Breaking the Mold with Innovative Design

Innovative design mixes up attached housing and reaches a wide range of buyers


At the end of August, I spoke in favor of a project that was being heard in front of my city council. I wanted to voluntarily speak because the project is innovative, full of merit and a product type that is incredibly needed where I live. My city has very little new housing stock, is mainly single-family detached homes, and is a wonderful safe place to live, but has little available fresh attainable housing. I am happy to report, this project was unanimously approved.

Trumark Homes is the builder on this particular project, which consists of a new building type that combines flats and townhomes under the same roof. If there is one thing we know for certain in the real estate development industry, it’s that there is no “one-size fits all” home. However, a concept that captures a number of market segments within one attached footprint is innovative and effective. Is it buildable? Absolutely!

The motivation for coming up with this particular concept, describes Jeff Chelwick, senior principal at WHA, was: “1) design a three-story product that can get more density than a conventional townhome while still feeling livable; 2) provide flex-use space for multiple functions; 3) design a module that can easily make different building sizes and several floor plans, resulting in greater visual variation, more marketability to many buyers, and the ability to fit different site constraints; and 4) create something new.”

This particular flat/towhnhome combination is three stories with one and two car garages, the two car garages come in either a tandem or side-by-side layout. All garages are within the building with additional parking spaces in carports or along streets. The flats are located on the second and third floors of the building. The townhomes live on all three floors. Front doors to each unit are accessed from the ground floor and have direct access into the home, there are no shared corridors. Home sizes range from under 1,000 square feet to 1,950 square feet and range from one to three bedrooms with multiple bathrooms, and flex space. In addition, the product includes private open spaces for each home. Although interlocking, the design is such that the buildings can be easily modulated.

Higher density products like this which entail more homes on a smaller footprint than detached housing, lends itself to green building and sustainability, inside the home and out. According to the March 2020 National Association of REALTORS® Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report, environmental features considered “very important” to buyers are heating and cooling costs, commuting costs, windows/doors/siding installation, energy efficient lighting, energy efficient appliances, environmentally friendly community features, landscaping for energy conservation and solar panels installed on homes.

Housing products such the one described above can address many of the preferences listed in the Generation Trends Report. In California especially, many of these green features are common. California’s Title 24 Energy Code drives much of the sustainable building efforts including photovoltaic systems, tight building envelopes and indoor air quality. Other energy conservation methods implemented are electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, low voltage lighting, and ENERGY STAR compliant appliances. In addition to energy conservation, water conservation strategies such as water efficient plantings and low flow plumbing fixtures can be employed rounding out a sustainable development.

At the end of the day, besides selling homes, it is about creating pleasant and healthy living environments. With such a diverse offering of floorplans and sizes, this type of product can appeal to a wide range of buyers and can be financially and environmentally responsible. From first time homeowners to empty-nesters, the variety in space, layout, square footage and even garages can hit the mark for various households. Eric Nelson, vice president of Community Development at Trumark, noted that the benefit of this type of product is the opportunity for a variety of buyers, with its ability to offer attainable prices and various floorplans. Further, Mr. Nelson explained that Trumark wants buildings to have more space for people, as opposed to cars. “We believe that people deserve to be covered before cars do.” I wholeheartedly agree.

With innovative floor plans, flexible living spaces and creative parking arrangements, new housing typologies can be forged, opening more opportunities for housing choice.

With innovative floor plans, flexible living spaces and creative parking arrangements, new housing typologies can be forged, opening more opportunities for housing choice.

Breaking the mold is always a spectacular experience, but breaking the mold for the betterment of people’s lives makes it even more rewarding.

Julia Malisos, LEED AP is a Principal-Planning/Community Design at WHA Architecture, Planning and Design with offices in Newport Beach, Long Beach, and San Ramon. Julia can be reached at