Credit: James F. Wilson
You see its interior before you even enter the house. In a clever contemporary twist on a distinctly Southern vernacular, visitors walk the length of a deep, covered lanai to the front door, passing full views of the family room, kitchen, and dining room through floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors akin to the display windows of a downtown department store.
Except that these full-height windows slide wide open on most Central Florida days, blurring the lines of indoors and outdoors and providing alternative routes into the house so that the actual front door—a checkerboard of warm, rich wood that deliberately contrasts with the predominant gray stone and glass of the house—serves as an art element as much as a point of entry.
Welcome to The New American Home 2012, celebrating a 29-year collaboration between Builder and the Leading Suppliers Council of the NAHB in conjunction with the annual International Builders’ Show (IBS).
The home’s public face to the street is no less impressive and certainly more exposed than a traditional porch approach. Derived from the classic White Box model of modern design in the mid-20th century by architect-builder Phil Kean, the front of the approximately 4,200-square-foot house features several expansive windows, one framing an open-riser stone staircase with a clear glass balustrade that almost disappears during the day but is dramatically displayed at night.
“I tend to lean toward modern design, but it’s more challenging than traditional styles,” says Kean. “If you miss, it really looks bad. There’s nowhere to hide your mistakes.”
Floor Plan Unlike a lot of residential architects, Phil Kean works from the inside out, crafting spaces best suited to the lot conditions and orientation instead of conjuring a front façade and working inward. That approach is reflected in how this plan blocks the western sun with the back wall of the gallery (1) and the three-car garage (2) and puts the hub of activity in an interior, north-facing courtyard to keep it private and cool. The main level is mostly public space, save for a guest suite (3) and secluded office (4). Upstairs is all for the owners, including a trio of balconies and a cleverly concealed laundry room (5) within the master bathroom.
The floor plan and interior finishes follow the modern moves of the exterior and are equally exposed and flawless. Straight, clean lines and hard, geometric surfaces create the perfect canvas for colorful art elements, area rugs, and soft furnishings. A stone floor that appears at first glance to be bleached wood planks extends into every space of the main level, including the covered courtyard entry.
And yet the house is far from cold or impersonal. Flush, dark-wood cabinets add a measure of warmth and provide welcome contrast. But the abundance of windows reflecting daylight off the white surfaces from multiple angles, throwing it deep into each room, makes the home comfortable and livable.
For times when solar heat gain is a concern or, more likely, privacy is a priority, sheer fabric screens and darker solar shades roll down behind and in front of the windows, respectively, to compensate. “It’s a very open plan, but it lives very privately,” says Kean, noting the clever entry courtyard that is a main hub of activity and yet completely shielded from public view. “It was an ideal solution for this lot and location.”
But will it sell? Modern single-family isn’t exactly mainstream, and a buyer who can afford the $3.5 million price tag of this house represents a relatively small pool to the majority of builders.
Yet the home’s walkable proximity to downtown Winter Park (a historic community just north of the IBS 2012 host city of Orlando, Fla.), its perfect proportions and similar scale among its neighbors, and its high level of finish, as well as its higher level of energy and resource efficiencies, enhance its sales potential.
In his market, in fact, Kean and his team have carved a successful if not high-volume niche with mostly modern homes. They expect that an empty-nester or other childless couple, perhaps from overseas or seeking a seasonal retreat, will find their way to this one.
“The design reflects a segment of the market that appreciates what this house offers and has the lifestyle for it,” says project manager Alex Hannigan. “I don’t think there will be a lack of buyers for this house.”