Sunrise Hopes Practice in Prototypes Makes Perfect

Sunrise Colony Co. thinks it has taken the guesswork out of solving design problems at its planned $700 million Toscana Country Club community in Indian Wells, Calif.

By Rebecca Souffrant, Associate Editor | June 30, 2001


Sunrise Colony took the unusual step of building prototype homes to test new design concepts for its Toscana Country Club community in Indian Wells, Calif.

Sunrise Colony Co. thinks it has taken the guesswork out of solving design problems at its planned $700 million Toscana Country Club community in Indian Wells, Calif. The Las Vegas-based builder/developer has built seven prototype homes at what was once part of the construction compound for Sunrise’s Indian Ridge Country Club community in nearby Palm Desert, Calif., to serve as a laboratory.

Sunrise president Phillip K. Smith Jr. says the purpose of the homes, which range from 2,700 to 5,000 square feet, is “to see how your developed plans look in the real world. When you can build model homes and make changes, you know exactly what works. There is no mystery to it. We call it ‘value engineering.’ It is very cost-effective.”

Sunrise would know; the company built prototype model homes for PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., in the 1980s and experimented with model home plans as far back as the late ’70s at The Lakes at Monterey Country Club in Palm Desert.

“I don’t think anyone else was doing that at the time,” Smith says.

Prototypes require investments in time and money, but Sunrise can afford to do what many builders can’t because it has multiple, expansive projects in one area such as the Coachella Valley, where Indian Wells and Palm Desert are located.

Other builders, especially tract builders, buy just enough land for a project and an accompanying model home complex, and then face tight deadlines to finish models and start building.

Time is on Sunrise’s side thanks to the prototypes. With a typical model home built on site, “you are on a fast track to get things done, and you are under the gun,” Smith says. “That’s the worst time to work out design problems, under that kind of pressure.”

With prototypes, Sunrise has the luxury of experimenting.

“We’ve probably made 500 changes to a house, from something as simple as moving an electrical switch to making a change in roof design,” says Doug Shipman, a senior vice president now based in the company’s Houston office who has 25 years’ experience working with prototypes in the Coachella Valley.

Instead of making these changes during the first phase of building, Sunrise has to change only the plans for the prototypes.

That Sunrise can experiment in three dimensions is another advantage, Shipman and Smith agree. “Nothing beats walking into a real home to see how it looks in 3-D,” Shipman says. “A 20x24-foot room looks different in real time than it does on paper.” Different and sometimes deceiving, Smith adds. “You see things in three dimensions,” he says, “and maybe you will see something you had not anticipated.”

Sunrise expects to open the 620-acre Toscana community next year. Plans call for 558 single-family homes and 68 custom-home sites with prices ranging from the $600,000s to more than $1 million and four architectural styles: Tuscan, Italian Renaissance, Early California and Spanish Colonial. The community will feature two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses.

The seven prototypes eventually will be for sale, too, Smith says, so that no confuses them for a stand-alone model home complex. A waiting list of buyers already exists for the homes, which will be integrated into Indian Ridge.

By then, any kinks they have should be worked out.


According to NRS Corp., a research and consulting firm based in Madison, Wis., builders scoring in the top half of customer satisfaction closed 61% more homes than those in the bottom half. These results coincided with those found by researchers at the University of Michigan, whose data indicated a positive relationship between high customer satisfaction and increasing profitability for a variety of industries. However, NRS says the difference between the top half and bottom half of builders exceeds the difference normally found in other industries, suggesting that builder quality is vital for success.