By his own admission, Jay Kallos’ passion is residential design—and for the way that well-designed residential spaces enhance homeowners’ lives.
“I look at the home as a place where life happens—good, bad, and ugly,” says Kallos, vice president of architecture at Roswell, Ga.–based Ashton Woods Homes, the country’s 20th largest builder by closings. “Someone is getting married, got a new job, got a great report card, maybe didn’t get a great report card, falls in love ... We’re creating the canvas that the people who are buying homes are painting their lives on.”
Kallos sees his role as that of a placemaker. “I think it’s critical that we work to create these places that allow people to do everything they want to,” he says.
This notion of placemaking is especially important to Kallos and to the Ashton Woods design team, particularly at the local level. “As the world seems to get smaller, people can travel a lot easier and get from place to place. And they start propagating the same architecture from sea to shining sea,” he says. “But wherever that product is being placed where it’s not natural and organic, it’s doing them a disservice.”
For instance, he says, Phoenix has a much different architectural vocabulary and style than what is found in Orlando, Fla. Ashton Woods builds in both markets (and 10 others) and is known for tailoring its models to harmonize with the existing housing stock.
“In Raleigh and Charleston and Atlanta, even though they’re all in the Southeast, each has their own kind of style and feel and vibe,” Kallos says. “The exterior materials, that’s a huge part, and the colorations, that’s a huge part. And there are nuanced lifestyle differences from city to city.”
This focus has guided Kallos over the course of his career, which includes 16 years of neighborhood design for John Wieland Homes (now a PulteGroup brand); commercial design for schools, churches, and hospitals; and pro bono work for HomeAid, Christian City, and Habitat for Humanity.
Soon after Kallos joined Ashton Woods in 2006, he wrote the company’s first design playbook with its staff. “I had been in an environment where we pretty much did everything in-house, and at that time Ashton Woods did not,” he recalls. “And I said, ‘This is our product, I mean, we’re selling this, and we need to have a competitive advantage. I think that can be our product, our design, our elevations, our options.’”
When the recession hit, Ashton Woods adjusted its philosophy to fit the needs of the market, building smaller, well-designed homes about which customers could still feel passionate. As the economy turned around and the firm moved into new metro areas, the design team expanded its product variety to fit the needs and desires of each market—a process that continues today.
Each of the builder’s 12 markets in the Southeast and Texas is home to its own design studio and locally based design staff. Buyers in the design process are encouraged to come with ideas and inspiration in hand, including personal photos, design magazines, Pinterest boards, or fabric swatches. From there, the designer collaborates with the buyer to create new-home possibilities within the local context that match their lifestyle and their ideas.
For example, the firm designed Aria, a multineighborhood project in Atlanta, to work with the hilly landscape, rather than against it. “We’ve got multifamily product that steps down the hills, and we’ve preserved these parks, and defined the edges with this architecture that is creating a place,” Kallos says.
One of Aria’s floor plans is a 975-square-foot, one-bedroom townhouse, created in response to a requirement for affordable workforce housing. However, once sales began, Kallos found that the product was also popular with higher-income families, many from Lake Lanier about 40 minutes north, who were looking for “crash pads” near the city in addition to their more distant main homes.
“The best things, I think, are these unintended consequences,” Kallos says. “We designed the product with the [workforce] buyer in mind, and then found out, ‘Oh, somebody else is finding that same design meets their needs.’ I think that the true sign of a good design is when multiple people can walk in and fall in love with it and not have to shoehorn their lives into something. Instead, it embraces their lives.”