If there were a school devoted to the notion of "loose" architecture, then WaterColor would be its main campus--and the architectural firm of Cooper, Robertson & Partners would be on the faculty. Since the beginning, the New York group has been involved with WaterColor, a 499-acre, master planned community being developed in Walton County, Fla., by Arvida/St. Joe. The firm has worn hats as master planner and pattern-book contributor and has been the vision behind most of what's been built in the community's vibrant town center, one of nine "addresses" available in WaterColor's phase 1. And now it wins a grand award for mixed housing community and a merit award for a custom house called, what else, WaterColor.

"We gathered housing types that we thought were consistent with the kind of 'village by the sea' atmosphere that we wanted, places like Key West that had both a town and a water-edge feel," says Paul Milana, a principal with Cooper, Robertson & Partners. "In the end, these archetypes helped us come to a handful of basic housing types that are typically very casual. It's not about watching the clock, which really helps to loosen up the architecture."

WaterColor's town center, with its clock-tower plaza and multifamily mixed-use buildings, is a blend of architectural influences that conjure up places like St. Augustine, Fernandina Beach, and the unofficial capital of Florida down-home style, DeFuniak Springs. Single-family houses show up in WaterColor neighborhoods like Beach Lane and the Lake District, which is home to more Cooper, Robertson work, the merit-award-winning WaterColor House.

Partly to test the pattern book it helped create, Cooper, Robertson bought a 50-by-100-foot lot in the Lake District and put up the 2,800-square-foot custom house. Designed by Andrew Ballard, who grew up in nearby Grayton Beach, Fla., the crisp blue-and-white home features a nifty, two-story gatehouse/guesthouse that shields the main residence from the busy street and provides a protected courtyard. The T-shaped footprint of the main house allows for the interconnection of major rooms and an easy-to-build stackable plan. "All the loads just run straight down from the roof to the foundation," says Ballard. "It's efficient, economical, and allows the first, second, and third owner to manipulate those rooms if they want."

Charles E. Walton IV

Categories: Community with mixed housing types (grand); Custom home, less than 3,500 square feet (WaterColor House) (merit); Entrant/Architect/Land Planner: Cooper, Robertson & Partners, New York; Architects: Looney Ricks Kiss, Memphis, Tenn. (multifamily); Melanie Taylor & Associates, New Haven, Conn. (single-family); Historical Concepts, Peachtree City, Ga., (single-family); Builders: Arvida, a St. Joe Co., Seagrove Beach, Fla.; Ficarra Builders, Seaside, Fla. (WaterColor House); Developer: St. Joe Co., Jacksonville, Fla.; Landscape Architect: Nelson, Byrd Landscape Architects, Charlottesville, Va.; Interior Designer: Sugar Beach Interiors, Destin, Fla. (WaterColor House)

Florida Natives

A noteworthy feature of WaterColor is the attention that's been paid to retaining--and augmenting--a variety of native flora and fauna, some of which are the type developers routinely obliterate. "We tried to retain the scrub that was there, to route pipes around trees, to save things like palmettos and pine trees, which in the past have been treated more like paper bulk," says Kennon Williams, project manager for Nelson, Byrd Landscape Architects based in Charlottesville, Va.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Charlottesville, VA.