The Arbors at Northwood

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The design philosophy at this Irvine, Calif, community promises buyers flexibility, accessibility and visitability.

July 01, 2004

 

Careful details such as the 8-foot entry door, colorful tiles in the arch, wrought iron and a terra cotta tiled window sill make Plan 1's Spanish-style exterior come to life. After entering the corner entry, guests travel through the living room, dining room, kitchen, nook and family room, all in a row, while the bedrooms sit on the other side of the house.

Photo: Jeffrey Aron

Madeline Young Interiors used a cheery blue, white and yellow palette that emphasizes the openness of Plan 3's kitchen and dining nook. An arched opening frames the wide hallway leading from the kitchen to the front door, and is echoed between the nook and family room.

Photo: Jeffrey Aron



"I challenge you to give me a lifestyle or family we can't accommodate," says Fieldstone project manager David Greminger of The Arbors' three flexible plans. Plan 3X, with finished attic space, has options galore.
Vital Stats
Location: Irvine, Calif.

Builder: Fieldstone Communities, Inc.

Developer: The Irvine Company

Architect: edingerArchitects

Community size: 72 homes on 15 acres

Model opened: January 24, 2004

Sales to date: 31

Home type: single-family detached

Number of plans: 3

Square footages: 2,433 to 4,114

Price range: $870,000 to $1,280,000

Buyer profile:
Vital Stats
Location: Irvine, Calif.

Builder: Fieldstone Communities, Inc.

Developer: The Irvine Company

Architect: edingerArchitects

Community size: 72 homes on 15 acres

Model opened: January 24, 2004

Sales to date: 31

Home type: single-family detached

Number of plans: 3

Square footages: 2,433 to 4,114

Price range: $870,000 to $1,280,000

Buyer profile:
Vital Stats
Location: Irvine, Calif.

Builder: Fieldstone Communities, Inc.

Developer: The Irvine Company

Architect: edingerArchitects

Community size: 72 homes on 15 acres

Model opened: January 24, 2004

Sales to date: 31

Home type: single-family detached

Number of plans: 3

Square footages: 2,433 to 4,114

Price range: $870,000 to $1,280,000

Buyer profile:
Vital Stats
Location: Irvine, Calif.

Builder: Fieldstone Communities, Inc.

Developer: The Irvine Company

Architect: edingerArchitects

Community size: 72 homes on 15 acres

Model opened: January 24, 2004

Sales to date: 31

Home type: single-family detached

Number of plans: 3

Square footages: 2,433 to 4,114

Price range: $870,000 to $1,280,000

Buyer profile:
Vital Stats
Location: Irvine, Calif.

Builder: Fieldstone Communities, Inc.

Developer: The Irvine Company

Architect: edingerArchitects

Community size: 72 homes on 15 acres

Model opened: January 24, 2004

Sales to date: 31

Home type: single-family detached

Number of plans: 3

Square footages: 2,433 to 4,114

Price range: $870,000 to $1,280,000

Buyer profile:

Although the California market seems like another world, both in sales pace and price of new homes, not just anything sells. Buyers in this high-demand market expect more in design, features, space and flexibility for the exorbitant prices they pay.

Cities, too, expect more from builders. The city of Irvine, under its Universal Design for New Homes program, set handicap accessibility goals for neighborhoods at The Garden Enclave, including Fieldstone Communities' The Arbors. Fieldstone turned a potential limitation into a real asset.

Opportunities

The 72-home The Arbors is one of four neighborhoods in The Garden Enclave, the 400-home, final neighborhood of the masterplanned Northwood, developed by The Irvine Company. (Lennar Homes, California Pacific Homes and Pulte Homes round out the list of Enclave builders.)

Its convenient, infill Irvine location sits in the Irvine Unified School District, one of the best in the state. That makes The Arbors' largest buying group - families - happy, says project manager David Greminger.

With a savvy buyer populace in the million-dollar market, The Arbors had to deliver top-notch design with a lot of options - and then show off the possibilities in gorgeous models. Fieldstone worked with edingerArchitects out of San Diego and Madeline Young Interiors from Yorba Linda, Calif., to get the job done. In addition to providing strong architecture - from the homes' detailed interiors to its vernacular Spanish Colonial, Spanish Eclectic and Monterrey exteriors - The Arbors accomplishes a design philosophy with three key goals: flexibility, accessibility and visitability.

The latter two proved to be a bit of a challenge, but executing Fieldstone's commitment to flexible floor plans proved both fun and a smart market move. The three innovative floor plans, with myriad pre-set options and design details that reflect cultural preferences, respond to individual buyers' needs well. They deliver a nearly custom home experience in a production home - something other builders in The Arbors' market weren't doing, Greminger says.

"We wanted to appeal to the market from a cultural and lifestyle perspective - not just an architectural one. Eighty percent of our buyers are not Caucasian," Greminger says of his chiefly Asian and Middle Eastern buyers.

The design team used feng shui principles and added thoughtful features, such as a cabinet near the front door for storing shoes, but it's the room configuration options that truly impress.

