Eileen: Empty nester finds community where she can soar

Greenwood Avenue Cottages

Eileen, 57, raised three children in the Eastside home near the high school where she taught junior high for ten years. In early 2002, with all three of her children in college and only one left at home, the single mom began thinking about the next chapter of her life. "I wasn't actively looking to move, but knew I wanted to simplify my life with a smaller home," says Eileen . "I also wanted to find more of a close-knit community."

At the time, Eileen was investigating a co-housing group that a friend of hers was involved with — the idea being that they would purchase land together and build a community of town houses. Eileen was initially attracted to the concept of an intentional community of people with shared values.

"I was looking for a lifestyle as much as a place to live," she explains. "But it was all a bit too structured for me. They had rules about how many meals per week people would eat together, and everyone was expected to sign up for cooking, gardening and even childcare. I wanted a community where being close just happened organically instead of having so many rules and expectations."

Someone in this group mentioned that the newly-built Greenwood Avenue Cottages in Shoreline, Washington might be a good model for them to look at. Eileen went to take a look at the two-bedroom plus loft cottages, put a down payment on one the very next day.

"Developers Linda Pruitt and Jim Soules were a big reason I was sold so quickly, even though only one home was completely finished," Eileen recalls. "They were so passionate about the high level of quality materials in the homes, as well as the concept of creating layers of public spaces and private living spaces. I knew we were on the same page."

All Cottage Company communities have these "layers" — a lush ornamental common garden around which the houses are arranged, a sidewalk where neighbors wave as they pass by if you are sitting on your porch. But, at the same time, the homes are planned for privacy with an open and closed side, so you don't peer into your neighbor's windows, and even the back porches have a very private feeling.

Several months later, Eileen moved in with her son, who lived in the daylight lower level bedroom, and her 79-year-old mother, who lived in the main floor bedroom. "Even with three people living in the 1,000-square foot house, there was plenty of space," says Eileen , whose bedroom was the upstairs loft. "And, we all had our privacy."

Eileen 's son moved out in 2005, and her mom passed away in fall 2006, leaving her to enjoy her two-bedroom home by herself — but not alone. Her neighbors are always there for her when she needs them, but never intrusive.

In fact, Pruitt and Soules arranged an impromptu Saturday night get-together even before Eileen moved in, so she could meet the other two women who would be her neighbors. It's a tradition that's blossomed as the community has grown over the past six years. "As more people moved into the eight cottages we continued to meet on Saturday evenings for cocktails and hors d'eouvres at someone's home," Eileen recalls. "Everyone was invited but nobody was obligated to come or even RSVP."

Eventually, the community members began having a pot luck dinner in the Commons building. Nobody plans it or discusses what they're bringing and even if everyone brings a dessert, that's just fine. The Saturday night potluck tradition remains today. "Over the years we've celebrated birthdays, graduations, weddings and anniversaries together," says Eileen . When her mother died, she was touched that neighbors ordered in food for an evening gathering of the community after the memorial service. "There's a true experience of life events going on in this small community. People come together easily and readily, to celebrate and grieve, to help each other in good times and bad."