01 Nov Renovation shows changing tastes of homebuyers, builders
A generation ago, Allie and Derek Farrell might have purchased a house in one of the new suburbs sprouting up around Nashville. Instead, when the Farrells bought their home last year, they chose the Germantown and Salemtown area in the heart of the city.
Their decision reflects how the tastes of homebuyers have changed over the years, said Jeff Zeitlin, who leads 70-year-old Martin Construction. The family-run company renovated the Farrells’ 1920s house not far from the state Capitol and launched many of the suburbs across the region. It is the oldest continuously operating home building company in the city.
Those suburbs — including Crieve Hall’s one-level ranches and Cottonwood, the first planned unit development in Middle Tennessee — still have some of the region’s strongest home values. It’s not unusual for homes to sell in hours, not days.
They are like a time capsule, showing how the shape and size of homes have changed to fit the way families live in them.
Building for lifestyle
“We were building for families. Every house was a family house. The average family went from three kids to two to 1.5. Now the majority of houses I build are for singles and couples,” Zeitlin said.
Instead of building in the suburbs, the company is active in Germantown, Salemtown and other urban areas popular with a range of homebuyers from older downsizers to millennials, like the Farrells.
“It’s great for the lifestyle we’re living — newlyweds, the nightlife,” Allie Farrell said. “We walk and eat at all the restaurants.”
Like their friends and neighbors of all ages, the Farrells enjoy the convenience of living in the city’s urban core.
“It’s very accessible, very central. We go to Bridgestone (Arena) all the time. East Nashville is a hop, skip and a jump away,” Allie Farrell said.
Before moving to the heart of the city, they each had a house in more suburban settings. Martin Construction followed a similar path.
Martin Zeitlin, Jeff Zeitlin’s father and the company’s founder, built his first house in 1949 in the neighborhood between West End Avenue and Green Hills near where Interstate 440 is now.
Today, after decades in the suburbs, the company is building in Germantown and Salemtown. It’s also opening four houses along Charlotte Pike at 33rd Avenue on a site close to I-440.
“We’ve done a full circle,” Jeff Zeitlin said.
Martin Zeitlin’s first house was a ranch, which was then a new design. When he participated in launching Crieve Hall in the 1950s, he stayed with that cutting-edge one-level floor plan and added something new. They were the first in Nashville to offer central air-conditioning as a standard feature.
The company participated in Nashville’s westward growth in the 1960s with construction in Valley West. At the time, the neighborhood between Highways 70 and 100 had one store and few residences.
The company developed Cottonwood in the 1970s and 1980s. The region’s first planned unit development included a pool and a clubhouse. Those amenities have become standard features in master planned communities. It’s not unusual for homes in Cottonwood to be owned by the children or grandchildren of the original owners, Zeitlin said.
The neighborhood has a consistent architectural theme: Colonial Williamsburg.
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The 1980s saw the development of Chickering Woods, which Jeff Zeitlin said was the first community where each home was integrated with computerized technology. Environmental stewardship was part of the building process, and the company built several house around trees in the Treetops in Harpeth Trace community.
“The project I’m most proud of is the project I didn’t do,” Zeitlin said.
Instead of building on 21 acres adjacent to Edwin Warner Park, he transferred his contract for the land to the Friends of Warner Park.
“These 21 acres were the catalyst for the Friends of Warner Park to preserve and add hundreds of more acres into the Warner Parks,” he said.
Return to city centers
As home buyers across the country returned to city centers, so did Martin Construction, along with floor plans designed for city life.
The Farrell’s home is on a long, narrow lot. It has room for two small outdoor spaces for grilling or relaxing, as opposed to the large outdoor kitchens popular in the suburbs. Zeitlin’s new houses have outdoor spaces on three levels – ground floor, a veranda and higher.
The Farrells’ early 20th century house has a fireplace, but you won’t find one in most new homes nearby. Millennials aren’t home tending a fire, anyway.
“They would rather have windows or a big screen TV,” Jeff Zeitlin said.
In the suburbs you’ll probably find the master bedroom on the first floor. but not so much in the city.
“The majority are third or fourth floor masters,” Jeff Zeitlin said. “They have the best view.”