In the Marshallton Village Historic District preservation was a much bigger concern than just new construction. The hamlet just outside of West Chester, Penn., was founded in 1700s and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. And, no national home builder had ever built there.
So when Chris Gillen, Pennsylvania Division President of CalAtlantic Homes, took over the planning of a project called Marshallton Walk when he was at Ryland (before it merged with Standard Pacific to form CalAtlantic), he knew it would be no easy task.
“We’ve been working on this project for seven years,” Gillen says. “It’s a very unique village and a very unique setting. There’s been no new construction for many, many years.”
Gillen knew to get new homes (for a public builder, no less) in such a place would take patience and a lot of listening. “It was a labor of love,” he says.
But by going above and beyond what most people would expect a national home builder to do to build a grand total of 13 homes, Gillen made Marshallton Walk a reality.
Many, Many Meetings
Builders know they need to engage the town in the project review process. Marshallton Village communication took on even greater importance.
“We worked with the engineer on the land plan,” Gillen says. “Then it was working with township manager and local historic society on homes and how they looked from exterior. It was a lot of back and forth.”
The Marshallton Conservancy Trust helped as well. It hosts an annual dinner called "Souper Supper" at Marshallton Inn, a popular local restaurant. The Trust invited Gillen to present the plan for Marshallton Walk and most of the town was in attendance.
“We had the residents come out and give feedback,” Gillen says. “We went back and forth with our plans and how they looked.”
Gillen knew it was important to match the architecture of the town, much of which was built after the Civil War. It started with minor details—like using materials in the landscaping features to match the stone-accented character of Marshallton Village. CalAtlantic also provided a walking trail between the project and Marshallton Village, which was something the town wanted.
But the real work went into the exterior of the homes.
“The cottage style windows [in the town] are wider and have bigger sashes,” Gillen says. “They [the homes in the village] have window styles that we don’t do in any of our other communities. Marshallton Village has a lot of wood siding. We used some LP siding to mimic styles in the village.”
When there wasn’t an existing product that would allow to produce craftsman-style homes to fit in with the surrounding community, it worked with manufacturers to create new lines.
“We partnered with Sherwin Williams on the colors—both external and internal—to make sure they were more earth tone,” Gillen says. “We came up with these color combinations and actually sat down with the town to make sure that it fit within the village. That’s something we’ve never done before.”
Ultimately, CalAtlantic came up with a design to give each home a distinct appearance.
“Normally when we open a community, it may have three to four different floorplans with some elevations,” Gillen says. “These 13 home sites are unique among themselves, which is something different.”
The 13 homes include six paired home options and one single-family detached home. “Some of the twins match up with one wall,” Gillen says. “Others share a portion of the wall, which allows for more privacy. We were tempted to call them attached single-family homes because that’s what they feel like and that’s what they look like.”
A Different House Inside
While CalAtlantic designed Marshallton Walk’s exterior to reflect an earlier time, it had different goals on the inside.
“We’ve got that historic feel [on the exterior],” Gillen says. “But when you go inside, you have more of the modern amenities that our customers need in this day and age.”
Those features include hardwood flooring throughout the first floor, open floor plans, a great room, gourmet kitchen, and first floor master bedrooms. The community's homes range from 2,641 to 3,171 square feet, with three to four bedrooms and 2.5 to 4.5 baths.
“We had Realtors come in, and they commented that it felt like a home within a home,” Gillen says. “They were really impressed with the way it felt and laid out.”
With the design, Gillen hopes to appeal to local move-down buyers. “They’re still working,” he says. “But the kids are out of the house and they like to entertain, and they know that in 10 or 15 years they may not want the stairs.”
And, Gillen envisions that they probably don’t want to do dig out after snow storms either. “We do expect them to want a more maintenance-free lifestyle,” Gillen says. “So we take care the landscaping and the snow removal and we really try to make it maintenance-free living.”
The feedback Gillen received from the Realtors vindicated his decision to delay the opening of the model until September. CalAtlantic broke ground at the beginning of the year and started the model home earlier in the summer.
“We waited to open so that our buyers could see what we we’re trying to capture,” Gillen says. “We just wanted to make sure that our customers understood how unique the community is.”