An inside peek at the paper village in a Norcross warehouse

We go behind the curtain at PulteGroup’s Innovation Center
PulteGroup Innovation Center

If you’re not a professional architect or interior designer, chances are that floorplans can be baffling. It’s hard to visualize space and traffic flow, even with 3D computer models. Atlanta-based PulteGroup has solved this problem by constructing life-sized model layouts inside a cavernous Norcross warehouse, dubbed the PulteGroup Innovation Center. The homes have wooden frames with paper walls and cardboard cabinets; but the dimensions, door/window openings, and ceiling heights are true to size. Pulte invites consumers to tour the “homes” and provide feedback. It’s the ultimate focus group.

We recently got a private tour of model “TCG9,” designed for “affluent empty nesters.” With its plywood islands and cardboard appliances, the space felt like a playhouse for grown-ups—down to fake TVs tuned to “news” shows that ironically reminded us of FOX. (We wondered if starter-home TVs are “tuned” to The Walking Dead?) Construction noise drifted over from other prototypes going up in the sort of pipe-and-drape village.

Earlier this month, Pulte used the center to host its first “Kitchen Throwdown,” where nearly 20 suppliers such as Kohler, Whirlpool, GE, and Moen created fully furnished (though not functional) kitchens in just one week. Their findings will be used to fine-tune kitchen designs for 2016.

Pulte, a 60-plus-year-old company which relocated from Michigan to Atlanta in 2014, includes three major brands: Centex (for first-time home buyers), Pulte Homes (for families), and Del Webb (for active adults). The Innovation Center tests plans for all three concepts.