CONOVER COMMONS IS A CONGENIAL neck of the woods where neighbors know each other by name, chat over split-rail fences, and convene for the occasional potluck supper. The friendly vibe in this intimate enclave of 12 cottages has a lot to do with the people who live there, but it is also that way by design.
Bordered by a native-growth protection area, the 9.5-acre parcel in Redmond, Wash., was too small for a cul-de-sac and therefore deemed unbuildable by two previous owners. What developer Jim Soules and architect Ross Chapin saw in the land, however, was an antidote to the social alienation brought on by garage-front street-scapes that put cars before people.
Conover Commons is not the first collaboration between Soules, principal of Seattle-based The Cottage Co., and Chapin, whose eponymous studio in nearby Langley, Wash., specializes in “pocket neighborhoods of sensibly sized houses.” The duo's first pocket venture, Third Street Cottages—a cluster of 850-square-foot bungalows in Langley—proved their theory that there was an untapped market for small, design-savvy production homes on small lots.
The buyers who clamored to snatch up Phase 1 of Conover Commons (soon to be connected to Phase 2 by a trail system) aren't Ozzies and Harriets with 2.3 kids, but rather an eclectic mix of professional couples, empty-nesters, single women, and single-parent families. This came as no surprise.
“Sixty percent of U.S. households are one to two people now, and yet there are very few choices for a small house in an area zoned for single-family,” Soules observes. “Redmond's single-family zoning, for example, requires a minimum lot size of 7,200 square feet, where you end up with a house that's 2,500 to 3,000 square feet. That's generally too large of a space for one or two people who are trying to re-size their living space.”
At double the density of a typical subdivision, Conover Commons nests its residents in close quarters, but with ample room to breathe. Recognizing human needs for both social interaction and sanctuary, living spaces are laid out in a progression of layers that move from public to private realms. A shared garden commons at the heart of the site gives way to individual private yards. Yards step up to covered porches, which then recede into interior living spaces. Inside each house, gathering rooms such as kitchens and dining nooks are oriented toward the front, while bedrooms are tucked discreetly in back. Parking? It's detached and inconspicuously situated to the side of the hamlet, within walking distance.
With cars out of the main picture, the cottages really shine. What these intimate abodes lack in size (each is just under 1,000 square feet) they make up for in style. There's plenty to love in details such as exposed rafter tails, deep eaves, and whimsical color combinations that make cedar battens pop like pinstripes from fiber-cement siding.
Soules describes the architecture as a fresh take on the local lumber-driven aesthetic. It's also a classic example of substance over size. “You don't buy your BMW by the pound, so why would you price your house by the square foot?” he asks. “It's more about how a house lives, how it's designed, and the character of the details.”
Project: Conover Commons, Redmond, Wash.; Site size: 9.5 acres; Unit size: approximately 1,000 square feet; Total units: 12 (Phase I); Price: $375,000 to $430,000; Developer/Builder: The Cottage Co., Seattle; Construction manager: Jay Kracht; Architect/ Interior designer: Ross Chapin Architects, Langley, Wash.; Landscape designer: Linda Pruitt, Seattle
THINK SMALL Conover Commons is the first project built under the city of Redmond's “Innovative Housing Code,” an alternative type of residential zoning that developer Jim Soules helped create. A snapshot of what the code entails:
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Seattle, WA.