Dallas developer Diane Cheatham is a dedicated modernist and committed environmentalist.
As CEO of Urban Edge Developers, Ltd., Cheatham has brought those values to her work in multiple settings, from small infill condos and townhomes that won multiple design awards, to her masterpiece at Urban Reserve, a signature modern neighborhood that uses sustainable features creatively.
It’s a trend she’s happy to say is showing up more in North Texas.
“I see more developers and builders responding to consumer demand by building modern and green,” Cheatham said. “The style is much more accepted in Dallas now, and a growing segment of homebuyers are interested in green building and a more modern aesthetic. I’d like to see more developers thinking out of the box, providing more options at all price levels.”
Cheatham envisions and creates enclaves that are both eco-friendly and people-friendly. At Urban Reserve, for example, a reservoir that gets neighborhood run-off water is used to irrigate common spaces and individual lawns. Every house is required to have LEED-H certification. Her own house at 1 Vanguard Way, which she shares with her husband Chuck, has geothermal heating and cooling, energy-saving windows, and an 18,000-gallon cistern that collects rain runoff from the roof. Homeowners in the community are encouraged “not to do the standard Dallas fences,” and many of the homes feature indoor-outdoor living spaces that encourage interaction with neighbors and passers-by.
These efforts have not gone unnoticed. Urban Reserve has earned multiple recognition and awards, like the 2007 Dallas AIA Excellence in Sustainable Design, 2007 CLIDE Award (Celebrating Leadership in Development Excellence), and a 2009 award from Eco-Structure Magazine, where Urban Reserve was distinguished as one of seven innovative projects.
All this took rule-breaking by Cheatham as she customized street widths to slow traffic, created rain gardens and retention ponds, and made the basic infrastructure and layout of the development conducive to her overall vision.
“It’s taken longer than expected, but there are only six lots of the 50 left and work is proceeding on six homes with eight more in various stages of design,” she said. “The realization of Urban Reserve has been the hardest [of all my projects], and as it nears completion, it is also the most satisfying. Being out there on the cutting edge proved to be more complicated than I anticipated.”
Before Urban Reserve, Cheatham was involved in many forward-thinking projects around Dallas. In 2002, for example, she teamed up with architect Edward M. Baum to build four modern townhomes in Oak Lawn near Maple and Throckmorton. These 1,700-square-foot residences resemble a hybrid of a classic California ranch house and early Eichler designs, and were priced to make them accessible to middle-class families.
When the time came to begin Urban Reserve, Cheatham chose a Lake Highlands location near Central Expressway, White Rock Trail, and the DART Light Rail. Few people realize that the land was a number of small parcels owned by different individuals—they usually think it was just an undeveloped site at the end of the park.
Cheatham did in fact envision a park-like reserve setting for modern homes. Planner and landscape architect Kevin Sloan of the Kevin Sloan Studio is responsible for the landscape of the neighborhood, “designed to operate as a social and environmental filter,” he said.
Cheatham’s commitment to green building was ahead of the curve.
“When we started Urban Reserve in 2004, everyone told me bluntly that it was silly to spend extra money on environmentally friendly homes,” she said. “However, green issues have become a front-and-center focus for government, architects, and developers since that time. The Green Building Council’s LEED certifications have showcased this effort. It’s difficult to develop any project now without environmental considerations—and that’s a very good thing!”
With the eco-friendly cornerstone firmly in place, Cheatham began to get interest from architects, many of whom have built their personal homes in Urban Reserve (Max Levy, Ross Conway, Russell Buchanan, Evan Beattie, and Lionel Morrison are a few notable names). Every house goes before an architectural review board and is approved by Cheatham herself before being built.
“I love the process of working with great architects, sharing vision, ideas, solving challenges, experimenting with new concepts and materials,” she said. “Rather than calling out favorites, I tell people that my favorite architect is the one I am working with now. However, the designers of Urban Reserve homes include a hall-of-fame list of leading local, regional, and national architects.”
Cheatham and her husband have lived in many residences she built over three decades, mostly in Uptown. But they always talked about building what they called “The House.” Urban Reserve offered the couple the opportunity to build that house and they wanted to be part of the community.
“When Urban Reserve was being planned, I reserved 1 Vanguard Way at its entrance for the house that was designed for our lifestyle and us,” Cheatham said. “Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects surprised us with a three-story design with pool and outdoor entertainment space on the second level. It’s a modern urban tree house with large kitchen and entertainment areas.”
We’ve written about her fantastic kitchen (The Coolest Pantry in Dallas Belongs to Diane Cheatham Over at The Urban Reserve), and the concrete-and-steel house is both her professional and personal showcase. It is one of less than a dozen private homes designed by New York firm Tod Williams and Billie Tsien—they are mainly known for museums and publicly owned buildings.
As Urban Reserve nears completion, Cheatham has her eye on other projects.
“I’ve been working for the last two years acquiring property in North Dallas (Richardson schools) for a very urban home development,” she said. “The concept is to develop smaller homes appealing to professionals—singles and couples—set in shared green space with a collective community. Stay tuned.”
We will, and expect to hear about more exciting, leading-edge creations from this Dallas developer.