Barnes Design & Development Management
Collaborating to Create Communities of Lasting Value

Thoughts & Lessons Learned

Celebration, Florida - Lessons Learned - We Should Have Created More Opportunities for Smaller Custom Houses

At Celebration we had a relatively wide range of lots sizes, house types and price points.  Initially, we had four basic lot types.  All lots were roughly 130 feet deep and varied in width.  Estate Lots were generally 90 feet wide.  Village Lots were 70 feet wide.  Cottage Lots were 45 feet wide.  Townhouses Lots came in two widths – 22 feet wide and 28 feet wide.  A high percentage of the lots were alley feed.  In Lake Evalyn, a subsequent phase to Celebration Village, the first phase of development, we added Garden Lots in order to introduce a more affordable single-family detached option to the mix.  Garden Lots were generally either 45 feet wide by 55 feet deep or 30 feet wide by 75 feet deep.

Coastal Showcase Village House - Historical Concepts

As you would see in traditional towns, the larger lots were placed along the grander streets or across the street from significant visual amenities such as golf course (Golf Park Drive), a park (Long Meadow) or natural area (Arbor Circle).  Given the prominence and price of these lots, most, if not all, of this lots were reserved for custom homes.  The smaller lots were placed along smaller, more intimate streets that might be behind or intersect with the grander streets.  These lots were identified for the volume or production builders to build houses from the portfolio of plans they developed specifically for Celebration.

The logic behind this was the assumption that custom designed and built houses would be larger and more expensive than the production builders would want to build.  In addition, the custom houses would be able to more easily absorb the lot premiums placed on the Estate Lots.  The production builders, with their Celebration line of house designs, could more be more efficient and cost effective in delivering homes on the smaller lots.

In practice, it generally worked okay, but there were several missed opportunities by following this approach. 

  • Not everyone who wanted a smaller house on a smaller lot was satisfied by the house designs developed by the production builders.
  • Not everyone who wanted a custom designed house wanted a large house and most of the custom builders at Celebration were not interested in building smaller houses.
  • Several of the smaller lots at prominent locations (the terminus on an axial view or at an important corner) called for unique design solutions (a more composed side or rear façade, a porch or a vertical element such as a tower) that could not be accommodated by the production builders’ standard designs.
  • The production builders did not have the systems, processes and/or capabilities to provide appropriate design solutions for prominent locations and unique conditions.

There was a strong interest in smaller custom homes on smaller lots.  There were a handful of lots, because they wouldn’t accommodate the footprints of the production builders’ designs, that were made available for purchase by those wishing to have custom designed homes.  All of these lots were snapped up pretty quickly and ultimately ended up with designs appropriate for the individual buyers and which took advantage of the distinctive characteristics of the individual home sites.

In hindsight, reserving a select number of lots throughout the neighborhood for custom homes at critical locations in master plan and identifying a few builders who were interested in and capable of building smaller custom homes would have been the smart things to do.  Having this option would have greatly benefitted the community and made it a richer more dynamic environment. 

Doing so, could have had several short term and long benefits including:

  • tapping into underserved niche market segment of those wanting smaller custom homes.
  • adding a new dimension to the demographics of the neighborhood since frequently those wanted to design and build a small custom house are involved in world of design and the arts.
  • generating incremental lot premiums based on the scarcity of this homebuilding option.
  • ending up with more appropriate and attractive solutions for prominent locations with in the neighborhood which could become pieces of civic art.