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  • Writer's pictureCheryl McIntosh

Norway Hills: 20 Years Later

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

A courtyard home with an outdoor fireplace and patio furniture

Twenty years ago, Rhodes Architecture + Light, working closely with builder, Chris Coddington, designed four speculative homes in the Norway Hills area, each situated on sloping 1.25-1.5 acre lots. The floor plans were similar; the finishes were different. Our original vision was filled with hope that each home would become a successful incubator for the future of people, families, and communities and allow for investment in the individualization of their spaces. Our role was to set the stage for lives to unfold and expand, and for homes to evolve for ever-changing generations.

An ADU guest house that helps form the courtyard

Twenty years later, we returned to chat with one of the families about their experience with their home and the owner additions they’ve made. We wanted to see for ourselves how their home had changed over the years and how what was once bare land, had become a garden paradise.

Approaching the home from the road, all that is visible is an intriguing peek of a rooftop through the trees and garden understory. Lush, terraced gardens lead the way to the entrance with the sounds of birds, rabbits and other wildlife rustling in the thick foliage. As the owners later commented, it feels rural even though you’re in the center of a well-populated residential area.

Lush, mature landscaping and gardens that nearly conceals the architecture

Surveying the lush landscape throughout the neighborhood, we were struck by the thought that in most cases, housing developments take away from the natural environment and push wildlife out. The careful and abundant landscaping at Norway Hills actually gives back by providing shelter for wildlife, purifying the air and water, securing the sloping soil, and cooling the local environment.

Lush and mature landscaping that nearly conceals the architecture

Years ago, Rhodes Architecture + Light designed a pergola addition for the couple we interviewed. During our visit, we sat under the dense canopy of grape vines that had nearly enveloped the 16-year-old structure. The owners wanted something unique that couldn’t be found at a big box store and felt like an extension of their home. Today they call it one of their favorite rooms of the house and take pride in entertaining guests in the cooling microclimate it creates.

A beautiful pergola with established landscaping and lit stairs

At Rhodes Architecture, we prioritize greenspaces as a key element of wellness-centered design. Outside, we like to employ courtyards, planters, and garden areas, and inside, we open the space up with glass doors and extensive windows that offer views and easy access to greenspace and community.

“There are nice views from every window and several wood-framed glass doors leading outside. The airiness makes the whole home such a gathering place and we love to entertain our neighbors and friends,” they said.

Vaulted ceilings, wood framed glass doors and natural light in the dining room

The owners were the first to move into the community nearly 20 years ago and have seen each home transform to accommodate the lifestyles and needs of the people that inhabit them. There have been swimming pools dug, floors added, interior remodels, and major landscaping projects. The owners are all friends and have shared resources, time, and energy for the betterment of the community.

In addition to the pergola, the homeowners we talked with had terraced the garden with several gabion walls which are now blanketed in cultivated vegetation and flowers. In contrast to the carefully planned wildness of the main yard, a delicate Japanese garden is offset from the path to the front door and introduced by a large torii. The torii’s beams mimic the heavy-duty supporting beams of the cantilevered pergola.

A large Japanese tore welcomes visitors into the garden next to the home

They gave us a tour of the interior which was simply and tastefully decorated, complementing the clean lines of the home. One of the homeowners is a skilled woodworker and inside the home, had crafted beautiful wood built-ins which host a collection of books and curated art.

A kitchen and dining room open floor plan

An indoor-outdoor fireplace

As we walked into his study featuring an impressive collection of antique chess pieces, he said “We’re at that age where we need to stop collecting stuff, but there are lots of stories here.”

When asked what they love most about the home, they both responded that they love the natural light and how it makes them feel.

“Even during the gray days of winter, it’s still light and bright in the house. The right house can actually make you feel better, happier. It’s not like we were depressed at our last house–there’s just something about this one that’s cheerful–I think it’s light. It’s warm and comforting. Even with the concrete floors and open spaces, it still feels cozy. We feel like we’re living in a spa.”

Custom built-in wood cabinets and vaulted ceilings

They explained that when they saw the home for the first time, it sat on nearly bare land and the realtor hesitated to show them the house. They insisted though, and made their decision to buy after only 15 minutes.

an aerial view of Norway Hills 20 years ago

Google Earth view of 3 out of 4 homes at the time the homeowners moved in. Their home is on the bottom left.

“Even the realtor was impressed. She said, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this!’ We knew right away there was something special about this home. I like how clean it is. It’s an impressive house without being pretentious. It has all these surprises like the different stepped levels. It’s not just a flat thing, it has layers. It’s the unusual features that you don’t see anywhere else but it’s also practical. It’s not clever for the sake of being clever.”

The photos from our visit reflect the personal stories that have breathed life into the home. They show the third chapter (see Norway Hills I + II) in a progression of owner additions resulting in the personalization to these houses.

Entrance to the courtyard from the guest suite

We believe that buildings change and "learn" because people use and customize them for their lives. The building, therefore, is flexible and simple enough to accommodate changes and adapt over time.

The evolution of Norway Hills reflects the occupants’ constantly evolving way of life and our desire to create spaces that are comfortable, functional, and aligned with their values and aspirations. Speaking about the changes throughout the neighborhood, the owners said that although each home originally shared the same floor plan, they’ve all become very different from each other over time.

Wood framed glass doors open to a garden patio

“Some architects create something and consider it precious. They don’t want people messing with their designs. Rhodes Architecture + Light’s view is that families grow, families change, people change, and houses have to evolve.”

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