USUALLY, WHEN A DEVELOPER begins promoting a community that hasn't been built yet, “the normal response is to go take lifestyle photos somewhere else and claim they're not from somewhere else,” says Curt Smith, partner and COO of Scottsdale, Ariz.–based Sunbelt Holdings.

When Sunbelt Holdings and Shea Homes began to promote Vistancia, a 7,100-acre master planned community in Peoria, Ariz., northwest of Phoenix, they opted for a completely different strategy. They commissioned California-based artist Dennis Ziemienski to create illustrations that resemble vintage travel posters, based on actual features of the property. The images show individuals using Vistancia's extensive Discovery Trail, its golf courses, and its amenity center, bringing a massive project down to the level of single individuals.

“It's a huge piece of property,” Smith says. “We needed to relate to people. ... We wanted to make sure residents had the opportunity to interact with nature in a way that's reminiscent of a slower Arizona. It's the best of past and present Arizona.”

Even now that Vistancia has amenities to photograph, they have stuck with Ziemienski's vibrant, evocative artwork.

“It's memorable; it stands out in our marketplace from other ads, and it doesn't set up an experience where people are disappointed when they get there,” Smith says. “It calls to them to come see the real thing.”

Once they arrive at “the real thing,” they're ushered into the Discovery Center, located at Vistancia's amenity center. The information area, which makes use of natural, native materials and a desert color palette, tells the story of the community through a series of 19 free-standing, portable displays that will be moved out when the building is transferred to the HOA. One central display gives an overall orientation of the community, and another focuses on the Discovery Trail.

“Because it's such a unique trail, and the parks along the trail are so interesting, we produced a video to show [prospects] what that trail experience is like,” Smith says. “It's such an important part of Vistancia. That's one of the central displays and captures people's attention.”

Shea Homes put the same level of thought into the design of its homes at Vistancia. The process started with a lengthy lifestyle survey that was sent to 60,000 people in targeted income ranges, says Rick Andreen, president of Scottsdale-based Shea Communities. “It wasn't about houses and streets, it was about a place you'd want to live,” he explains.

From there, Shea identified specific consumer groups and designed houses to meet the needs of one hypothetical family in each group. The company also drove through old Phoenix neighborhoods studying the architectural mix. Between the processes, it was able to produce visually diverse streetscapes.

“By targeting 11 to 12 groups of consumers, we come up with true differentiation,” Andreen says.

Builder: Shea Homes, Peoria, Ariz.
Architect: Bing Hu, H&S International, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Landscape architect: Greey Pickett, Scottsdale
Interior design: Design Lines, Englewood, Colo.
Ad agency: The Motta Co., Phoenix
Sales office design: R. Group Communications, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Signage: JRC Design, Scottsdale

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Phoenix, AZ, Peoria, IL.