Shallow pitch, butterfly and shed roofs; an accordion-roof pool pavilion painted in Easter egg colours; breeze block and stack bond brick beside enormous windows; and carports illuminated by glowing orbs.
Check, check and, well, check ‘em all, as Mike Kopecky’s dream of an all-new, yet totally mid-century modern-inspired neighbourhood, Starlight Village, has finally come to life near Austin, Texas.
As reported here in January, 2015, Mr. Kopecky, a military kid “imprinted” by the small, stylish Capehart military homes of his youth, saw nothing but “real estate beige” going up in the booming Texas market. So, with a 5.7-acre parcel of land in Leander – the fourth fastest-growing city in the state – and a head full of unconventional ideas, he set to work. The first of 29 houses, the “Gemini,” was ready for liftoff in mid-2016, and, unlike vintage postwar homes, it sported a kitchen and dining area larger than the living room, since Mr. Kopecky’s feet, thankfully, were firmly planted in the 21st century.
But details do not a neighbourhood make. Who, pray tell, would want to live in this semi-simulacrum, this silly nod to nostalgia? Uptight Ward and June Cleavers? Rose-coloured (granny) glasses wearing neo-hippies? Retro bunches of Bradys?
Nope, just regular folk, it turns out.
Toledo, Ohio-based Mike and Lori Nagle, who describe themselves as “early retirees,” liked the hip vibe – but not the climate – of Ann Arbor, Mich., so began thinking of Austin (the city’s slogan: “Keep Austin Weird”). “I was on the Internet at two in the morning and I came across the website for Starlight Village, and they had these illustrations by Christian Musselman,” Mr. Nagle says during a Zoom call. “I just sent a message to Lori – because she was already asleep – and I said: ‘How about this?’”
“In 2016, we drove down to Texas, in the summer, to visit the area,” says Ms. Nagle, picking up the story. “And there was nothing here; there was some frameworks of houses, but the pool wasn’t even there, and we were, like, ‘Are we in the right place?’” Despite this, they moved to the area a few months later and, during the next year, walked the development’s only street, Starlight Village Loop, often. “Eventually we set something up” and purchased the two-storey “Starlight” model, she says.
Randy Davis and her partner, Stephen Cook, left a four-storey townhouse in Maryland (full of MCM furniture) just six months after an interior designer friend sent them a link to Starlight Village. Since Mr. Cook, a landscape architect, was from San Antonio, and the couple had always wanted to see the art-filled oasis of Marfa, Texas, it wasn’t a difficult decision.
“I said let’s look into getting our licenses in Texas,” says Ms. Davis, an architect. When no other developments they toured offered the “openness [and] a lot of natural light” of Starlight Village, they purchased an “Orion” model.
“But more importantly, we got to meet the people that were already here,” Mr. Cook adds. “There were like-minded, cool people, and we’ve all become really, really good friends.”
One of those cool people was Lisa-Michelle Sheehan. Looking to leave their non-MCM house for an MCM one in Seattle, Ms. Sheehan and her husband, Casey, were put off by the bidding wars there. “I talked to Casey first and said: ‘Hey, are you willing to relocate?’ At the time I worked for a company that was virtual and I could work anywhere … and he didn’t care.” She found Starlight Village in 2016 also, when only the driveway from Horizon Park Boulevard had been built, but the couple slapped down the US$2,000 required to secure a “Palm Springs” model anyway. The first time they saw the house under construction was the first time they saw Leander, Ms. Sheehan says, so they hadn’t realized what a “Podunk” town it was. “We really don’t even have a downtown,” she laughs.
For Carolyn Powers, who now lives in a “Palm Springs” model as well, it was an e-mail from her daughter alerting her to a new development twelve kilometers “up the road” from her current house, which was “three times as big,” that turned her on to Starlight Village. She was so impressed after seeing that model in person, she bought it at noon the next day. “It’s a wonderful community … and it’s the best house I’ve ever lived in.”
After leaving a military career, Jennifer Montgomery decided it was time to put down roots. Discouraged after looking at expensive apartments in Bronx, N.Y., and contemplating being house-poor, she asked herself: “‘Do I have a design aesthetic?’ And then I realized I really like mid-century modern.” After “frantically” e-mailing Mr. Kopecky, she secured a “Gemini” model with a butterfly roof, which she is preparing to move into.
While some bought homes at the almost-complete stage and could only ask for design tweaks here and there, others, such as the Sheehans, came in early enough to add a great many things, such as a “sunken living room, the colour of the terrazzo, the Mondrian [kitchen] cabinets,” Mr. Sheehan says. “We configured the house for a bigger closet that goes all the way to the ceiling with no HVAC in it so I can store hunting gear; we have CAT-6 cable rammed throughout our entire house, even our bathrooms.”
Although only 10 of the (currently built) 15 houses are occupied, all agree that a strong sense of community has developed already. “If you kind of think of a Mrs. Kravitz that lives in the house on the corner,” says Ms. Nagle, referencing the nosy, curtain-parting neighbour on the 1960s sitcom Bewitched, “we’re all Mrs. Kravitz from time to time … when somebody new comes into the village, we immediately go out and introduce them and, in most cases, hug them – when we could – just make them feel welcome and people remember that even if they’re looking at other homes [to purchase].”
When someone new does move in, a welcome party is immediately arranged, and “the pink flamingo” lawn ornament is placed on their lawn.
Yep, just regular folk … with a sense of humour.
For more information, visit starlightvillagehomes.com. Mr. Kopecky, the developer, is currently waiting for permits to build his own house in Starlight Village, and is working with a group in Denver to do four to six infill Starlight houses, and a Leander-sized neighbourhood as well. Current inventory in Leander ranges from a 1,371-square-foot, two-bedroom model priced at $344,900 (U.S.) to a 1,923-square-foot, three-bedroom priced at $459,900. Mr. Kopecky says he gets inquires all the time. Perhaps it’s time a Canadian builder gets in touch?
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