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Windows on the Gulf

A Seaside, FL, vacation house gains detail and character after a recent renovation.

Project: Ventanas, Seaside, FL

Architects: Opticos Architecture, Inc., Seaside, FL; Braulio Casas, AIA, NCARB, principal

By Hadiya Strasberg

Seaside, FL, while the oldest New Urbanist community, is a relatively new town; the 80-acre resort was planned from 1981 to 1982 and houses have been constructed in 15 stages from 1982 to the present. So it is surprising to learn that one residence of very recent vintage has undergone renovation.

Ventanas, so named by its second owners – it translates from Spanish as "windows" – was originally built in the tenth build-out of Seaside, in 2002. It was designed by Scott Merrill, Seaside town architect from 1989 to 1990 and now a principal at Merrill, Pastor & Colgan Architects of Vero Beach, FL, but, due to budgetary issues, Merrill's vision was not seen through in its entirety. When it was sold a few years after construction, the new homeowners became interested in aligning the house more closely with Merrill's original intention.

The renovation began as a proposal to add shutters. "I was introduced to the house when the new owners approached the Seaside Architectural Review Committee hoping to gain approval for the addition of shutters," says current town architect Braulio Casas, also principal of Opticos Architecture, Inc. Any change affecting the exterior of a house must be approved by the committee, which follows architectural and urban guidelines set by the town. "One of the main reasons we are so rigorous about the approval process is because there is a certain decorum as to how one places shutters on a building, for instance. We don't want them to go on ad hoc or be the wrong size or have incorrect proportions." After Casas cautioned the couple about adding shutters to their house, it became evident that they were interested in a larger renovation. "The owners said that they didn't like how thin and spare the exterior moldings and profiles were and that they were hoping to give them more of a presence," says Casas. "We came up with some sketches that tackled that problem from a more holistic point of view."

With two stories and approximately 3,200 sq.ft. of conditioned space, the house is a roomy four bedroom with three and a half bathrooms. As built, it featured wood siding, a gently sloping metal roof and a plethora of windows, all common elements in this beach town. Opticos Architecture left them in place, focusing on other things.

What the house was lacking was detail. "It was very much a typical background Seaside cottage," says Casas. "About 90 percent of the house was built according to Merrill's design, so it had good bones. The symmetry, good proportions and attenuated and tall lines that Scott established were there, but, due to disagreements with the original builder and a tightened budget, the crafting of the detail was sorely lacking or poorly executed."

To remedy this, Opticos Architecture added thicker moldings and more robust profiles, including casing and trim, and pediments on the east and west sides as well as a more pronounced and repositioned order to emphasize the piano nobile. "By adding the thickness in moldings and profiles, the house had more character and was better able to receive the shutters," Casas explains.

The firm took inspiration from Merrill's built works at Seaside. "We asked ourselves, 'What would Scott have done?' and we responded in kind," says Casas. "It may not be exactly how Scott would have done things, but, when I shared my pictures with him, he was complimentary of our renovations."

Opticos Architecture did not work with Merrill, Pastor & Colgan Architects, but Merrill did provide Casas with background documents. "I was in a very sensitive position and didn't want to step on Scott's toes," says Casas, "so my initial phone call to him was to ask what he thought about our intervening on a house he had originally designed. When he explained that his vision hadn't been fully realized, I knew that I had an opportunity to renovate this house in a way the two of us and the clients could all be proud of."

The firm did more than add exterior moldings; it changed the siding, the entrance and the color scheme. "The use of the existing singular type of siding made for a very bland house," says Casas, "which ran contrary to the way the house type was established. The type was developed to have a strong pronounced base that sat in contrast to the height of the piano nobile." He decided to add a solid base and choose a very heavy siding material – 5¼x9¼ rusticated western red cedar custom milled by local millworker Dave Larocca. To extend its longevity, the siding has kerfs. "On the Gulf Coast, any siding material you use has to breathe," Casas explains. "Otherwise it will rot. Not only did we put a great deal of emphasis on the kinds of materials, but we also emphazized how they were applied. We applied the siding on furring strips to provide an air space."

