February 9, 2008

A touch of Europe adds flair to our home market

The Tennessean-Williamson AM
A home shopping trip this spring through some of the county's newest neighborhoods will sound a lot like a European tour, if not exactly look like one.
The craze for French country, Tuscany and other Euro-rural styles is sweeping through, resulting in a slew of subdivisions with foreign names that evoke images of wine, good times, sophistication and la dolce vita.
Some people trace the origins of the Tuscany trend — now showing up in furniture lines, china patterns and cookbooks — to the books of Frances Mayes. Her memoir, Under the Tuscan Sun, was made into a movie in 2004.
Another writer, Peter Mayle, has popularized the French countryside over the past several years with his travel memoirs, including the bestseller A Year in Provence.
Wherever the Euro trend comes from, it has grabbed the imaginations of some local developers — at least while they were working to come up with names for their new subdivisions.
Lily Griffin of Oxford Real Estate Co. said she believes it comes from "more people with more spending power who are traveling more."
"Everyone is interested in European flair," she said. And from traveling in Europe, they are more familiar with what's going on there, she added. Griffin's company is marketing the new Tuscany Hills neighborhood on Split Log Road in Brentwood.
The houses being built so far in Tuscany Hills, however, are not the stucco and rough-stone villas that characterize the Tuscany region of Italy.
While the builders are de-emphasizing the all-brick traditional look by mortar washing and by adding stone and other features such as turrets, "I don't know that it's going to be so much a Tuscan-looking neighborhood," Griffin acknowledged. "I think it's more in the name."
Despite its Italian name, the neighborhood has a street called Versailles and is incorporating the French fleur de lis as a visual accent in the streetscape.
"I think a lot of the interest in French or Old World stems from more people with an interest in wine and wine country," speculated Cheryl Oglesby, a manager at Sprintz Furniture in Cool Springs. The store carries several lines of furniture in French country, Tuscan and Spanish colonial styles. The newest thing is a line inspired by the "Argentine hacienda" look.
On Moores Lane, just west of CoolSprings Galleria, Valle Verde is poised to take off with construction beginning on the first of its 41 homes. The neighborhood's name means "green valley" in Italian.
"It's a great description of this property," sales agent Greg Standifer said. Some of the possible home designs in Valle Verde include The Bellagio as well as the French-sounding Margarette and the English-sounding Lansdowne.
"We don't want it to be one particular style," Standifer said, adding that the Italian name for the neighborhood is hoped "to set us apart."
Too late for that.
In addition to Tuscany Hills, there is already Benevento, which is not only a town in southern Italy but now also a subdivision of 250 all-brick houses in Spring Hill. The first homeowners moved in two years ago.
Benevento is "a neighborhood designed with a hint of Italian style," according to its Web site, offering "traditional custom-built homes."
And there's also Belle Vista, just off of Henpeck Lane, which is already preparing for its second phase of new homes.
Belle Vista is a "European-styled village" according to its promotional literature, with a variety of home plans for buyers to choose from, such as the Bordeaux, which the builders acknowledge as an English cottage, and two French cottage designs, one called the Florence and another called the Dresden.
Coming soon to Wilson Pike in Brentwood is Borgata, which is Italian for village. It will feature 27 custom homes of as-yet unknown designs starting in the $800,000 range. There's also Bellasara, slated to appear later this year near the intersection of Split Log Road and Ragsdale.
Meanwhile, just outside the town of Thompson's Station, construction continues on Brienz Valley, a subdivision named after a community in Switzerland.
The houses in Brienz Valley are not Swiss chalets but traditional brick, two-story homes. But the connection to Europe is an authentic one. Sales agent Rene Ragsdale said the neighborhood's name honors the ancestors of developer John P. Thoni Jr. They lived in the Swiss community before coming to the United States.
Coming up with appealing names for new neighborhoods is not always easy for builders and developers, who have to submit the names for approval to local planning commissions to ensure that the new names do not sound too much like existing neighborhoods covered by the same fire and police forces.
"They don't want the names to repeat or to be too similar to something else," said Beth Ann Smith of Turnberry. "It comes down to the fire chief and 911."

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