Washington state development becomes homebuyers' peaceful oasis

It isn’t the size of the lot but how you use the space that matters at Dahlia Park, a quiet enclave of single-family homes in Issaquah, Wash. On sites that max out at 5,000 square feet, homebuilder Bennett Homes offers charming traditional elevations with front porches, dual master suites and garden rooms that make the most of limited outdoor space.
By By Susan Bady, Senior Editor, Design | November 30, 2007
Vital Stats
In My Room

If anyone can craft designs to make the most of a small space, it's the Japanese. And if any builder in the Pacific Northwest understands sustainability and the natural evolution of neighborhoods, it's Bennett Homes. So when Sumitomo Forestry Co., one of Japan's largest home builders, was looking for an American partner, Bennett was a natural fit. The result of their joint venture, Dahlia Park, was nearly sold out by the time this article went to press.

Dahlia Park is a neighborhood of 109 single-family homes at Issaquah Highlands, one of Seattle's most popular master-planned communities.

"This was really our first big joint venture," says Gayl Van Natter, vice president of sales and marketing for Bellevue, Wash.-based Bennett Homes. "[Sumitomo] liked the idea of a master-planned community because they believe in all the generations being together. Also, Issaquah Highlands is Built Green and Energy Star-certified, which is very important to the Japanese."

Until the Japanese builder came on board, a small lot, for Bennett, meant one that was 50 feet wide and 100 feet deep. Many of their lots were 60 or 65 feet wide. Home sites at Dahlia Park range from 3,600 to 5,000 square feet, with compact yards that are easy to maintain but still provide usable outdoor space in the form of garden rooms. It's a fairly dense community, netting approximately nine units to the acre.

"Now that we're getting into 35-foot-wide and even 30-foot-wide lots, we have no idea what to build other than a boxcar," Van Natter says. "Sumitomo has had a great deal of experience with small lots, and their expertise is extremely valuable to us."

Homes for Life

The Seattle architectural firm of Weber + Thompson developed a design program for Dahlia Park that fills a hole in the local market. "The developers of Issaquah Highlands were very interested in
having a community with amenities focused on the [move-down] buyer," says Kristen Scott, principal of Weber + Thompson. "Younger families were moving [to Issaquah Highlands], and their parents wanted to move to the area to be closer to their grandchildren. But Issaquah is mostly very large homes on large pieces of property, which isn't really appropriate for an older couple wanting to scale back."

Every two-story home has dual master suites: one up, one down. Bennett calls them "lifetime" home designs that are flexible enough to adapt to the homeowner's needs. "When people are nimble enough, they often want to [have a bedroom upstairs] to give them privacy from the rest of the house," says Scott. "But once they decide it's time to climb fewer stairs, they can have the master suite on the main level."

The twin masters also serve a variety of household configurations, such as couples with an aging parent or returning adult child; single people who want to live in the same house but not share a bathroom; and friends or family who visit regularly.

Interestingly, though empty nesters were expected to be the primary market for Dahlia Park, the first buyers were primarily singles and dinks, plus a number of families. It wasn't until the smaller, less expensive homes were sold out that older buyers began to account for a higher percentage of sales.

Several plans (including the Essex, shown here) have a first-floor hobby room near the garage that can serve as a home office, library, sewing room, study, potting shed or woodshop. Some have attic rooms with windows — reminiscent of Grandma's attic — that can be used to store family treasures or put to other uses such as a sewing room, office, playroom, study or hideaway.

Weber + Thompson had to follow a rigorous set of design guidelines developed by Issaquah Highlands. "The core values were 'timeless, traditional architecture,' which dovetailed nicely with the main buyer group we were looking at," says Scott. "These people were looking for things with that iconic 'I'm home' motif — the sheltering roof, the big overhangs."

The home designs evoke the density and architectural variety of older Pacific Northwest neighborhoods that have evolved over time. Front elevations range from Tudor to Craftsman and utilize materials such as shingles, stucco and brick.

Barking Spot

The focal point of Dahlia Park is the park itself. This central green is part of the property Bennett Homes purchased from Port Blakely Communities, developer of Issaquah Highlands. A series of terraces create an amphitheater feel and invite a variety of activities, from family picnics to impromptu football games.

At the perimeter of the site, homes have front-loaded garages and backyards adjacent to the surrounding protected greenbelt. Homes on interior lots have alley-loaded garages, with entries and front porches facing the park.

But by far, the amenity with the biggest draw for buyers has been Bark Park, a dog park up the street from the entrance to the community that serves all of Issaquah Highlands. "An awful lot of people take their dogs there and throw Frisbees and hang out," says Van Natter. "We've received a lot of comments from homeowners who said they wanted to be close to Bark Park."

Though Dahlia Park is surrounded by greenbelts with trails connecting to the Issaquah Highlands town center, the retail amenities are at least a mile and a half away, says Van Natter. But that's just fine with buyers.

"Our homeowners like the fact that when they drive down the street toward the entrance to the neighborhood, because of Bark Park on one side and some open space on the other side, it's almost like they're on a little island," she says. "Even though they want to be near all the hubbub and activity, they don't want to be in the throes of it. So they've found our community to be kind of idyllic."


Vital Stats

Location: Issaquah, Wash.

Project name: Dahlia Park

Model: Essex

Builder: Bennett Homes, Bellevue, Wash.

Architect: Weber + Thompson, Seattle

Interior Designer: Bennett Homes

Developers: Bennett Homes and Sumitomo Forestry Co., Tokyo

Model opened: March 2006

Home type: Single-family detached

Sales to date: 106

Community size: 109 units

Square footage: 1,600 to 3,200 square feet

Price: $450,000 to $870,000

Buyer profile: Singles, dinks, families, empty nesters

In My Room

Perimeter lots at Dahlia Park are 50 feet by 100 feet, while interior lots are 44 feet by 82 feet. That doesn't leave much space for a yard, but Weber + Thompson carved out something special with inspiration from the Japanese: the tsubo niwa, or garden room. This central courtyard expands views and augments the flow of traffic from the kitchen to the outdoors.

"[Dahlia Park] is in a beautiful setting up in the foothills, so having an outdoor lifestyle is something we wanted to reflect, even though the homes are on smaller lots with less personal space to take care of," says architect Kristen Scott of Weber + Thompson.

In smaller homes that face the interior of the site, the garden room is on the side of the house and accessible from the kitchen, great room or master bedroom, depending on the floor plan. The larger, perimeter homes have garden rooms in the back, facing the greenbelt.

"Our idea with the smaller houses was to have an outdoor space in the center of the floor plan and let a lot of different rooms look out onto it," says Scott. "We did a use easement with the adjacent property, adding another 5 or 6 feet and extending the outdoor space all the way over to a landscape buffer. The houses were designed so there were no windows looking into the garden of the home next door."

Garden rooms range in size from 12 by 17 feet to 15½ by 16 feet. Included in the base price of the home is a concrete patio with room for seating and dining areas and a generous barbecue area. Stepping stones form a path surrounded by low-maintenance landscaping native to the Pacific Northwest.

Four themed garden rooms — upgrades that run from $12,000 to $20,000 — are offered: the Outdoor Chef, the Retreat, the Gardener and the Entertainer. They include such features as built-in cooking centers with sinks and gas barbecues, bistro-bar serving areas, water features, potting tables, birdbaths, raised planters, fireplaces and "rocks" that camouflage outdoor speakers. Home buyers can add fencing, gates, decking, fountains, pavers and whatever else their hearts desire.

"Compared to the little 12-foot by 10-foot piece of leftover backyard that's so often what you end up with on such homes, Bennett did a great job," says Scott.