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Brightwater Homes’ Sweet Apple Neighborhood Combines History with Modern Touches

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Brightwater Homes operates with the goal of creating neighborhoods that bring people together while leaving nature alone.

Change is inevitable. As the population in Atlanta and the surrounding area continues to grow, it’s only natural for development to follow. But in Atlanta’s affluent rural suburb of Milton, Ga., Brightwater Homes is following its best practice of environmental stewardship. The goal is to honor the legacy of the land with a new neighborhood that brings people together, while leaving nature alone. 

“As a builder, when you do something that’s special and close to your heart, and do it right with integrity — even if it may not be what the market seems to want — people will find you and be willing to pay for it if it’s done well,” says Charlie Bostwick, founding partner. 

Brightwater Homes’ development in the Sweet Apple neighborhood offers farmhouse living with acres of green space and wooded trails, a lake with a fishing dock, a gathering firepit and more. “The essence of Sweet Apple is that it is more of a rural area where you could enjoy the quiet of nature,” Bostwick explains. 

When Bostwick walked the Sweet Apple site years ago, he recognized the beauty of the landscape and made it his mission to not only preserve the more than 150 plant species, but the history of the location as well. “There were natural plantings that were there and had been there forever,” he remembers. “Native plants are one of my side hobbies, so I recognized them immediately and we designed the neighborhood around those more sensitive natural areas.”

In fact, 16 acres of Sweet Apple’s natural spaces are protected in perpetuity, crisscrossed only by miles of wooded trails for homeowners to use. 

Place-Appropriate Architecture

Brightwater Homes will build 36 custom homes in Sweet Apple that will pair the timeless character of farmhouse architecture outside with modern features inside. “Fortunately, the farmhouse aesthetic is popular, but it fits well in Sweet Apple,” Bostwick says. “The people who are finding us are saying they have been looking for years or decades for a true farmhouse feel and not just a regular home with farmhouse materials thrown on it.” 

A farmhouse grows over time, Bostwick explains. “The evolution of a farmhouse is that it starts with a box and then as the family grows, and they have the means to add on, a kitchen is added to the back of the house, bedrooms are added and so on,” he says. “We design the homes with that evolution in mind.” 

Brightwater Homes’ design allows homeowners to consciously recognize there are different parts of the house with different functions. Bostwick describes the design as genuine and positioned with views and topography in mind to capture the quality of the landscape. 

The interior of Sweet Apple homes flow like a modern home with open plans, mudrooms and large kitchen islands complete with 2020 finishes. Brightwater Homes’ Sweet Apple is one of the first new residential neighborhoods in Georgia to offer solar panel arrays as a standard feature on every home, Bostwick notes. 

“One of the things we are trying to do is be a leader in sustainability in the market,” he says. “We are the only active neighborhood in Atlanta and Georgia right now including solar panels on every home.”

Also, Brightwater Homes is conscious about insulation and HVAC units. Most homes have two HVAC units, and the units and duct work are in conditioned or semi-conditioned spaces. “When you are in the heat of summer and have an HVAC unit in a hot attic that’s 130 degrees, that’s inefficient,” Bostwick says. “We install the units in conditioned and semi-conditioned spaces to increase efficiency.”

The company also tries to reuse as much material as possible. For example, a fence that ran the length of the property had to be taken down. Brightwater Homes saved the boards and used them to create trim details inside Sweet Apple homes. 

Preserving the Natural Habitat

Before Bostwick became a homebuilder and architect, he was an environmentalist. When he founded Brightwater Homes in 2011, Bostwick didn’t see why he couldn’t combine all three of his passions. 

“I grew up really appreciating the natural world and wanting to do my part to protect it,” he says. “I value what it does for us as humans and think we naturally appreciate whether we recognize it or not. Nature is something that’s enjoyable and worth protecting and saving.”

That passion is reflected in Sweet Apple because Brightwater Homes preserved 60 percent of the space. As a result, homeowners are not only able to live surrounded by native plant species, but also the wildlife it attracts. 

Chuck-will’s-widow birds, for example, live on the property because the company was able to save so much of their habitat. Bostwick adds that planting an oak tree native to Georgia may attract 100 butterflies, but planting one native to Asia may only get one butterfly.

One of the rarer plants in the Sweet Apple neighborhood is the pink lady’s slipper, a large, showy wildflower belonging to the orchid family. “People who are interested in living here have embraced all of this,” Bostwick says. “The kids in the neighborhood and their parents are interested in the pink lady’s slipper after learning last April it would bloom again. They go back into the woods every day to see if it blooms and it can’t be moved or it will die.”

Homeowners in Sweet Apple work with Brightwater Homes to understand which plants are best to add to their yards. The company used plants native to Georgia and the Piedmont region in landscaping. “The plants feel right, don’t feel foreign and go with the farmhouse,” Bostwick says. “They feel natural to what you would expect in the region.” 

Because of its work on preserving the natural habitat in Sweet Apple, Bostwick says other local builders are coming to him for advice on how to preserve more of the land that they build on.

“I think all builders like to be outdoors, but they just haven’t processed this connection between their behavior and the impact,” he says. “I happily share and teach other builders how to preserve nature. Hopefully, we are at the start of a major cultural shift among everyone to recognize we have one small planet and it’s worth saving.” 

Creating Better Places

Brightwater Homes’ mission is to create better places for people to live by using better land planning, architecture and sustainable practices. This summer, the company will begin building its first net-zero home in Palmetto Bluff. This is a master-planned community in Charleston, N.C. 

“We want to build a home that doesn’t take any more from the grid than it puts back into the grid,” Bostwick explains. “We are going to learn a lot from building that home and hopefully that has value to our customers and others who want to be part of learning from better practices.” 

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