Monday, July 14, 2008

That's Random: The Strangest Little Neighborhood

Take a look at these pictures, and tell me where you think they were taken.

Are you guessing an older, established city neighborhood or a close-in suburb in a part of the country with lots of stately, historic homes? St. Louis, maybe? Atlanta? If you were, that would be a logical conclusion -- but it'd be totally wrong.

In fact, I snapped these photos in a relatively new housing development on the outskirts of the Wine Country town of Sonoma, California, where we went for a weekend picnic.

I swear, this tract is the strangest thing. The houses all look like they're 80, 90, 100-plus years old (albeit perfectly maintained). But the fact is, they've only been there for a few years and were built to mimic the Greek Revivals, Victorians, Craftsmans, Colonial Revivals, and English Tudors that fell out of favor -- at least as far as "new" houses go -- when our grandparents or even great-grandparents were in diapers.

This sort of building with an eye to the past might be common in other parts of the country (the South and East, I'm guessing, where historic homes are both common and held in high regard). And, of course, there are the Disneyesque, "new urbanism" communities in places like Seaside and Celebration, Florida. But for a new development on the West Coast it's downright unheard of, at least as far as I know.

Sure, we have swaths of tract houses springing from the fields of exurbia that offer a vague nod to older home styles -- a little Mediterranean stucco and wrought iron here, some pseudo-Craftsman porch columns there. But nothing like this. (And trust me, it was even stranger when the neighborhood first went up a few years ago, with the faux-vintage houses seemingly plopped down on barren ground in the middle of nowhere. Nick and I used to drive through every time we were in Sonoma, gawking at the strangeness of it. It looks a lot less freaky now that the landscaping has grown in.)

I honestly can't decide what I think of it. I love old homes, and -- faux or not -- I certainly appreciate these styles more than what passes for "architecture" in most new McMansion construction these days (see photo at bottom).

But the neighborhood is such a self-conscious throwback -- at least on the outside; I assume the interiors of these million-dollar-plus homes are outfitted with granite kitchens and wine-tasting rooms and "spa-like" master baths full of tumbled travertine -- that it seems like more of a curious anachronism and an architectural oddity than a true community.

What's your take? Are there any new neighborhoods like this being built where you live? What do you think about the concept of "new-old" houses -- especially compared to the alternative? Post a comment and let me know.

(P.S. Also check out Melissa from The Inspired Room's related blog posts on the new house vs. old house quandary and the appeal of "new-old" homes.)


McGee said...

I love the concept of a "new old house", if it is done right. A house that looks old on the outside only but looks like any other McMansion on the inside is pretty worthless, IMHO. If the architects and the builders carried the architectural style throughout the house with wideplank wood floors, tall baseboards, vintage-style cabinets and other appropriate touches, then I'm all for it.

Honestly though, if I had the $$ for a multi-million dollar house, I'd forgo the reproduction and buy the real thing. Alas, it's not in our budget. :(

kelly said...

I've never seen this before, but I have to say that I really love it. I understand your McMansion-interior fear but I would much rather see exteriors that look like this than the ones you show in the bottom photo. Ugh!

Perhaps one will have an open house next time you're in the area and you can get a peak inside -- we'll expect a full report!

deerseason87 said...

I personally would never buy a new house in a developement, but for those who prefer that sort of thing, this seems like a fantastic solution! This is so much nicer to look at than those seas of beige that developements often become.

Anonymous said...

I live in Denver, Colorado. The old Stapleton airport property has been turned into a HUGE "new-old" house development.

The houses in your photos at least have landscaping that is somewhat mature...

While I prefer the "new-old" styles with the garages off of alleys to generic four car garge in front homes, it is very weird to see an airport size plot of land developed with all these houses, and very immature landscaping.

It's not the only "new-old" development in this area...

becky from hatch said...

It's kinda freaky, but it sure beats the hell out of the faux Craftsman McMansion that are popping up all over my true OLD URBANISM neighborhood! Keep in mind that the Seaside designers simply used principles of town design established by Frederick Law Olmsted 100 years before they put pencil to vellum. It was simply a return to the idea of neighborhoods that were so much better than the current car culture centered gated cul-de-sacs.

Usually the giveaway on these types of houses are the cheap windows with the fake panes, but these look nice!

Sort of related note: check out the writing and work of Randall Arendt, who designs wonderful conservation neighborhoods, where the houses are clustered and the land is preserved and common to all the residents. he was doing it long before the green movement. Unfortunately, most zoning laws (every house on a 1/4 acre lot, building restrictions in regard to property lines, no shared driveways, etc.) in the burbs throw up barriers in carrying out his ideas.

Mango Gal said...

I absolutely love those homes! Living in Florida, Celebration is the closest thing I have to the "new old homes", however it seems a little "Stepford" to me whenever we drive through it.

Anonymous said...

Mwahahaaaa... i think as a dedicated blog writer, you should just mosey up to one or six of these houses the next time you are that way and ask to take a peek. You could carry an assistant (I'm sure your husband would be totally into it) and a clipboard and just explain that America's public "wants to know"!

