THE SITE DESTINED TO BECOME Courtland Homes at Inlet Cove had the goods when it came to location. Situated due south of the quaint streets of Old Town Alexandria, Va., the area was just a stone's throw from the nation's capital, smack dab in the middle of a planned unit development with plenty of existing infrastructure.

But the parcel—which had been cobbled together through two separate land deals and then rezoned for cluster development over several years of protracted negotiations with Fairfax County officials—was an odd size. And it was tight. Builder/developer John Cowles, president of JCE and owner of Courtland Homes, began to wonder whether a shoehorn might come in handy once construction was under way.

Cowles hired McLean, Va., architect Bill Devereaux to engineer what seemed like an impossible job: a pocket of historically inspired, detached homes with footprints of roughly 2,000 square feet on lots ranging from 2,700 to 3,300 square feet. Devereaux's assessment? It could be done, provided some of the homes could literally turn corners with L-shaped floor plans.

Inlet Cove's courtyard clusters, which nest four to six dwellings like puzzle pieces around shared travel ways, are intimate in more ways than one. There is warmth in their proximity, but also in their architectural details. Harking back to the region's colonial heritage, brick-front façades are enlivened by gracious porticos, boxed dormers, grapevine mortar joints, painted shutters, and oxeye windows. The genre carries through inside, in choice elements such as transom windows, crown molding, and chair rails.

Cowles anticipated interest from young move-up buyers but was somewhat surprised by the turnout. More than half of the residents ended up being military “retirees” (in their early to mid-40s) bolstered by secondary income from jobs in homeland security and defense contracting. In hindsight, this made sense, given that Inlet Cove backs up to the Fort Belvoir military base. The homes were released in five phases and sold out in late 2004.

Part of what differentiated Courtland Homes at Inlet Cove is that it was an anomaly in the greater Washington area. “People didn't mind higher density, but they were looking for an alternative to attached housing,” says Cowles. “Sometimes you just have to get the concept out there and get some of it constructed for people to see how it lives.”


Project: Courtland Homes at Inlet Cove, Alexandria, Va.; Site size: 10 acres; Unit size: 2,830 to 3,288 square feet; Total units: 63; Price: $425,000 to $600,000; Developer: JCE, Alexandria; Architect/Landscape designer: Devereaux & Associates, McLean, Va.

THE NEW OLD The cluster homes at Inlet Cove pay homage to history in their architectural styling, not in their construction. Features in every home include:

  • Split, two-zone, forced-air gas heating and electric cooling systems
  • Attic ridge vent system
  • 75-gallon, high-efficiency “quick recovery” gas hot water heater
  • 7/16” OSB exterior sheathing
  • Vinyl-clad, insulated, double-pane windows with tilt-in design for easy cleaning
  • Tongue-and-groove structural floor system
  • Insulated steel garage doors
  • Passive radon system
  • Copper 120-volt in-home wiring
  • Learn more about markets featured in this article: Washington, DC.