The firm also lowered the belt course to emphasize the base and distinguish the piano nobile. "The second floor now sits on a fairly modest base," says Casas. "The piano nobile is quite a bit more robust both in volume and in height."

On the north façade, Opticos Architecture designed a two-story timber-frame structure that serves as the main entrance and second-story porch. A timber-frame balcony was also added to the second story on the west side; together, the outdoor spaces total about 900 sq.ft. on top of about 1,200 sq.ft. of porches that already existed. Larocca custom milled the western red cedar timber frames and brackets for the porches. The columns were fabricated by Chadsworth Columns of Wilmington, NC.

Getting approval for the north-side porch was a challenge, because Seaside's architectural code pertaining to Ventanas only allowed for a single-story portico with a gable roof, which was what existed. "As part of the design approval process," says Casas, "one has to make the case for the change based on architectural merit for adding anything outside the guidelines of the codes. We drew sketches for the committee to make it clear that the porch was a significant architectural gain. In the end, we made a compelling case that the addition of this porch would improve not only the house but the surrounding urban fabric as well."

The proportions of the porch are of a vernacular Tuscan character. "Also, we wanted to raise the level of that architectural hierarchy to a place that we felt really brought the house to bear with a neighboring Southern Greek house that Robert A.M. Stern and Gary Brewer had just completed," says Casas. "Their house set a higher standard for everyone, at least locally. We wanted to be able to put Ventanas on that same level."

The house is not only sympathetic to its neighbors, but it also fits into the urban fabric of Seaside. Ventanas sits just south of 30A, Seaside's main street, which influenced Opticos Architecture's design. "Seaside is flowering again and I believe this house will eventually signify the entrance into the more urban areas of the town," says Casas. "The porch at the west, with its volume and articulation, is a marker of that gateway into the downtown. We felt that the house needed a better presence that it was lacking."

Ventanas is also in close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico. Because of its location, and generally because it is in Seaside, only certain exterior paint colors were allowed. The palette from which Opticos Architecture could choose was very limited and included only muted colors. "We wanted to emphasize the architectural elements we added," says Casas, "so we painted the casing, trim, pediments, porch and louvered handrail system a pale cream." The siding is light neutral ochre and the rustication was painted about three shades lighter than the body of the house, to emphasize the solidity.

Like those of the exterior, interior colors were chosen by Opticos Architecture in partnership with the owners. "These clients have worked with architects before, including Eric Watson [of Tampa, FL-based Eric Watson, Architect, P.A.]," says Casas. "The wife, primarily, was an interior design enthusiast, and we chose paint schemes for the entire house together, I think, with great effect."

The wife also had her hand in renovating the living room, the only interior space that was changed by Opticos Architecture. Like the rest of the house, it has a nautical theme, which the firm emphasized. "It's relaxed," describes Casas. "It follows many of the same patterns that McKim, Mead & White and John Russell Pope established long ago in the Hamptons or on North Shore Long Island."

As Opticos Architecture was adding French doors to the porch, Casas realized that the number of doors now leading from the living room made the room's furniture arrangement a challenge. "We needed to rethink things," says Casas. "We decided that the room needed an element at the far side to anchor it so that when you opened all of the doors, there was a focal point on the opposite wall." Casas specified a fireplace and built-in cabinetry all along the west wall.

The cabinet runs adjacent to the stairway, so Opticos Architecture selected glass backing for the shelves on either side of the central component so that light will penetrate the stairwell. The built-in, poplar cabinetry was crafted by a local cabinetmaker. "He did a wonderful job, especially with the dovetailing," says Casas. "He followed the profiles to the letter." Responding to the vaulted wood-paneled ceiling, the firm added a pediment similar to those added on the exterior of the house.

Though Ventanas is the fourth vacation house the couple has owned in Seaside, Casas believes they are finally home. "I take great pride in saying that this may be their last house; they've expressed that they're very happy with it." 

 

 

 
 

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