Upcycling the ‘Hood

by Julie Tereshchuk in Winter 2016
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For Casey Bernard and family, it was well worth waiting six years for a home in their dream neighborhood. And it’s the neighbors that Bernard loves most about their northwest Austin home. “We’re on the porch, with kids playing in the street, every weekend and some weeknights if homework is done,” says the mother of two.

Full disclosure: Bernard’s husband works for the company that built their home, PSW Real Estate, a forward-thinking Texas firm that specializes in building attractive, thoughtfully designed family homes in pockets of urban land that formerly sat idle. And the Bernards aren’t alone among the PSW employees, many of which have chosen the same lifestyle. “Yes, we live in our own homes!” says Anthony Siela, a PSW Managing Member.

In fact, the Bernards, their co-workers and their neighbors are part of a growing trend. Texans once used to want to spread out. Now, as urban sprawl threatens to overtake us, savvy planners and developers like PSW are looking for other ways to provide housing for the state’s growing population.

And they’re not just building houses, they’re creating communities.

While initially some home buyers hesitate when they see a smaller yard and a different floor plan than they’re accustomed to, as Casey Bernard commented: “Instead of spending time tending to a big yard or an oversized house, where everyone gathers in the kitchen anyway, we spend time inside and outside with our neighbors.”

The locations of PSW communities, the density of homes in them, as well as the way homes are sited all encourage a sense of connectivity—something which is sorely lacking in many housing developments built in the recent past. “Front porches, walkable streets and natural features all work to engender this shared experience,” says Diepenbrock. “We are in the business of place making.” 

The firm’s work was recognized with ProBuilder Magazine’s prestigious Gold Design Award for Urban Infill for PSW’s half-acre, four-home site in Austin’s Clarksville neighborhood, completed in 2014.

You’ll find PSW communities in Dallas and San Antonio, as well as Austin. They’re hoping to expand beyond Texas (initially to Seattle) in the near future. PSW chooses to build in thriving cities that are popular places to live, and looks not only for economic drivers but also cities with that elusive “quality of life” factor. If there’s a vibrant urban neighborhood in close proximity to transportation, work, recreation and cultural amenities, that’s where PSW wants to be. Their communities typically range from four to 50 units, thus creating pockets of density within existing neighborhoods.

Envisioning who is going to live in their homes is an important step in the PSW design-build process.  The company seeks to blend the best of 21st century environmentally-friendly technology and techniques with urban planning methods that brought us the livable, family-friendly neighborhoods of earlier times.

Buyers range from young families to empty nesters and first-time buyers to retiring professionals. One thing they all have in common: living in a popular neighborhood in energy efficient homes.

“We believe energy efficiency is as important as good design,” explained Ryan Diepenbrock, who brought PSW to Texas in 2005… Good design means that these compact homes “live big”—an important factor, in a state that has built its fair share of “McMansions.”

Apart from expanding outside of Texas, what does the future hold for PSW? “Always pushing ourselves to be at the forefront of smart, eco-friendly urban planning and architectural design,” says Diepenbrock. If you’re interested in urban communities that work, keep an eye out for PSW coming to a neighborhood near you.