By Carolyn Weber. The Sentinels are indeed the guardians of the hill at Santaluz. Perched on the most prominent landforms in the 3,800-acre master planned development, the homes sit majestically overlooking the golf course and rolling landscape below.

When the developers of Santaluz presented builder Bill Watt with the notion of 10 eight-unit clusters on prominent ridgelines throughout the master plan, he was thrilled. But he knew it wouldn't be a conventional cluster. "Our vision was a micro-village that you might see in northern Spain, like a hacienda on a hill surrounded by a compound for an extended family," says the president of Baywood Development in Newport Beach, Calif.

Watt's primary design goal was to stray from a predicable arrangement. "The last thing we wanted was a cul-de-sac with eight houses at the end of it," he remarks. "That is a suburban notion, and The Sentinels is not a suburban solution."

Watt enlisted Bob White of Scheurer Architects, also in Newport Beach, to design the dream. With his successes at Strada and Cassis on Newport Coast, White is no stranger to rustic and romantic European architecture. For the one-of-a-kind hilltop site at Santaluz, White envisioned Andalusian farmhouses that have evolved over time, oriented toward a central cobblestone court and protected by wall architecture.

Photo: Eric Figge Photography

The extra-large great room, with living area at one end and dining at the other, is the heart of the casual Plan Three.

The builder/architect team wanted The Sentinels' design to be of a piece, with the eight single-family homes resembling one object. White took advantage of the 35-foot-height maximum and connected the houses with tall walls that blur the line from one unit to the next. "We thought, if they are going to be sentinels, they need towers," Watt says. The one- and two-story elements lay low then bounce up to a three-story tower and then back down, creating diversity in the courtyard and a magical silhouette on the hillside. The homes are 10 feet apart on detached fee-simple lots that average about 7,000 square feet. White used easements to maximize private courtyard space, and, rather than having a typical property fence line, situated adjacent houses to define each home's courtyard.

The clusters concentrate the houses to take pressure off the open space and preserve the natural landscape. They create an unforgettable architectural presence, and the high density doesn't sacrifice lifestyle or privacy.

"We really maximized all the land we had," explains White, who strove to mitigate privacy problems. There are very few spots where you can look into a neighbor's courtyard. "During construction some windows compromised privacy, so they were either raised or eliminated," the architect adds.

A uniform color palette creates visual continuity within the project, and the rustic materials, textures, and applications give it the charm of an old farm structure. White intended the homes to look as if a farmer built them instead of a trained craftsman or stone mason. El Dorado stone is over-grouted and purposefully messy, complementing the rough-hewn beams and barrel tile roofs.

The sand-finish stucco has big rolls in it. "It's imperfect, and there's a lumpiness to it," says White, adding that the corners are big and soft like those of an old adobe building. "It took a real leap on the part of the builder to go for that," says White, "and it's one of the things that's really paying off."

Photo: Eric Figge Photography

With rustic materials, varied rooflines and plan configurations, and plenty of space for maneuvering in and out of garages, the cluster plan at The Sentinels is attractive and very livable.

Designed for the move-down buyer, The Sentinels has everything the market orders--location, security, views, golf, and low maintenance. "These buyers are on their sixth or seventh home, so they know exactly what they want," says Watt. Buyers can tailor any of the three 2,180- to 2,890-square-foot plans to their lifestyle. "It's a standard chassis with all kinds of components to arrange the house," notes Watt. All of the plans have a huge great room with a single dining space, though there are options for buyers who want more formality. White embraced the great room concept, as well as some "not so big house" notions, in these casual plans. Two plans have a first-floor master bedroom, while the third plan puts the master on the second floor to provide more space for the great room. Sixty percent of Plan Two buyers are opting to add the dramatic third-floor tower retreat, which can serve as an office or guest suite.

Photo: Eric Figge Photography

The highest point in the project, the three-story Plan Two tower anchors the cluster and is a cool bonus space for a home office or a guest suite.

Sales are healthy: Baywood has sold 50 homes since the grand opening in December 2001. The builder has been able to raise prices 10 percent on Plans Two and Three, and the most popular, Plan One, the only single-story offering, is up 20 percent. The price range is now $610,000 to $662,000. What's significant at The Sentinels is the layering of ideas and elements to create a singular concept. "It's not new," says Watt, "all the parts and pieces have been done before, we just took it to another level."

The payoff is a buzz that sets The Sentinels apart in the marketplace. "Baby boomers will be coming to us for the next 20 years," Watt says. "They're looking for something different and will push builders to provide it."

Category: Cluster community; Entrant/Architect: Scheurer Architects, Newport Beach, Calif.; Builder: Baywood Development, Newport Beach; Land Planner: Scheurer Architects, Newport Beach; SWA, Laguna Beach, Calif.; Landscape Architect: EPT, Pasadena, Calif.; Interior Designer: Color Design Art, Pacific Palisades, Calif.

Photo: Eric Figge Photography

Courts of Appeal

The design of the informal lifestyle and indoor/outdoor living spaces at The Sentinels evolved from the natural cues of Santaluz's site orientation, views, and fantastic climate. Bob White considered the practical concerns and provided private inner courtyards for year-round use. "We know it's going to get windy and hot on those hills, so it's important to have a protected courtyard to retreat to," he says, "as well as a real porch (10 or 11 feet deep) to sit under and enjoy the views."

Man With a Plan

The site plan for The Sentinels is tight and complicated like a jigsaw puzzle. The eight houses (three plan types) flanking the courtyard are mirror images, but architect Bob White didn't want it to feel symmetrical. "It would be too formal and classical," he explains. None of the faccedil;ades are alike, as White varied the building and roof forms, entry portals, garage configurations, and tower elements, further reinforcing the asymmetry.

  • The simple yet picturesque building massing is true to the traditional rural building forms.

  • White used asymmetrical massing within a symmetrically designed layout.

  • The architect used connecting walls to create the "compound" or "villa-like" feel, while still allowing homes to retain some individual identity.

  • The one- and two-story massing is punctuated by selected third-story architectural elements.

  • The significant private outdoor spaces include patios, courts, and rear terraces.

  • Use of easements maximize sideyard setback areas, further enhancing privacy.

  • The plaza area varies in its design from villa to villa, and it's designed as a non-garage dominated environment.

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