Cottages celebrate quality over size

By John Wolcott

Herald Business Journal Editor

A recent trend in housing, what might be literally called a ‘cottage’ industry, is attracting the attention of people interested in less in a new home.

It’s a lifestyle thing, and it’s catching on.

In Washington state, new urbanist developments have been attracting attention since 1998 when Jim Soules of The Cottage Company LLC in Seattle and partner Ross Chapin of Ross Chapin Architects in Langley on Whidbey Island created a minimalist development dubbed The Third Street Cottages.

Chapin has already picked up two American Institute of Architects’ Western Home Awards, one for each of the two developments in Langley. Both have sold out quickly.

"We started with this project with the idea of building cottage housing in a city," Soules said. "Instead of talking density (of living), we were thinking intensity of living. Instead of four homes on 7,200-square-foot lots, we said let’s build eight, 850-square-foot detached houses on smaller lots with front porches and quality rather than quantity of space."

The cluster of eight homes surrounding a common garden is an exciting alternative for one and two-person households, Chapin said.

Others obviously agreed.

Soules said he and Chapin were surprised at "the avalanche of inquiries from planning agencies, developers and architects from all over the country."

Third Street Cottages even garnered 10 pages in Sarah Susanka’s book, "Creating the Not-So-Big House". And the neighborhood project received the highest honor in the 1999-2000 AIA/Sunset Magazine Western Home Awards.

The October issue of Sunset featured pictures of Soules and Chapin’s second small-home development in Langley, known as the Backyard Neighborhood project, which has just been chosen for another AIA/Sunset Western Home Award.

This latest project features somewhat larger homes, but small cottages are still part of the mix. Backyard Neighborhood consists of three adjacent 1,200-square-foot houses separated from their 425-square-foot detached cottages at the back of their three lots by a shared alleyway.

The AIA jury called it "a flexible, high-density in-fill project that accommodates changing lifestyles," applauding the presence of the cottages because they can "serve as home offices, separate family rooms, master bedrooms, starter homes for grown children, in-law quarters, guest cottages, studios or even long-term rentals."

Spurred by success, Soules and Chapin are finishing a new development near Shoreline Community College north of Seattle at Greenwood Avenue North and NE 160th Street, with eight cottages grouped around a landscaped courtyard, similar in character to the Third Street Cottages in Langley.

More information

For more information about smaller-home neighborhoods:

  • Jim Soules, The Cottage Company LLC, 8215 41st Ave. NE, Seattle, WA 98115, can be contacted by calling 206-525-0835, by e-mail at or by visiting his Web site at

  • Ross Chapin Architects, PO Box 230, Langley, WA 98260, can be reached by e-mail at or by visiting his Web site at

  • Charles Wenzlau Architect on Bainbridge Island can be reached at 206-780-6882 or by e-mail at charlie

  • Sarah Susanka’s book, “Creating the Not-So-Big House,” can be ordered through

  • The units — selling for around $269,900 — are sold as condominiums, with an association providing insurance, landscaping maintenance and cottage upkeep.

    Soules is also involved in a joint venture with property owners on Bainbridge Island and local architect Charles Wenzlau, building 1,050-square-foot homes in a small development known as the Ericksen Cottages. The project is expected to break ground in November.

    Always looking for new sites in the Puget Sound area for more small-home projects, Soules said he also wants to develop larger communities that would include shops, offices, homes and cottages.

    Further, in collaboration with Chapin, Soules is offering cottage development consulting services to landowners, prospective residents, developers and city planning departments.

    "I think it’s a significant trend," Soules said. "Better rather than bigger, quality over quantity, it’s something people have been waiting for. It takes more work, details and supervision but — like the old pre-1940s Craftsman homes with mantels and casings — they are homes that get a premium price."

    When people ask him what the cost per square foot is on his cottage projects, he said he knows they’re not "my kind of customer."

    "I like to ask them, ‘Do you buy a BMW by the pound?’" Soules said.

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