services. “We have always gone to church, but when we’re at the farm, we’re far from a church,” says Mr. Johnson, age 62. “I wanted something on our property that represented that feel and my faith.”
Although simple in their essence, these spaces can require a high level of customization. Experts, such as a feng shui specialist, are sometimes consulted about design principles or asked to conduct special ceremonies.
Aarthi Jain’s Houston home, built in 2004, was influenced by Vastu Shastra principles, a Hindu design method that focuses on the home’s directional alignment. For instance, the front door couldn’t face south because it is believed to bring bad luck, and the 36-square-foot prayer room had to be located on the top floor so no one could walk above it. “Having something touching your feet is considered taboo,” says Dr. Jain, a 50-year-old physician.
The tricky part was making sure her architects, Natalye Appel and Stuart Smith, could balance Vastu principles with city regulations. “Last minute we had to completely flip the house east to west because the city didn’t catch that the driveway wasn’t where they wanted,” Dr. Jain says. “It was difficult to apply principles of one culture to the restrictions of another.”
She tried to incorporate outdoor elements as much as possible. The house curves around a backyard courtyard, and the rooms downstairs face the pool. The prayer room, which has an antique teak Indian door frame, opens into a larger gathering space. In total, the house cost $1.6 million.
Still, Dr. Jain didn’t follow every rule. For example, she put windows in the prayer room even though prayer rooms in India are typically windowless.
“It’s so much a part of our way of living in Indian culture, in Hindu culture. Religion is part of everything you do. We want to encourage our daughters to remember these things and remember where they come from,” Dr. Jain says.
Last year, designer Safura Salek of Mass Studio created a 4,000-square-foot modern home following Vastu Shastra principles for an Indian family in West Hollywood, Calif. Though the house cost more than $800,000, the 24-square-foot prayer room, tucked under the stairwell, is simple. The owner “prays every morning. For her, it’s a very private space. She didn’t want it to be out in the open or ostentatious,” Ms. Salek says.
When it comes time to sell, marketing a home with a meditation room can be sensitive because the spaces could potentially turn off buyers of a different faith or background, says Stephanie Bissett, an agent with Premier Sotheby’s International Realty in Sanibel, Fla. The upside is that prayer spaces are usually open and sparse, so they can easily be converted for other uses.
Recent sales include a 94-acre property in Austin County, Texas, with an outdoor chapel and church bell that sold in the spring for more than $3 million, according to Dave Wyatt, the listing agent. A three-story home in San Marino, Calif., with a designated meditation room sold in September for $8.88 million, says listing agent Sarah Rogers.
Patty LaRocco, an agent with Town Residential, has a $39 million listing for a co-op apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with a silk-paneled meditation room adorned with tatami mats and Moroccan lanterns. She promotes the room in all her marketing materials. “Most people are neutral, but some find it super cool. I had a buyer yesterday who came through and loved it,” she says.
Mr. Kronstadt, right, practices ‘walking meditation’ in the tea room or simply sits on the cushions every day after work. Mr. Yoshimura likes the tea room for another purpose. ‘It’s set up to entertain. I have people over for snacks or dinner,’ he says.
This outdoor lounge space features vintage kilim pillows, an antique rug by Lawrence of La Brea and custom pillows by Commune Design. Though the house cost more than $800,000, the 24-square-foot prayer room, tucked under the stairwell inside the home, is simple. The owner ‘prays every morning. For her, it’s a very private space. She didn’t want it to be out in the open or ostentatious,’ Ms. Salek says.