IN THE LATE 19TH CENTURY, SPRINGFIELD, Mass., earned the nickname “City of Homes” in recognition of its stately Victorian mansions and more humble (but no less architecturally significant) worker cottages. That legacy is one that Leslie Clement takes seriously to this day.
Clement builds just 10 houses a year, so quantitative sales numbers don't provide the most dramatic measure of her company's success in this moderately depressed Northeastern city (she has sold six homes in the last 12 months). But here's another statistic worth noting: In a market where comparably sized new, single-family homes are selling for $275,000 to $315,000, Clement's are commanding $350,000 to $390,000. And that premium hasn't budged much with the housing slump.
The kicker, she says, is a faithful observance of many of the city's older (and somewhat lost) architectural styles. Whereas other local builders are churning out bread-and-butter colonials with one-car, front-loaded garages en masse in the suburbs, Clement has cultivated a distinct buyer niche with modernized versions of the Craftsman kit houses once sold in Sears and Roebuck catalogs. And they're tucked inside city limits.
“I study old-style homes from the 1920s and adhere to their details and proportions on the outside, but then change the floor plans inside,” says Clement, a one-time union carpenter and historic preservationist who now serves as developer, designer, general contractor, and listing agent on infill properties created under the name Ames Design. She wagers that she probably saves $5,000 per house by designing her own plans, many of which now include first-floor master bedrooms. “If I need to move a toilet or change the electrical wiring plan, I can do it myself, which is not just a cost-saver, but a time-saver,” she says.
Most of the homes in Forest Park, the 37-lot infill development that has occupied her time in recent years, feature detached garages, painted clapboard or fiber-cement siding, wood shingles (or in some cases, restoration-grade vinyl shingles that look like the real thing), and natural or cultured stone. Authentic trim detailing is paramount.
And then there are the little touches inside, such as built-in window seats, wainscot beadboard, and stacked kitchen cabinets that run flush to the ceiling (she specs builder-grade stock but then tricks them out with glass panels, inset lighting, and decorative molding). Or floor plans that are tweaked during construction to accommodate buyers' heirloom furniture.
“The thing that gets people to move back to the city [or to not abandon it for the suburbs] is when they fall in love with a house,” says Clement. “That's what we're shooting for.”
Project: Forest Park, Springfield, Mass.; Units planned: 37 homes on 16 acres; Unit size: 2,200 to 2,600 square feet; Price: $350,000 to $390,000; Builder/Developer/Residential designer: Ames Design, Springfield
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Springfield, MA.