Fanciful chimneys spiral skyward past alpine-steep slate roofs. Far below, elaborate wooden doors hang suspended from ornate, castle-size hinges.
And everywhere you look - in gables, around windows, even in driveways - intricate brick patterns compete for attention.
Only five homes have been built so far in the South Hill’s upscale Grapetree development, but already one thing is clear: architect Glen Cloninger and builder Dave Mark have a vision of what a neighborhood should look like.
“We’re not trying to build the biggest or most expensive homes in Spokane,” Cloninger says of the 44-lot development. “But we do insist that the homes be artistic.”
Translation: circle-head doors, coffered ceilings, inlaid arches, chimney pots and copper gutters - the sort of “refined details,” says Cloninger, that one might find in the more expensive homes built during Spokane’s Age of Elegance a century ago.
“We’re not necessarily trying to design homes that look like they’re 100 years old,” he explains, “but we are trying to design something with character.”
Of course, character didn’t come cheap back in 1895, and it’s no bargain today. Mark’s house, the only one of the five for sale, is priced at $530,000. And the newly finished, copper-roofed custom across the street will cost even more.
Part of that reflects the added expense of developing the rugged 27-acre site, which is tucked away just north of 29th Avenue and east of Pittsburg Street. But the same natural features that discouraged other builders - the irregular topography and basalt outcroppings - are what give Grapetree part of its charm. The site’s other advantage is that it’s close to shopping, schools and the urban core.
Development of the project has been slow - only five homes in five years - and given the price range, Cloninger predicts Grapetree will continue to grow at a glacial pace.
But neighbors will attest that driveby traffic along the quiet cul-de-sac has increased steadily as word of the playful brick-and-stone mansions spreads.
Even a local architect who refers to the development as “Disneyland” couldn’t resist inviting friends along to marvel at the extravagant ornamentation.
But does a so-called “artistic” neighborhood need to cost a half-million per house?
Cloninger insists not.
“You could have an artistic development with $150,000 houses, too,” he argues. “You’d just have to rely more on how the houses are arranged, how they’re landscaped,” and less on amenities like copper and stone.
“But if everything were done in a design-conscious way,” he warns, “you’d be taking money out of the construction budget. And most people aren’t willing to sacrifice the rec room or a second bathroom off the master bedroom.
“They’d rather have the simplicity of straight streets, and the heck with landscaping, the heck with whether this siding ties in with the next house. They have to have their TV room and their three-car garage, and have it all for $150,000.
“So yes,” says Cloninger, “you could make a development of $150,000 houses that was artistic. But the homes would be minus some features that people interested in $150,000 houses are not interested in giving up.”
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