Ten years ago when I began writing this column I did a total immersion in the world of production home building. In five days I visited more than 40 townhouse and single-family projects in both stand-alone subdivisions and planned communities spread out across the Northern Virginia suburbs. On my last day I stopped at a townhouse project in Reston, Va. After touring dozens of furnished models with similar plans, similar decorating schemes with similar colors, and minimal landscaping, this one was different. The moment I walked through the front door, I could sense the hand of a designer at work. Instead of the desultory backyard that I had come to expect, a large framed view of a wooded area behind the project beckoned me forward. As I took in the rest of the house, I noted that the eat-...
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