Last month, I attended NAHB’s midyear meeting in Miami and had the pleasure of sitting in on a presentation by Daniel Swift, president and CEO of Des Moines-based architecture group BSB Design.
The Cortile Collection
The development team of very exclusive The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe envisioned - and is building - an enclave of homes that feature old-world Tuscan architecture.
The front elevation of Plan One belies its true size and shape; a central spine runs from the entry to the rear of the 4,486 square-foot home, with most of the rooms clustered at either end. A living room, dining room and gallery flanked by courtyards — one formal (below) and another cozier and more casual — make up the home’s middle. The sturdy, earthy materials, shapes and massing are characteristic of Tuscan architecture.
In the foothills north of San Diego sits a gorgeous chunk of property: 540 acres of rolling hills, rocky outcroppings and meandering streams, all within just 10 miles of the Pacific Ocean. The place closely resembles Tuscany, so much so that the development team of very exclusive The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe envisioned — and is building — an enclave of homes that feature old-world Tuscan architecture. They center around a golf course designed by renowned Robert Trent Jones II LLC.
The Bridges offers three home communities that cater to very high-end buyers looking for a beautifully designed turnkey home. One community, The Cortile Collection, aims to attract an even more targeted group — with home prices from $2 million to $3 million and floor plans ranging from 4,433 to 5,234 square feet, it serves an underserved sector in the north San Diego luxury home market.
Tom Martin, regional vice president/strategic marketing for Lennar Communities, saw a gap at The Bridges. The Villas’ square footages go from 2,900 to 3,800, and the custom homes, many built on spec, start at approximately 6,000 square feet. The Cortile Collection hits that sweet spot in between.
A covered loggia on the rear of Plan Two (above) shades the interior from glaring sun and also provides an elegant transition. One of three outdoor areas, this courtyard is sumptuously detailed with the same ceramic tile as the interior and colorful tile details at the pool and spa area. An experience, not just a space, the entry of Plan Two (below) takes you into a volume breezeway, then an open-air court and finally into the home, with a view through the central courtyard to the great room beyond.
Although built on a production schedule, Cortile feels anything but production. With elegant but comfortable spaces, balanced and sturdy massing, authentic details, earthy, durable materials and generous courtyards, it comes across as a truly custom home community befitting its surroundings. Martin says that’s what Cortile buyers want. “They want to do a little bit of semi-customization, but they don’t want to go through the brain damage of building their own custom home.”
The Bridges’ landscape and temperate weather, evocative of Tuscany, inspired the homes’ design, says Martin, who named the community after its central theme — cortile means courtyard in Italian. The design by David Kosco of Bassenian/Lagoni Architects takes full advantage of the coastal weather, creating an indoor/outdoor relationship with courtyards accessed by abundant large doors. Windows let light and weather in and extend the living space out.
On July 28, 2003, The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe garnered national attention with the Battle at The Bridges, a prime-time televised golf exhibition pitting Tiger Woods and Ernie Els against Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson. Just nine months earlier, Martin had identified the event as a once-in-a-lifetime publicity opportunity as well as an obstacle from which many might walk away. Still, without even having floor plans, he committed to completing the model complex by the event date.
Designing, building, merchandising and landscaping three super-high-end production home models that look and feel like custom in less than a year seems impossible. Not to the team at Greystone Homes, its subcontractors, HCC Investors and Bassenian/Lagoni. “My job was to impart the vision to the team, and then they really got into creating something special,” Martin says.
The 44 home sites average an acre with 20,000-square-foot pads, although pad size varies greatly. Three distinct lot configurations — long and narrow, wide and shallow, and large and square — meant Kosco had to create at least three very different plans. He came up with four.
A relationship of some 20 years between Martin and Bassenian/Lagoni proved crucial to Cortile’s success, as they were accustomed to working together and knew what each brought to the table. After a one-day design charrette, Kosco handed Martin the floor plans and elevations in a week and the working drawings in less than a month.
Typical of Italian country manors, Plan Three’s shape and exterior imply a gradual evolution — a home that formed organically as separate buildings grouped around a large, central courtyard. The traditional stone masses in the front and rear are reminiscent of a Tuscan farmhouse. Anchoring the design, they also allow for soaring entry, casita and great room spaces.
The volume living room of Plan One maintains a human scale with dark, heavy roof trusses, stone-clad clerestory, rustic hearth and an earthy stone floor that continues through the French doors to the courtyard beyond. Designed to provide a variety of experiences in both the public and private areas of the home, says architect Aram Bassenian, the home plays with volume, vistas and sightlines.
Once Greystone secured building permits, it built three production homes in five months by doubling and tripling crews “and doing everything they needed to do to get it done,” says Martin, adding that the homes, the highest-end product line in Lennar’s portfolio, normally would take a year to build. Interior designers and landscape architects — each home comes with a comprehensive landscape package — also completed their work in that five-month span.
On the day of the golf event, 1,500 people walked through the models, and thousands more caught glimpses on television. Since sales opened in October 2003 — final market research and entitlement holdups caused the late start — The Cortile Collection has sold seven homes in a nine-home release, and The Bridges has sold some $30 million worth of real estate since the Battle at The Bridges, says Martin.
By his measurement, Cortile is already a success. “We simply wanted the best we’d ever done, and everyone at every level got behind it,” Martin says. “My feeling about it is we’ve been able to accomplish that goal. This is really special."