Creating a Community Theme

A sense of place matters just as much to luxury home buyers as the details of the floorplan and the quality of the finishes. To deliver on this desire, custom builders can borrow a page from their production builder counterparts. Here Terry Smith of architecture firm Bloodgood Sharp Buster gives a quick tutorial in creating a community theme.

November 01, 2004

A sense of place matters just as much to luxury home buyers as the details of the floorplan and the quality of the finishes. To deliver on this desire, custom builders can borrow a page from their production builder counterparts. Here Terry Smith of architecture firm Bloodgood Sharp Buster gives a quick tutorial in creating a community theme. While some of his points speak specifically to community development, each idea offers improvement tips.

One of the most effective ways to impart a sense of place to a new community is through a theme that says something about the people who live there. The theme can relate to an architectural style — Cape Cod, Victorian, Prairie; a lifestyle or hobby — golf, equestrian or agrarian activities; or the site itself might suggest a theme based on previous use or an existing natural amenity.

For the many possible themes, there are just as many ways to carry the theme through the community. First impressions are always important, and the community entrance is no exception. Too often, entrances are the first things buyers see but the last thing builders and developers consider. Create an entry with signage and hardscape elements — lighting, fencing and landscaping — that set the tone for what's to come and establish high expectations for visitors.

Once a theme has been selected, Smith suggests several next steps:

Repeat the Theme

Repeat a design theme throughout the community on a smaller scale. Echoing the theme in monumentation, special feature signage and street signs reinforces the sense of place established at the entry.

Stylize Amenity Buildings

A community building or clubhouse can go a long way in creating the community theme, especially when the building is prominently located near the community entrance. Use this opportunity to impart a thematic statement in the architecture. In smaller communities, a stylized gatehouse or pavilion can help establish and architectural theme.

Use Hardscape and Landscape Elements

The generous use of landscaping is an essential part of design. In developing your planting palette, consider utilizing bold massings of specific plant materials that reinforce the selected theme. Native grasses, perennials and evergreen trees all evoke a different style and character that must be coordinated with the overall theme. Also, don't overlook the impact that hardscape elements such as fencing, trellises, walls, lighting and special paving have in the landscape, especially during the early years before the landscaping matures.

Parks and More Parks

When developing open space components, consider added features such as pedestrian paths, exercise stations and tot lots that enhance the usability of the park areas. Since these features do involve added costs, locate the parks near the community entrance for added marketing benefit and to build upon the community theme that already created.

Settling on a theme and incorporating it in signage and hardscape helps builders deliver the sense of place buyers seek today.

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