When a home building company sees a sudden spike in the number of competitive shoppers wandering around their new model markets, it's a sure sign that a new design has taken hold. In Texas, which is a housing market arena unto itself these days, just such a design "tipping point" has occurred. It's all about Modern Hill Country design, which disrupts traditional Texas rococo extravagance with simpler, elegant lines in classically warm materials. And it's catching on fast among Texas production home builders.

Partners in Building, a Houston and Austin custom/production home builder run by former Ryland Homes and John Laing Homes division chief Jim Lemming, struck on Modern Hill Country in an intuitive pursuit of offering its potential customers something distinctive. The company will close sales on about 200 homes in the Houston market in 2013 and about 50 homes in the Austin market, and is on track to scale its business model upward.

With average selling prices of about three-quarters of a million dollars, the Partners in Building were looking to capture what aspirational buyers sought in homes that were selling at a higher price point, in the $1.2 million to $1.4 million custom home.

"We were looking to find out what buyers see particularly in those higher-end homes and bring it into our offerings," Lemming tells us. "This is how, in working with Mike Woodley (Woodley Architectural Group), we struck upon the idea of Hill Country Modern or Modern Hill Country. Woodley describes it as an agrarian style, warm but contemporary."

Lemming says the use of stone, wood, glass and metal in felicitous combination, "clean lines but not a stark modernist look," met with an immediate favorable result. Sales started taking off in the company's Cinco Ranch community (Houston) and spread to other neighborhoods and on-your-lot offerings.

As the models picked up traffic and absorption rates kicked up, the sales associates and executives at Partners in Building started seeing rival executives "shopping" the models. Word is a bigtime regional private home builder likes the styling so much, plans are to introduce it system-wide in the next several months.

While the supercharged Texas economy's well-heeled home buyer was the initial target for Modern Hill Country, observers say the trend has started up in the Colorado market as well.

Partners in Building's team is now pushing the Modern Hill Country concept and detailing beyond single-family, into inner ring infill attached communities, and imagines the approach will play well among buyers looking for closer-in opportunity.

This is how change happens in home building. What works catches on.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Austin, TX.