Perfect blend: JZA+D creates mixed-use space in Princeton that accentuates, enhances suburban community in which it sits

Everyone has seen a few stories of apartments above a commercial store — it seemingly has been a staple of every Main Street in the state for generations.

Here’s the question: Is there a better way to design them? One that’s more inviting to a residential area. One that makes sustainability a central goal. One that blends age-old concepts with new-age thinking.

In a neighborhood just outside the central business district of Princeton — an area that is starting to mix residential and commercial properties — Joshua Zinder Architecture + Design is doing just that.

The site of a former glass-and-aluminum fabrication shop, Nelson Glass House, now features six elegant new apartments, set atop a reimagined commercial space hosting a coffee counter and a cigar bar.

JZA+D founder and Managing Partner Joshua Zinder, the lead designer on the project, feels the project is most notable for bringing a modern aesthetic to a street dominated by traditional architecture.

“Nelson Glass House is sustainable, accessible and celebrates Princeton’s architectural diversity,” he said. “And the street-facing retail has activated the street socially, in a way that neighbors appreciate.”

Zinder said solutions like this are key to creating much-needed missing-middle housing: affordable and sustainable multifamily developments at house scale in diverse, walkable communities.

“The Nelson family have owned both 45 Spring St. and the house next door to it for decades, so we were designing the redevelopment for a client who loves the neighborhood as much as anyone else,” Zinder said. “They understood what it would mean to add more housing here, and what the right approach to redevelopment would mean for the block’s longtime residents.”

Here are the details:

Each floor is stepped back from the one below to reduce the massing and allow light and air to reach the street level while also creating terraces for residents to enjoy.

The nearly 11,000 new square feet of development in the center of Princeton offers a one-bedroom, three two-bedroom and two three-bedroom units, including one unit earmarked as affordable housing. All of them enjoy modern interiors with energy- and water-efficient appliances and fixtures, plus exposed brick and plenty of daylight. Shared amenities include an elevator for ease of access, on-site parking and bike storage.

The exterior blends brick with glass rails and aluminum trim — a nod to the legacy of the Nelson Glass & Aluminum Co., and the contributions of the family owners. The design meets LEED Silver-level requirements for green building, with features such as a planted green roof and parking lot composed of permeable pavers for managing stormwater.

Then there’s this: Zinder’s team designed an addition rising to just under the height of neighboring apartment buildings. Each floor is stepped back from the one below to reduce the massing and allow light and air to reach the street level while also creating terraces for residents to enjoy.

The result: Zinder said not only are neighbors delighted by the new housing and retail options, but developers are taking note of the innovative approach to increasing density in areas where approvals for innovation are notoriously hard to wrangle.

According to Zinder, developers who have seen Nelson Glass House are keen to replicate its success in other neighborhoods and towns.

“This exact design won’t work everywhere, but it shows that innovative strategies for adding housing in contextually sensitive areas can win approvals,” he said. “Adding units above commercial space is just one strategy among many we’ve developed for building the communities that people want, and that every growing municipality needs.”

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Reach JZA+D at: or call 609-924-5004.