"It wasn't just about upping bedroom counts or putting a bonus room above the garage," says John Schuller, edingerArchitects' design director .

"Fieldstone wanted to take flexibility to a whole new realm," adds president Pat Edinger, who has worked on projects with Fieldstone since 1985.

Plan 1, which has the fewest options, still offers from 2,433 to 2,567 square feet of one-level living. Buyers can increase the square footage of two-story Plans 2 and 3 by 360 square feet each by opting for the "X" version - a finished attic space with a bath.

Plans 2 and 3, each with an upstairs master bedroom standard, also can be built with a second master down. This option and others, such as a casita guest suite with separate entrance (Plan 2), helps accommodate the 20% of buyers who have extended family members living with them.

For a better idea of just how "custom" these homes can get, take a look at Plan 3X (above). The five-bedroom, 4,114-square-foot house with attic and a three-car tandem garage can swell to 4,323 square feet by using the tandem space to make Bedroom 5 a master suite or create a sixth bedroom with bath.

Or, buyers can choose to extend the family room, and either lose Bedroom 5 and keep the tandem, or scoot the bedroom into the garage slot. Upstairs, Bedroom 2 can become a nursery or master retreat, and Bedroom 4 and Bath 3 can morph into a loft space.

Obstacles

Fieldstone and edingerArchitects hit its other design targets with a little more difficulty. The city wanted all homes at The Garden Enclave to have wheelchair maneuverability in the main-floor common areas, including a powder room. It also wanted all the models and half the production homes to be visitable by having a no-step entry. While Greminger calls the city's demands "goals" rather than requirements, he admits to wondering whether The Arbors would have been approved without compliance.

Still, he describes a collaborative atmosphere in which city planners, the builders and their architects, and The Irvine Company negotiated what was feasible and reasonable. While the city's first-floor accessibility and model visitability requests remained the same, the city agreed with the builders that building half of all homes with a no-step entry would seriously compromise the community aesthetic. They decided instead on a zero-step entry option for homeowners to purchase.

"Not everybody would like a large ramp in their front yard," says Greminger, adding that ramping the models was hard enough.

Fieldstone had to use switchbacks to keep its model complex's no-step paths from street grade to pad grade from getting too steep on 60x100-foot lots with just a 20-foot setback. Lush, carefully planned landscaping and walks with a combination of concrete in a variety of finishes and textures, and brick, stone and terra cotta tile accents made the efforts at accessibility less noticeable.

Greminger says the visitability effort already has paid off. "A number of people in wheelchairs or with limited mobility have come through the models, and we get comments from people who appreciate the ability to do that." He's quick to point out that Universal Design features appeal to a lot of people, from older people less steady on their feet to a teenager temporarily on crutches.

Achieving first-floor accessibility proved to be easier than Edinger had thought because the team tackled it at the "napkin sketch" phase. Builders who try to retrofit wider halls and doorways after designs are set often run up against insurmountable structural constraints.

Edinger widened the downstairs hallways to a minimum of 4 feet, and doorways measure 32 inches wide, but he notes those dimensions aren't atypical in custom homes.

 

Putting a finished attic on the two-story Plan 2 (above, left) adds 360 square feet of space, but it also changes the massing. Architect Pat Edinger applied "wedding cake layering" and centered the pop-up in the second-story roof so that the front elevation seems to taper up to it. Plan 3, (above, right) when modeled with the Monterrey elevation, extends the living space outdoors with a two-story front porch.

While a powder room may feel big, it doesn't look or feel like a "handicapped" bathroom, says Greminger. That's because it's not. While certain Universal Design features can be found throughout the house - wider doors and halls; rocker light switches; switches, outlets and thermostats at 15 to 48 inches above the floor; and lever faucet controls - all other accessibility changes are optional features.

Fieldstone allows buyers to add such things as roll-in showers, grab bars, removable base cabinets at the kitchen sink, visual fire alarms and elevators, while providing a structure that can accommodate all or any of those things.

Outcomes

The Arbors' design - universal and otherwise - works. Greminger says one buyer bought the downstairs master suite option for a live-in parent fighting cancer. Another family chose the maximum bedrooms their plan allowed because they have 13 kids.

 

A small, low "shoe closet" (above) made from stock cabinetry appeals to Asian buyers' preference to remove their shoes upon entering the home.

Photo: Jeffrey Aron

"We were very excited because the homes met their needs," he says.

The Arbors opened its first phase of five homes in January, base priced from $870,000 to $1,070,000 and with an interest list 3,200 names deep - more than 600 of those potential buyers were pre-approved. Now on its 10th sales release and with base prices jumping to $990,000 to $1,280,000, The Arbors gets a still impressive 50 pre-quals to show up, and all homes in the four-to-five-home releases sell the day they open.

Fieldstone now builds homes throughout the area that could structurally accommodate subtle to major accessibility changes.

"What at first seemed like just another hurdle to get through to get approvals, really has broadened our buyer base because it's made the homes appealing to a larger population," Greminger says. "That's a real benefit to us."

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