AN APTITUDE FOR JIGSAW PUZZLES helps if you're going to design something along the lines of Belcara, a 107-unit detached community carved into a coastal ridge in Orange County, Calif. “It's not the sort of development where you have your plans first and fit the site to your plans,” says architect Mike Penrose. Instead, the picturesque enclave maps out as a series of cluster pads stepping down the hillside, with homes oriented to maximize views of the ocean, city lights, or both.

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This attention to unfettered site lines paid off. Buyers didn't bat an eye at the community's high density, nor were they deterred by prices ranging from $1.7 million to more than $2 million. There was just too much to love in the floor plans ranging from 2,475 to 3,079 square feet—and in the coastal Mediterranean–style mandated in the master plan for Pacific Ridge. Stucco, rusticated bricks, heavy timbers, wooden shutters, and wrought iron create a feeling of permanence. Even the garage doors read as Old World, with their wood plank façade, heavy posts, and muscular nail heads.

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Because the homes of Belcara are exposed from above and below, architectural detailing had to be consistent on all four sides, Penrose notes. Each plan, regardless of size and location, offers something special—whether it's a clever turret, a first-floor master bedroom that opens onto a private courtyard fireplace, or an intimate outdoor fountain.

Categories: Clusters (grand); Production/Semi-custom, more than 3,000 square feet (merit) (tie); Entrant/Architect/Land planner: JZMK Partners, Irvine, Calif.; Developer/ Builder: Taylor Woodrow Homes, Irvine, Calif.; Landscape architect: The Collaborative West, San Clemente, Calif.; Interior designer: Oma Talley Design, Costa Mesa, Calif.

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In addition to guaranteeing extraordinary views while building the maximum number of homes possible on 18.4 sloping acres, Belcara's designers had to factor in watershed issues. To prevent runoff from tumbling down the hillsides into the Pacific Ocean, retention and de-silting basins were installed, according to architect Mike Penrose. That cut into the amount of land available for houses. But what the project thereby lost in the number of units built, it gained in open space—an aspect highly valued by residents.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.