SylvanOaks is located within Ladera Ranch, a master-planned community designed to evoke a village-like environment with intimate neighborhoods situated around pocket parks, miles of trails and paths, community gardens and a town green. MBK was selected by the developer of Ladera Ranch to build SylvanOaks through a design competition to determine future developments within the premier community.
At SylvanOaks, a neighborhood of 69 homes, the minimum lot size measures 3,400 square feet, which is small, particularly in California, where the average lot is sized at 6,688 square feet, according to the California Building Industry Association. Because today’s home buyers still list more square footage as one of the things they want the most in a new home, our challenge was to design and merchandise smaller homes that still felt spacious and whose character was defined by their details and craftsmanship.
With prices beginning from the low $400,000s, SylvanOaks is comprised of three distinctive models with approximately 1,853 to 2,152 square-feet of living space, three to four bedrooms and up to two and one-half baths.
Mingling Indoors With Outdoors
One of the most effective ways to create a sense of space is to mingle indoor and outdoor spaces, and because SylvanOaks is in California, it made sense to create as much outdoor living space as possible.
Our key design solution was to employ zero lot lines on each home site. Instead of providing five feet of space on both sides of the home, we moved each home to the edge of its lot, creating 10 feet of space on one side — a large usable side yard.
With each model, we also used different architectural schemes to maximize the use of the side yard. Plan One features a dining room with wide doors leading out to the side yard, encouraging residents to throw open the doors on a warm evening, effectively mingling indoor and outdoor spaces. We have also cut out an extra four-foot notch on the side of the home, creating a 14-foot side yard with ample room for an outdoor dining/entertainment area.
The Plan Two model situates the kitchen, dining and family rooms at the back of the home. Designed as a contiguous great room with picture windows looking out to the back yard, the space effectively amplifies light and conveys a sense of spaciousness. Because the design is so effective, we were able to cut back the size of the family room by two feet and allow for a 12-foot side yard.
Plan Three features alternate elevations, both emphasizing access to the side yard. One layout situates the dining room adjacent to the side yard with wide optional French doors connecting the indoor/outdoor space. The second plan locates a large great room in the back of the home and adds a wrap-around porch to the front, providing access to the side yard from the front, back and side of the home, essentially creating a circular design that blurs the line between inside and out.
One of the most unique design elements at SylvanOaks is utilized on the corner lots. Buyers can opt to shift the front door to the side of the home, creating a dramatic 45- to 50-foot entryway, rather than the normal 30-foot front facing entrance, and eliminating any view of the garage from the front. While the living room in this configuration is not expanded, this produces an immediate sense of space and light upon entering the home.
Architecture Is Key
Because the homes are built with zero lot lines, we were sensitive to the fact that residents would be looking closely at the side of their neighbors’ homes. To give the homes a more exciting visual sense, we created a 4-D architectural experience by carrying varied architectural materials all the way around. While the sides of most production homes are generally neglected and plain, SylvanOaks sides feature siding, shingles, cut-in niches, pop outs, stone accents and stucco elements that wrap all the way around, adding exceptional detailing, depth and interest.
We also knew we would be largely marketing the SylvanOaks homes to buyers fitting a “Cultural Creatives” profile. Cultural Creatives, because they typically do not buy new homes, are an untapped pool of potential customers. They are interested in neighborhood and will not settle for what they perceive as cookie-cutter, mass-produced homes. To satisfy their desire for individuality and a sense of place, we did not theme the SylvanOaks architecture. Instead, we planned a variety of elevations to create the feel of a naturally formed, established neighborhood filled with eclectic home designs.
SylvanOaks draws its architectural styling from influences as varied as Cape Cod, classic colonial, shingle, European cottage and Spanish eclectic. Within a community of just 69 homes, each home plan has three distinctive elevations, resulting in nine different styles, coupled with 12 different paint schemes, making each home unique.
It takes a tremendous amount of planning and craftsmanship to design smaller homes to fulfill the desire for space that most buyers still seek. However, the success of SylvanOaks — where each phase has been sold out within two hours of opening and sales volume is averaging more than 10 homes per month — may mean that Americans have come to recognize that a better designed home can be more desirable than a bigger one.
Maximizing Visual Impact
Model merchandisers from Carole Eichen Interiors, Inc. (CEI), have a specific challenge when planning interiors, colors and themes for SylvanOaks: Be more memorable than the competition; appeal to the young, sophisticated market; and maximize smaller floor plans.
Says designer Sue Munro, “We carried hard surfaces on floors throughout all three plans to keep a smooth flow instead of breaking up spaces. And we used light tones throughout, like on the sofa in Plan I, but added touches of fun color through accents we knew would appeal to the market.”
Adds designer Kim Hampton, “Window treatments were kept high off the windows to emphasize the side yards that MBK Homes offered.” The side yards were an important home-siting strategy to show buyers they didn’t have to sacrifice outdoor living in a small floor plan.
Designers also paid close attention to the proper scale of furnishings in small spaces, for example, showing a 36-inch instead of 42-inch sofa, and made sure all three models were much more thematic than the competition, with fun kids’ rooms and consistent color schemes throughout each model. Kitchens were kept open, showing barstools at an eat-in counter, especially in the smallest model, Plan I, where there was no secondary eating space.
In Plan III, merchandisers showed a “super family room” for maximum visual impact, complete with a table set for dinner by a fireplace. All three plans showed prospects where their computers could go — in a tech space at the top of a landing or in a loft/optional bedroom. MBK offered buyers in one model an optional efficient built-in computer desk.
With lots of careful planning and teamwork by MBK Homes and CEI, SylvanOaks at Ladera Ranch has proven to buyers that bigger is not always better.
— Jan Mitchell
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