Gnome Sweet Gnome
If you’ve been out to see the New Urban Courtyard model homes in Skyline Park, you probably noticed the beautiful touches like the community firepit and turquoise table. These were all the work of our amazing storytelling treasure hunter Ana Stapleton. As a frequent Easton Park collaborator, Ana often helps us bring our models to life and show prospective buyers how they can make their homes truly their own. We sat down with her on Zoom recently to get the scoop on the new models, learn what’s up with those cute plastic gnomes, and find out where she gets all her amazing décor!
EP: So, tell us how it all started. Where does a project like this begin?
Ana: These Urban Courtyard Homes are built so that four homes wrap around a common exterior area. And I was brought in to help with the visual storytelling in the model homes: we wanted each home to reflect the different personalities of the families that we were imagining live there, and also show fun ways the families could all be in community together. It was also important to create a sense of belonging in each home, so that the family could have privacy but also share in a collective experience.
EP: Tell about finding all the furniture and accessories.
Ana: My first step was to look at the mood board from the interiors to get a sense for what the families might be drawn to. We used visual cues from the interiors; for example, in one home, the little boy’s room had trains, so the rainboots I chose for an outside porch have trains, too. I look everywhere – online, in person, at thrift stores! And for all the things we purchased and made, we put up signs with QR codes with links to the Brookfield Residential Pinterest board, so people can get inspired in the models and then go buy the same or similar items or get the directions to make the DIY stuff. We want all of this to be really attainable!
EP: That’s so cool! Who were the families?
Ana: The design team had created some really fun personalities for us to work with. In our first home, the Dickinson, we have a chef, Jamie, and his wife Amanda and their young daughter Avery. So for that home, we thought about all the things a chef might have on his porch and backyard. Maybe he would be the leader of the cooking effort for his neighbors—he would have the grill on his back patio, plus a toy grill for Avery to play on. He also has this really cool butcher paper roll where he can write out the menu for the neighbors, or Avery can draw.
For the front porch, this is the first exterior people see when they come around the corner from the parking area into the model park, so we wanted to make a big first impression. We picked a really dramatic porch swing and few elements that would make sense for their family, like a tricycle at the front door for Avery and cute signs.
EP: I love that porch swing! It’s so good. Tell us about another family.
Ana: So, right next door to the Dickinson is the Allen. For this home, our family was Mike and Patricia, who have a young son, Sebastian. And we imagined that Avery and Sebastian would need some places to play, so we put a small table on the porch so they could draw or eat snacks. But for this home, we got really excited about the backyard—we made a DIY chalkboard that mounts on the side of the house, as well as a cute seesaw that anyone can make for less than $30.
EP: That’s amazing!
Ana: Thanks! And I think that’s one thing that is worth mentioning—none of this outdoor decor has to be expensive.
EP: I love that. What other things did you make for the project?
Ana: Some of my favorite moments are at the Langston—this is where we’re imagining Molly lives with her dog, Buster. Molly has a beautiful boho vibe going on the interior, so we carried that through with rattan chairs, a great pink rug, and a turtle planter, because she loves animals. Molly likes to garden, so she and Chef Jamie share the container garden between their yards. And Molly is single, so we thought there might be times when she needs some privacy from her neighbors, like if she has her friends over or a date. So we did some really cool DIY privacy drapes around her patio, so she could choose how much she wants to participate with the rest of the community.
EP: Oh! How did you do the drapes?
Ana: It wasn’t hard! We painted conduit pipe from the hardware store for the rod and get some exterior curtains off of Amazon. Again, all the links are on the Pinterest board. Also, for this house, we also thought about Buster and what he would need—there’s a personalized leash holder for him on the front porch, and then there’s a whole dog run in the back with a doghouse, so he has places to play and chill.
EP: So then what is the last house, the Heritage?
Ana: Yes! The Heritage is where our professional couple with no kids, Henry and Mia, live with their dog Lulu. They’re the fun ones—they have that extra bonus room over their garage, where all the neighbors can gather to hang out. And so outside, we thought for them it might be fun to have a bar cart for cocktail time. They have an exterior living room on their front porch that’s super lounge-y.
EP: Tell us about the shared spaces.
Ana: The shared spaces were an opportunity to think about if you lived with your best friends in the same cul-de-sac, what would you want to have between you? We thought a firepit would be a great moment to bring everyone together. And, we were planning this before COVID, so it turned out to be even better than we thought! We got some durable but affordable Adirondack chairs so everyone has a place to relax. And a turquoise table for eating tacos and enjoying the views!
EP: What’s the turquoise table?
Ana: That actually has a cool backstory—Turquoise Table is a national project from right here in Austin. A woman named Kristin put a turquoise picnic table in her yard to encourage neighbors to visit with each other, and it’s become a movement and a sign of hospitality. If you see a turquoise table it means you’re invited to come sit. We actually purchased ours from the founder, and it raised money for their non-profit.
EP: That’s amazing! Tell us about the gnomes.
Ana: So, one of the challenges of this project was thinking about how the families would communicate with each other. Like, how do they let each other know when do they want to hang out or have privacy? As I was starting to work on this project, I took a trip to North Carolina and stayed at a fun hotel there that had these big papier mache penguins that were roving mascots for the hotel. They would move around; you might come upon them in the elevator or by the pool. So playing off that idea, we thought, what if we had a garden gnome that was a touchpoint for each family?
We found an artist from Germany who made these perfectly sized plastic gnomes, and we had lanyards made that say Hi and BYE, so the families can flip the tags to let each other know if they’re feeling social. We got each family a gnome in a different color, and then tried to match all the other exterior accents so it would tie in.
Thanks so much to Ana for taking us through all the exteriors of the Urban Courtyard Homes! Come see them for yourself, or take the video tours anytime:
See the Heritage
See the Dickinson
See the Langston
See the Allen