Urban North: Extending the City

New development focuses on modern design.

It’s hard not to notice the Urban North subdivision. With its decisive angles jutting into the sky at the 100 block of North Oak Trafficway, the model is certainly nothing like anything of the traditional homes on the blocks surrounding it. It is a distinctly modern design, and that’s exactly what developer and builder Luke Owen was going for.

Owen is the owner and founder of Owen Homes, A Design-Build firm, currently located in Smithville. While most of Owen’s clientele lean more toward traditional silhouettes such as craftsman, prairie or farmhouse style, he had an inkling that there was a different kind of client with no options for what they dreamed of living in, mainly because he was one of those people.

“I had been living on five acres in a 5000-square foot home in Smithville and we had done some modern designs on it and received a lot of positive feedback. What we heard most was ‘I didn’t think that I liked modern design, but I really like this’. As we did more basement finishes and renovations that featured modern finishes, we kept hearing that. Unfortunately that size of lot and house became a little too much to handle once the business really picked up so we started looking for a place where we could create a  modern home on a smaller tract of land,” says Owen.

What Owen found when he looked is that modern houses are few and far between in the Northland, and where they do occur, they tend to be a lightning rod of controversy. The stark departure from traditional home design can be a polarizing issue in an established community. As with so many things many as far as living spaces go, it seems to be a love or hate situation. Owen decided to try to create a community of people that fell on the ‘love’ side of the spectrum.

Partnering with Karelyn Geiger of Geiger Real Estate and DRAW-Architecture and Urban Design, he found 10 acres of wooded land within walking distance of the nearby strip center and starting plotting the development of what is rapidly becoming Urban North, with 17 of the 24 plots spoken for as of this writing. The parcel of land is ideally situation with easy highway access, plenty of available conveniences such as gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores. He says the name ‘Urban North’ comes from his desire to extend the modern style that is so often found in the urban core into the more inviting suburbs.

Owen broke ground last April and after putting in the streets and other infrastructure, started building the first homes in December of 2014. September of this year brought the opening of the model and its first two tenants, of which Owen is one. As the commercial says, he’s not just the founder of Urban North, he’s a client. In addition to the 24 plots, he intends to build a playground and pavilion for community gatherings.

The other residents, Amber and Toby Jennings, were attracted to how different the designs of Urban North were. Coming from a more traditional 1960s raised ranch, they were looking for an opportunity to move into something more fresh and modern. After looking for a modern option for more than a year, they happened to drive by the sign for the still unbuilt Urban North. After connecting with Owen, they decided to take the plunge.

In addition to embracing the clean lines and open, airy spaces, Urban North has another benefit. The development is poised to become the only entirely LEED and Energy Star for homes certified subdivision in the metro area. Owen says that while it was not the focus of the development, the small changes that are built in to each home with a comparably small initial investment will reap huge benefits over the life of each home.

Each home is built with upgraded insulation, HVAC systems, fresh air exchanges and rain barrels for irrigation of the drought resistant landscaping and fescue-bluegrass lawn. Anderson 100 Series windows with Smartsun tinting helps to lower heating and cooling costs. LED lighting throughout also means long lasting and low cost for energy bills. Low flow faucets help to cut down on water waste. Each home is also prepped for solar panel installation if desired.

Although Owen Homes is not specifically focused on sustainable design, Owen says that it makes too much sense to not pursue it.

“For what is a small investment, home owners can really see returns over the years with this technology. It just makes sense to put in the effort now,” says Owen.

For the Jennings family, the energy efficiency is just icing on the cake.

“I care about the environment–I recycle and drive a Prius–but LEED certification wasn’t my primary stipulation for buying a home. It was attractive enough to pay the premium for it,” says Toby.

For the Jennings, the style makes all the difference. The couple worked with Owen to choose all of the colors and finishes for the house so that it was move in ready. The modern background will provide fresh palette for Amber, who as a pinup photographer, has fallen in love with design touches from multiple decades. Already, a turntable and a collection of vinyl records takes its place in the corner of the living room, next to a fireplace that separates the living room from the dining space. Color and shape take center stage with their bold palette of blues, greens and chrome.

What began as a search for a place to call home for Luke Owen has become a place for people with an appreciation for something different. And while Owen Homes loves and takes pride in the traditional homes that they design and build, he has a special place in his heart for what he calls ‘warm and inviting modern’. No, it’s not an oxymoron. It’s home.