Robert Digitale (The Press Democrat)

Renie Aguayo came to check out the home’s 9-foot-tall ceilings, the “chipped ice” quartz countertops and the laurel vinyl plank flooring.

She later crossed a cul-de-sac to look inside another house and view its new white kitchen cabinets and a floor-to-ceiling, silver travertine fireplace.

Aguayo, a Keysight Technologies customer service representative whose given name is Irene, admitted she had been eager to see the interiors of the two newly completed homes in Coffey Park.

“I’ll know more of what our house is going to look like,” she explained.

Aguayo was one of 200 guests who turned out earlier this month to view the opening of two model homes, not in a new housing subdivision but in the heart of a neighborhood where more than 1,200 homes burned last fall.

The idea of model homes in a burn zone may turn heads. But both builders and fire survivors say it makes sense to give prospective customers something more to look at than architectural drawings and swatches of carpet samples.

“This makes it real,” said Magie O’Meara, a retired gardening retailer who lost her home in Coffey Park on Pine Meadow Place.

O’Meara and Aguayo are both having their houses rebuilt by the model homes’ builder, Gallaher Homes of Windsor. Both said the models’ grand opening gave neighbors a shot in the arm as they look forward to moving back into their neighborhood.

At least one more builder plans to open a model home in Coffey Park this summer. Other companies, which are essentially rebuilding the same house using designs to replicate what originally burned, also have set up ways for fire survivors to pick out new flooring, countertops and various fixtures.

The October wildfires claimed 24 lives and nearly 5,300 homes in Sonoma. 

Four people died in Coffey Park, a compact residential neighborhood where 1,240 homes burned.

Gallaher Homes, owned by longtime builders Bill and Cindy Gallaher, built the two model homes on lots that had been used as rental properties before the fires. The company agreed to lease back the rebuilt homes from the owners, possibly for the next few years.

Molly Flater, the Gallahers’ daughter and the company’s chief operating officer, said fire survivors have so many questions about home designs.

“It’s sometime hard to visualize,” Flater said. Now the staff can tell prospective clients, “Let’s go see it.”

The company previously installed a client information office that is open daily near Coffey Lane and Hopper Avenue. The model homes sit a few blocks away on Nina Court, and Gallaher Homes soon will open a third model nearby for those interested in two-story designs.

Larger builders in Coffey Park have offered fire survivors different choices on rebuilding. And those choices affect how the companies help clients select items for their home interiors.

Santa Rosa builder Tux Tuxhorn has signed up 50 owners of homes that he originally built in Coffey Park over a quarter century ago. The rebuilt home exteriors will look mostly like “what they had before,” said Tuxhorn, who lost his own home northeast of Santa Rosa during the fires. 

Even so, he opened an office where customers can pick tiles and flooring, and he sends them to suppliers where they can choose such items as lighting fixtures and kitchen appliances.

Similarly, APM Homes president Aaron Matz is rebuilding homes that his grandfather, Art Condiotti, built in Coffey Park three decades ago. The homes’ exterior footprints remain the same, he said, though clients may choose to move some interior walls.

For such clients, Matz said, “it’s not as critical for them to have a physical representation” of the home’s design.

The company now has about 55 homes to rebuild in the neighborhood.

APM has set up a sales trailer near the neighborhood park. There customers can pick out flooring, countertops, cabinetry and plumbing and light fixtures.

In contrast, Gallaher Homes is offering at least 14 home designs that are new to the neighborhood, with house names like Tulip, Buttercup and Lilac. Model homes make it easier for customers to grasp what they would be buying, just as they do in new subdivisions.

“I think what Bill’s doing there is smart,” Matz said, “and it helps people to understand what he’s offering.”

Andy Christopherson, one of three partners in Synergy Group by Christopherson, is offering 14 new floor plans for those who wish to rebuild.

The company is trying to reduce the number of choices that clients need to make by offering few upgrades and putting the same fixtures in the Coffey Park homes as it did in a $1.5 million rebuild in the Fountaingrove neighborhood, Christopherson said. The standard features include solid wood interior doors and an oversized kitchen sink.

Synergy Group plans to open a model home in Coffey Park within the next six weeks, Christopherson said. In the meantime, clients have been viewing so-called “flipped” homes that the company purchased and remodeled elsewhere in the city.

“We ask people to go and tour those homes,” he said. Synergy has signed up clients to rebuild about 100 homes in the neighborhood.

Gallaher Homes has signed contracts to rebuild 79 homes in Coffey Park, Flater said. The company plans to soon expand its outreach to other burned areas, including the Mark West and Hidden Valley neighborhoods.

Aguayo expressed gratitude that Gallaher Homes was rebuilding her family’s place, which also is on Pine Meadow. She said she chose the company because the Gallahers, their daughter Flater and Cindy Gallaher’s mother all lost homes in the fire.

“They get it,” Aguayo said. “They know how we felt.”

Both Aguayo and O’Meara said the opening of the model homes gave neighbors something to smile about, even as they look forward to moving back home.

“It gives you a little more hope,” O’Meara said, “and a little more patience.”

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit.