BILL BROSIUS' INITIAL INCLINATION was to introduce a stretch of townhomes in The Village of WestClay, a 680-acre Brenwick Development community just north of Indianapolis in the town of Carmel. That was before the voice of experience in his head reminded him that Midwestern home buyers were still somewhat lukewarm when it came to attached housing. “We're in Indiana, and people here mostly want single-family homes,” says Brosius, founder of design/build firm The William Gordon Group.

Good thinking, but there was one small problem: The tidy, 28-by-70-foot lots Brosius had his eye on were already zoned for attached housing. His solution? A vibrant enclave of paired cottages that read as single-family dwellings from the front but qualify as duplexes, their nifty little secret being low retaining walls that connect the structures, two by two, in back.

Conveniently, the retaining walls ended up serving a dual purpose. Legally, they satisfied zoning requirements for duplex housing. Structurally, the 6-foot barriers reinforced grading that positioned rear-loading, two-car garages 4 feet lower than the front elevation of each cottage. Dirt had to be moved to achieve a slope on otherwise flat terrain, but the effort was well worth it.

EYE CANDY: Home buyers found the surprising exterior palette of The Cottages at WestClay hard to resist.
EYE CANDY: Home buyers found the surprising exterior palette of The Cottages at WestClay hard to resist.

“First, I had to dig through the ordinances for WestClay to figure out what we could get away with,” says Brosius. “I wanted a small lot, which brought the price down and created a sense of coziness. But I also wanted an efficient structure that would create the feeling of a totally different [nonattached] kind of environment. Alley-loaded garages allowed us to maintain a decent price point because we didn't have to build a separate garage structure in back of each home, which would have been expensive.”

With garages tucked discreetly underneath, the neighborhood's 30 paired cottages put on an exceedingly pretty face. Their pastel porch fronts look out across esplanades landscaped with blooming perennials, fountains, sidewalks, and limestone benches. Brenwick Development was delighted to discover that the intimate homes and communal outdoor spaces appealed not only to single professionals (the original intended target) but also empty-nesters and young families.

The cozy abodes are equally inviting inside, thanks to luxury features such as built-in shelving, Sub-Zero refrigerators, built-in cappuccino makers, and art nooks. The cottages—part of a housing spectrum that now includes an array of detached homes as well as some mixed-use brownstones and condominiums—were among the first product in the community to sell out.

CARS IN HIDING: The site plan (left) shows how rear-elevation garages free up green space in front for sidewalks and engaging front porches, in keeping with New Urbanist principles.
CARS IN HIDING: The site plan (left) shows how rear-elevation garages free up green space in front for sidewalks and engaging front porches, in keeping with New Urbanist principles.

“In the end, we achieved a low price point with a high degree of ‘cool,'” says Brosius. “The cool came mostly from the land planning. We spent a lot of money on the site conditions, and that's what people fell in love with.”

Project: The Cottages at WestClay, Carmel, Ind.; Size: 2,300 square feet (average); Total units: 30; Price: $250,000 to $335,000; Developer: Brenwick Development, Carmel; Architect/Builder: The William Gordon Group, Carmel

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Indianapolis, IN.