Like most national builders, Brookfield Homes' Washington division has a vast repertoire of standard plans, any of which it could have churned out and plopped on the infill parcel it acquired in Falls Church, Va., an upscale neighborhood just outside of Washington. But Brookfield didn't.
The company acquired the site from its original owners, and the deal included the old family home, which, in its current state of disrepair, resembled the Bates Motel. "The house has a lot of history, so instead of tearing it down we sold it to someone who will restore it," says Chip Devine, vice president of operations and construction.
The wonderfully situated, 12-acre parcel is a rare find in this area, and Brookfield realized that it deserved careful attention and a unique product. Although there were no covenants or restrictions on what it could build, the designs for the new 28-unit Highland View project relate more closely to historic homes than the surrounding post-war ranchers.
"We didn't want to duplicate those designs because we didn't think that it was great architecture," Devine says. "Instead we chose a more classic Washington style." He explored grand old neighborhoods such as Chevy Chase, Md., and Cleveland Park in Washington for inspiration.
"We drove around with our digital camera and took pictures of the details," he says. "Then we took the slide show to the architects." The result is a modern interpretation of traditional designs. "They are a combination of Craftsman and brick Cotswold-style cottages," says architect Bill Sutton of Sutton Yantis Associates in Vienna, Va. A stone foundation, deep front porch, properly scaled columns, deep eave overhangs with extra trim, bracket details, and ganged windows create a pleasant fa ade that seems right at home in the mature setting. "It's all very subtle and authentic," notes Devine. Maintaining a high quality of exterior materials is something on which the builder would not compromise, so Brookfield creates all of the custom features in its own mill.
Four-sided architecture, with fenestration on all sides, was also a priority. "On a tight lot people have to look at the house next door, and the worst thing is to face a sea of aluminum," says Devine. At $250 to $300 each, all those windows do add to the cost, but they make up for it in the sales prices that average $780,000, with some topping out at $1 million with options and upgrades.
Devine and Sutton went out of their way to create an addition to the community that elevates the aesthetic quality as well as the land values. And although the neighbors' initial reaction to development was hostile, the experience has turned out to be a pleasant one for all involved. "You have to understand that no one wants change in their backyard," says Devine. "But we kept working with them, and eventually they saw the value." Highland View has caused home prices to rise and has sparked a new wave of remodeling projects.