The number of residences in the annual Haciendas: A Parade of Homes tour is still down since the nation’s housing market crashed in 2008, but the smaller showcase may be a blessing in disguise as tour-goers get a look inside area builders’ more innovative designs.
In 2008, Parade of Homes featured 40 houses; just 16 homes are on the tour this year.
Part of the drop is related to a change in federal regulations since the crash, limiting local banks’ ability to finance speculative home projects, which used to make up the majority of the tour.
“Because the homes are not speculative homes, they have a tendency to be a little bit more edgy, a little beyond what we think of as Santa Fe style,” said Kim Shanahan, executive officer of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association, the group that organizes Parade of Homes each year.
When builders are creating homes to sell, he explained, they have less incentive to design outside the box.
“When a builder is building a speculative home,” Shanahan said, “he assumes that they are going to sell it to some high-dollar client who is moving here from somewhere else, who has maybe visited Santa Fe and has fallen in love with the round walls and the vigas in the ceilings and that Santa Fe look. That gives them the tendency to be a bit vanilla, you know — safe Santa Fe style.”
When the market picks up again and spec homes can be financed more easily, he said, he believes homes on display for the event will return to more traditional styles.
Along with edgier home designs, the home sites are beginning to change, as well. In the past, many of the homes showcased were in the city’s higher-end subdivisions, such as Las Campanas, Monte Sereno and The Hills at Bishop’s Lodge. While these developments are still represented on the tour, many of its homes were built on properties closer to the downtown core.
“A lot of people want to be in town,” Shanahan said. “A lot of people just like being in town. They don’t want to be out in a gated community.”
One of the infill projects in this year’s Parade of Homes is the Cordova Road home of Jesse Gries, a local commercial and residential contractor and president of Green Star Builders.
This is Gries’ first year on the tour, and the timing fit perfectly with his project, he said. “It is always something that I have wanted to do, but it’s a rare opportunity that a home is finished at the right point.”
What makes Gries’ project unique is that he built the home for himself. “It’s not for a client,” he said. “I was able to build and design exactly what I wanted.”
He acknowledged some challenges with choosing to build a home on an infill property — he was limited to building a 1,500-square-foot space — but overall, he was pleased with the results. As a green builder, Gries said, he wanted to use an infill property because the project required a lot less water and resources. Like many of the city’s younger residents, he also wanted to be closer to downtown.
“I love the convenience of being right in town,” he said. “I love the location.”
He also believes that building on an infill property forced him to be more creative.
“I want to have a youthful and innovative approach. When you are building for a client, it’s very important to take their tastes into consideration,” he said. “This is all my tastes and my wife’s tastes.”
The interior of Gries’ home features a “green wall,” a hydroponic wall of living plants, which he said he has never seen in any other home. The home also includes many of Gries’ trademark steel fabrications.
Gries moved to Santa Fe after he graduated from college 14 years ago. He grew up on the East Coast and attended Hampshire College in western Massachusetts, where he studied environmental sciences and art. He was looking for a new adventure when he joined the community of builders in Santa Fe.
Shanahan welcomes Gries’ fresh perspective.
“The unfortunate reality of our association is that we are kind of an aging group of white men,” Shanahan said. “I’m probably the perfect demographic. I’m in my mid-50s. We haven’t really been that successful in recruiting that next generation of 30-something builders. It’s good to see Jesse do well.”
Gries’ vision also fits in well with Santa Fe’s growing trend of green building.
“There is no question that Santa Fe draws both builders and clients who appreciate and want green building,” Shanahan said. “We pride ourselves as an association that is particularly adept at that. The Santa Fe area, back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, was considered one of the pioneers in passive solar construction.”
Gries said his home has received an Emerald rating through the National Green Building Standard, the highest rating awarded by the certification program.
“We are possibly the only home that I know of to do that without the use of solar photovoltaics or geothermal — both of which are wonderful systems, but they are both very expensive,” Gries said. “We didn’t have that in our budget.”
The home also features a gray-water system, which recycles water used in the house for watering plants outside. Many of the home’s features are recycled from other homes, Gries said, citing the bathtub and materials from a redwood deck that used to sit on the property. The home is well-insulated, he said, creating an “extraordinarily low” heating index.
Gries, like most builders, was affected by the economic downturn. He’s had fewer opportunities to build custom homes, and his business has had to rely on remodeling projects and steel fabrications in the past few years.
He doesn’t mind the shift in work, though: He just likes to build things.
The outlook for Gries and other Santa Fe builders may be changing, however. Shanahan noted signs of improvement in the local housing market.
“When the markets start to do well, which they have been,” he said, “we see people from New York, who have some money, come back. The oil and gas industries are doing very well, so we are getting our Texans coming back. We are starting to see that.”
Contact Andra Cernavskis at 986-3063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.