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March 8, 2007

You don’t have to give up the single-family style

  • With paired homes, owners can get a sense of living in an individual house.
    Conner Homes

    Image courtesy of Conner Homes
    Some homeowners are turning to urban paired homes such as these planned for Conner’s Barbee Mill project on Lake Washington.

    The appeal of the urban-condominium lifestyle is seemingly endless for today’s discriminating homeowner. It offers the chance to live in luxury, right in the middle of the action, and usually for a more-affordable price than high-end single-family homes. With attributes like these, it’s no wonder the condo craze has yet to peak in the region.

    Despite all these advantages, urban-condo living can be met with resistance, especially by those transitioning from a suburban single-family home to a smaller, in-city living space. One of the biggest concerns is their ability to retain many of the amenities and attributes that are unique to single-family residential life. Another issue is the loss of the sense of ownership due to not owning the land.

    Builders throughout the region are becoming more aware of the delicate balance between these two scenarios. What’s emerging is a greater focus on designing and constructing homes that offer the positive attributes of both types of product. To achieve this, some builders are offering a product that pairs homes to look like a single-family house.


    Unlike traditional condos, paired homes enable residents to own both the home and the land upon which it’s been built. This “fee simple” approach gives them full title to their asset and a greater sense of ownership. It also gives them the responsibility of maintaining their own yards.

    Another method that builders are employing to make attached homes feel more like single-family residences is to create flexible spaces. Typical condos tend to feel somewhat uniform in their design, and they often can have a “scripted” feeling in how one should live in them. To avoid this dilemma, and to put the emphasis back on individuality, builders are opening up floor plans to eliminate the smaller rooms throughout the main living areas.

    By building these homes without the constrictions of distinct, single-purpose rooms — such as separate areas for dining, work and family relaxation — residents are free to allocate their spaces in a way that fits their individual lifestyles. This openness is especially valuable when residents may be dealing with smaller spaces than they previously had.

    By using similar, if not identical, flooring materials throughout the home, builders give the paired homeowner the sense of living in a larger single-family environment. Traditional condos by design are compartmentalized in the sense that they often alternate between carpet and hardwoods from room to room.

    Unique looks

    To give each paired home a distinctive look and feel in comparison to its numerous neighbors, builders are creating a sense of “arrival” at each front door through the use of architecture, colors, design and lighting. These design methods ensure that each paired home has an aesthetically pleasing, wholly separate space that provides a different character for each individual home in the community or building.

    Another way that builders are helping to create a unique look to each paired home is by giving the owner greater control over the direction of their interior architecture and aesthetic palette. This method is usually less cost-effective for builders (and, in turn, their home buyers) simply because they use smaller amounts of each material rather than buying in bulk. Residents can choose everything from countertops and kitchen appliances to molding and floor coverings. This approach provides a sense of ownership and individuality — as well as a heightened level of luxury — that even many single-family homeowners cannot claim.

    For many, making the switch from single-family detached homes to high-rise condos in the city can be difficult. In these cases, paired homes can offer the ideal solution to their residential needs and demands. They provide more flexibility in their interior space-design, a stronger return on investment, and a greater sense of single-family living previously unavailable in the condo marketplace.

    Charlie Conner is owner and president of Conner Homes Co., a Puget Sound region home builder. The company is developing a paired-home community on Lake Washington at the former site of the Barbee Mill.

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