I would love to know what the inside looks like too. I am totally torn because I live in the Canadian version of Ashland and we have no shortage of fixed up older homes but the mcmansionites that are moving in from the city are building these pseudo victorian pieces of yuk that drive me absolutely insane! The reason being that a good and healthy neighbourhood is created with the uniqueness of individuals and those individuals being tolerated and celebrated by their differences. Whether you are speaking of the people or the buildings. It is made up of each "age" being represented and you end up with a beautiful diversity. While I would much rather a beautiful "old" home go up than a poorly designed generi-house, I would like it even more if a beautifully designed (and not huge) house PERIOD went on the site to add to the flavour of many eras pieced together. Just plain beautiful design. Unfortunately if you really want to live in an old victorian, sometimes the amount of money you have to put into an old home to fix it up becomes more than you would probably pay for a new version. I personally would rather love the history behind an antique, but not everyone is willing to put on a new roof, and plumbing and electrical and....

Tough call. Beautiful houses though. The landscaping is really everything, isn't it?

Unknown said...

I think it's great. Let's face it, big new developments are going to keep getting built, so why not have them in assorted real architectural styles like those? Rather than yet another development of ugly McMansions. They're quite attractive houses. Yes, I'd rather buy an old "old" house, but if that was the only option...and I can understand why a lot of people would rather have a new house. My sister lives in a near-two-hundred-year-old house and the upkeep is ridiculous.

What I'd really like to live in is one of the newer small-home developments that have been written up in Cottage Living in the last year. Where they try to build a community, not just houses, and the houses are deliberately small (and frequently "green." However, no one's building anything like that on Long Island.

Melissa @ The Inspired Room said...

Ok, we have parallel minds going on here--your post is the perfect companion to my dilemma post! This is an interesting neighborhood. I've seen some similar sorts of houses near me, but not as well done as these. I'd have to say I like these, but like you said, not if they have polished granite counters and don't keep up the old house integrity inside.

I'd love to share a couple of them sometime and send people over here to discuss! Let me know if that would be OK. This is fun. If I could have the best of both old and new, this might be a good solution!

happy day,

Unknown said...

I live in Phoenix, AZ and we have one development like this that I absolutely love, Agritopia. They built the whole subdivision around an old farm but kept some of it intact. I think that it feels much more cozy that our plain-jane subdivision. It's refreshing to see builders actually becoming concerned with variety rather than building the same old cookie cutter exteriors.

Janet said...

You would think that the Boston/ Providence area with all its history would be the logical place for such neighborhoods, but NO, most new homes are built with minimal detail either inside or out unless you spend multiple millions of dollars or live in the really posh 'burbs. Even then you would never find this kind of detail or diversity of architecture.

I am not sure what I really think of such a neighborhood. My first impression is that I like it, but I wonder if it isn't just a bit ostentatious...perhaps because they have to be so expensive that only the very wealthy could afford them. Just musing....


Jennifer in ATL said...

I would live in that neighborhood in a HEARTBEAT! The bottom photo freaks me out. I could never do it.
Atlanta has neighborhoods popping up with new bungalows. I love the look....although they're two inches apart from each other.
Nice post!

Unknown said...

I have an old version of one of these homes... an 1894 Victorian. I live in the midwest in a rural community. Here, in our new developments we have cookie cutter houses. The color of the siding might be different, but they are all pretty much the same.

Recently, a couple of people built new homes that resemble a 1930's bungalow in our town. It has drawn quite a few gawkers. And hopefully a new trend. I personally like the details of a period home, not the same old thing that is always being built today.

I wish more of these type of developments would pop up around here, without the hefty price tag. Though, land here is 1/8 of what it costs in California.

Shelly said...

I wish somebody would do that here, all we get is neighborhoods like the last photo and those totally creep me out. The landscaping is fabulous, I'm guessing the interiors are as lovely as the exteriors. If I could afford it I would love to live there.

mrs.stark said...

I actually live in a neighborhood like this called, Southwood, located in Tallahassee Florida. Very similar to the Seaside and Celebration concept. I love the houses but seeing them all in one neighborhood is a bit weird. A little like Pleasantville or something.

The Babbling Housewife said...

As much as I'm a French/English country style kind of person...I have this urge to have a craftsman style home. Go figure.

We have a couple of these developments here in Louisville, KY. One is called Norton Commons and they have everything from townhomes, a few victorians...some Leave it to Beaver style small "downtown" areas where you have small businesses on the main floor, and condos on the upper floors. You go further back into the development and they have the standard neighborhood type design. But we like our wooded back yard...our LARGE yard...too much to move there.

There is another one near us that is being built now that has a bunch of townhomes/brownstones. Looks like a NYC kind of place. But then, again, there is the yard thing and I don't want to share a common wall with anyone.

Blogger said...

I love that Craftsman style bungalow with the rose trees lining the still my heart!

I like this concept...after all, owning a true old home is not for everyone, so this is a way to kind of/sort of have one.

How lovely, thanks for sharing!!!


Petunia Face said...

I live in Marin County (south of Sonoma). Tivia bit: I believe John Lassiter from Pixar Studios (Toy Story, Wall-E, Nemo, etc.) owns one of those houses. That neighborhood is beautiful, but almost eerie in a Pleasantville sort of way.

Michelle said...

The apartment building I live in here in So Cal is an historic building - just felt like sharing.

Is it me, or does the second pic remind you of the house from Six Feet Under?

Anonymous said...

Just came across this posting. Thanks for the pictures, especially the one with the street signs, since it helped me do some research. These homes are part of the Armstrong Estates. The third house is actually up for sale currently - $3.3 million. 650 Charles van damme way, if you want to see pictures of the inside.


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