Cookie Cutter?

Does a home-builder aim to design a visual masterpiece?

Or does he just want to throw up a house as fast as possible, sell it, and move on to the next project?

I’d like to examine some of the most familiar new-home styles.

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I hear that a Seinfeld game is in the works to be released around Christmas time.  The game will be on DVD and be an interactive trivia contest using characters, quotes, and names from the show for the viewers to sort out.

I often wonder of a collection of nerdy real estate agents could partake in a similar game; they would be shown pictures of houses like the one above, and be asked to identify the neighborhood in which the house is located.

This house above is a dead-ringer for Avenue Road & Lawrence.  And I would say it’s more than likely east of Avenue Road as opposed to west.

NOW WHERE IS  MY PRIZE?

There are so many cookie cutter houses being built in Toronto these days that I have to wonder if builders are just recycling the same blueprints over and over again.  Actually, I know one builder who “shares” blueprints with his friend (also a builder) to save $20,000 per house on architect and design fees.

The two neighborhoods I believe have been home to the most development in the last 3-4 years would be Leaside and Avenue/Lawrence.  I suppose I could have said “Lawrence Park,” but that term generally conjures up images of the area clustered around Mount Pleasant with street such as Roslin, Glenforest, Snowdown, Golfdale, etc.  I’m speaking more to the area on the east and west sides of Avenue Road, north of Lawrence.

The movement away from traditional red-brick homes and towards stone-and-stucco design is a travesty, in my mind.  I’ve always been a fan of “traditional,” and it’s too bad that most people think of “traditional” as “old” or simply “not new enough.”

Newer doesn’t always equal better.

Take a look at this picture:

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This is the classic definition of a “cookie cutter” house in today’s market.  The sides and a portion of the front are all stucco, and there is some stonework on the front facade to keep it from looking entirely ugly.  With this house in particular, the builder has included two pieces of copper flashing to give the house “the Lawrence Park” feel even though this house is in Leaside.  I think it’s awful.

And even worse is that ski-ramp on the left-side of the house just under the window.  What the heck is that?

How about this house:

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This house also uses that “ski-ramp” as I call it, but this design is a little more tasteful.  The house is narrower as you can probably tell; the first house was on a 35-foot lot and this house is on a 30-footer.

But still we see the use of stone & stucco, and the result is cookie-cutter.

With this next house, the builder tries to incorporate the red-brick, but the result is somewhat mixed:

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The builder here has tried to incorporate too many different designs at once, and I don’t think it worked.  He’s used red-brick on the sides of the house instead of stucco (probably because he kept the side walls of whichever bungalow he tore down), and still used the stone on the front.  He’s also used the copper flashing and the “ski-ramp” over the garage.  Granted, this house isn’t complete, but I still don’t think it has much curb appeal.

Here is one that is a little different:

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This is still stone-and-stucco, but at least this one has some character.  The pillars on the front porch give it a classic look and the lack of uneven over-hangs, ski-ramps, or flashing make it look concentric and gives it a neat-and-tidy finish.  Cookie cutter?  Yes, but this one has curb appeal!

Here is a house that was too cheap to include any stone on the facade:

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This is a stucco BOX if I’ve ever seen one.  It looks a bit tidier than some of the other designs, but it’s just plain and boring.

So what do I like?

How about this:

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This isn’t a new build, but rather a renovation on an existing house.  But it’s classic, traditional, and stunning in my mind.  Who says the front door always must be centred in the middle of the house?  I like the red brick (old and authentic red brick), and the black shutters give the second storey a nice touch.

But let’s go back to the first house again:

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I like this one.

Well, I should for $1.6M.  But while there are dozens of these houses in the Avenue/Lawrence area, this one doesn’t seem so cookie-cutter without the use of stone-and-stucco.  It incorporates red brick and stone, and it doesn’t have the uneven look to the front of the house like the photos above.

The building codes are different at Avenue/Lawrence, thus the below-grade driveway you see in the photo.

Get a load of these cookie-cutter houses in the Avenue/Lawrence area:

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Same thing, but switch the driveway to the other side:

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I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.

In the end, whatever sells will continue to be built, and in hot neighborhoods whatever is built will ultimately be sold.

But somewhere, there must exist a man who first designed this house that has been replicated a few hundred times in the last five years in the Avenue/Lawrence area.

I can’t really say anything negative about these houses, since they all sell for $1.5 Million or more, I’m just saying that chances are excellent that you’ll own an exact duplicate of your neighbor’s house….and perhaps you also drive a Porsche Cayenne and you also have two daughters and a son, and both your sons are named “Cody.”  Maybe the lack of originality doesn’t just exist with respect to the design of these cookie-cutter houses, but I digress…

If you have to go with a cookie-cutter, at least go with something slightly more tasteful and different; as “different” as possible considering they’re almost the same.  Try this one:

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Aw, dang!  Not enough stone!  Well, I think this house is done rather tastefully and it’s different from the pack.

But I don’t own a $1,895,000 house, so who am I to judge?!?!

Styles come and go, and I’m sure that 20 years from now, all these houses will be out of favor.

You don’t have to own a cookie-cutter house.  Take the “thinking out of the box” one step further and avoid the box altogether by going with the circle.  Maybe then you won’t get lost looking for your own house…

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  1. Jason Friesen says:

    Nice blog David and great article. I’ve noticed in the Davisville village/Leaside area that builders have started to really pull up their socks over the last two or three years with the building designs, incorporating brick and stone in their designs, which to me looks way better than these pure stucco homes that were so popular in the mid 2000’s when the neighbourhood started to fill in. Builders are even taking a more modern approach to the builds using a lot more 90 degree angles and flat roofs to give it a much more updated look. Along Soudan there are 4 or 5 houses that have been recently built that incorporate grey brick and a cement finish and those are the houses that I appreciate. Now it remains to be seen how a flat roof will hold up to these harsh winter conditions!

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