Anyone driving down Studewood in The Heights last summer — whether they were a neighbor or a foodie visiting the wildly popular Liberty Kitchen — probably noticed the construction of an ample, Creole-style home that would by the end of the year fetch one of the highest sale prices per square foot in all of The Heights.
As the house started to take shape with generous custom woodwork, a six-month cured walnut kitchen island and reclaimed red oak floors — and as word got out that it started as a spec house — intrigue grew. Not a custom home in the traditional sense, yet no discernible “builder package” and an uncommon level of quality in finishes. In the deeply connected Heights, word of mouth matters most, and the home building world is no different.
When the approachable but definitely unfamiliar name Smith Family Homes showed up on signage, realtors and neighbors alike paid attention and wanted to find out just who Smith Family Homes is.
It turns out Smith Family Homes is in fact a family business with that quintessential American surname. The Smiths are Bradley and Summer, fresh-faced Heights residents and native Houstonians who live just down the street from their recent $1.65M construction. If it seems like they appeared overnight, it betrays a long process of deliberation on their part about what exactly is happening in the new residential construction world in Houston.
“As a realtor, I was constantly approached by developers and investors who knew that The Heights was hot and wanted to capitalize on its growth,” Bradley says, “. . . But what I wasn’t hearing from them was a vision for the community, a lasting impact. It made us ask ourselves, ‘What is our vision for this community? What impact do we want to have?’ ”
From these questions, Summer Heights, their first development on the 600 block of Allston was born, and their vision became crystal clear.
“We wanted to capture the detail, quality, comfort, and character of a custom home within a developer business model, in a market where buyers want to show up, add a couple of personal touches and move-in,” Summer explains. “We are building spec homes but the kind where someone walks in and immediately feels at home, as if they were part of the entire process, whether they’re a young family, empty nester, or urban professional.”
With the six homes of Summer Heights, their style started to translate from vision into reality: Thoughtful, timeless, livable homes.
Their partnership as Smith Family Homes benefited from their natural affinity as simply Mr. & Mrs. Smith, making it easier to identify complementary strengths and form a remarkably viable operation. Brad is the visionary seeing the fine points of his reverie through on a daily basis, down to the very last detail. Summer is the situational leader who fits people and process together to bring the vision to life, channeling inspiration into creative output.
As they refined their model, fervor for the vision grew and so did its scope. They affirmed, “Our underlying philosophy is to build a home that someone feels is uniquely theirs. For a family with young children, this could mean including a gameroom with thoughtful storage. For those who like to entertain, an elegant dining area with wine feature and outdoor kitchen. Meanwhile, every imaginable detail is accounted for to craft a uniquely desirable space.”
What does this look like in practice?
Cortlandt transports you to the French Countryside. Harvard captures an effortless Hamptons chic. Aurora is rustic and refined with its brick accents. Creole on Main brings the spirit of New Orleans to a neighborhood still trying to take on a life of its own beyond just being situated between Montrose and Upper Kirby. Bourbon Court in Oak Forest has a private community feel in a well-established neighborhood revitalizing in all the right ways with new retail and restaurants and the same community pride.
“When we’re envisioning a new project, we don’t just look at the land, we look at the neighborhood, the trees, the schools, we talk to the neighbors. We build homes that attract people who want to be a part of that community," Bradley adds.
To bring their product to the market, Bradley and Summer sought the expertise of someone who understands what home buyers want. Bill Baldwin, the broker and owner of Boulevard Realty in The Heights agrees that they are meeting a need among homeowners.
“There are a lot of buyers in Houston right now with frustration for one reason or another: a negative experience in the custom home process, having lived in a gated development where you have the same house as your neighbor, or just overall low quality,” Baldwin says.
He correlates this to a whole demographic and economic shift in the city. "What’s brought so many buyers to the city and especially the Inner Loop is our economy," Baldwin says. "While people care about their home’s details, they just don’t have time to be poring over the minutiae. Bradley and Summer are on to something with their style of building, and I think it starts with the fact that they really love homes.”
A noted lover of homes, Baldwin shares the Smiths’ passion for conscious community building by building great homes. The owner of the renovated William A. Wilson house in Woodlands Heights, originally built in 1910 as the private home of a development pioneer, Baldwin knows that the present glory of the neighborhood he shares with Bradley and Summer is no accident.
“I think people tend to have the belief that one day we woke up and the streets were beautiful and tree-lined and the schools were great, but it took a few visionaries and many years of dedicated community investment to get here," Baldwin says.
"And Bradley and Summer are making that investment with these spectacular homes.”