Laurel Mews neatly encapsulates the blend of smart planning and polished good looks that make density instantly appealing. Situated on the 2-acre site of a former used-car lot in Silicon Valley, the 21 detached houses are helping fill a big hole in the supply of single-family homes.  

To make good use of a tight, expensive lot, the land-plan puzzle combines alley-loaded and street-front garages; a bisecting, cobblestone lane; and two-story homes with finished basements—a rarity in this region.

“We created family living conditions because it’s a short walk to the middle school and elementary school,” says Mark Robson, president of San Jose–based Robson Homes, the project’s builder, developer, and planner. “We knew families would be interested.”

Taking design cues from historic Los Gatos, the Arts & Crafts–style homes—which range in size from 2,000 square feet to 3,000 square feet—have two stories, but the roofs are clipped on the sides, adding character while reducing the homes’ scale. That meant hand-framing the roofs instead of using trusses.

“It’s a fairly expensive approach, and, in some instances, we had to use steel because the wood cut too deeply into the rooms,” Robson says. “But it creates that authentic detailing you love in those little professorvilles near college campuses, built back in the day.”

To distinguish one home from the next, the builder offered 13 elevations and five efficient floor plans, including the basement outfitted with a bar, bath, and media room. “People are looking for great interior spaces but are willing to live with less yard space. That was the compromise,” Robson says.