Square in the Air

Like a backward Cubist comma, a Florida guest house appears to float above the lawn.

Forget the quaint guest cottage by the pool that you expect to see on the Sarasota beachfront. This guest house defies convention and, seemingly, gravity to preserve a view of the Florida surf.

The copper-sided cube cottage on a Florida estate needed to be built high to avoid storm tides. TOTeMS Architecture managed to do that and maintain the ocean views from the main house by raising the module up onto nearly invisible supports, making the 302-square-foot building appear as though its stairs climb to a house hanging in the air.

The structure functions as a sitting room by day, a bedroom by night, and an abstract objet d’art all the time. At more than $500 a square foot, the price tag is similar to that of a piece of art, too, albeit more practical. After all, you can’t live in a Cubist painting, much less catch an ocean view. 

Belle of the BALA

A houseful of rooms with a view is named home of the year.

There are only two rooms in La Belle that offer no views of sparkling Lake Osceola—an upstairs bedroom and the media room. From any other place in the house you can spend every waking moment gazing at the shimmering blue body of water through the wide-open back of the home. The lake is in sight when you chop onions in the kitchen, lift weights in the workout room, and sit up in bed first thing in the morning. The water can even be seen while showering, framed by a square window cut in the marble-clad master shower wall.

Better yet, the scenery can be enjoyed unmolested by mosquitoes, the glare of the setting sun, or the Florida heat and humidity that smothers like a hot wet blanket in summer. La Belle’s indoor/outdoor spaces are protected by special motorized screens. Hidden from view when not needed, the screens block glare, insects, and help retain 90 percent of the air conditioning.

An office and conference room with a separate entrance out front make it easy to run a business from home. And an elevator, a second master bedroom downstairs, and an accessible entrance through the garage, will allow aging in place. Though measuring 5,394 square feet, the French West Indies–inspired exterior looks more comfortable than grand from the street. The interiors are contemporary, in whites and neutrals, creating a quiet backdrop for the view.

Family Refuge

A California production house cossets its residents in comfort, indoors and out.

Coming home to Siena at Laguna Altura after a long day at work must feel like popping down a rabbit hole into a warm, safe den. The stone-clad street façade, two-thirds of which is taken up by two rustic wooden garage doors, offers just a hint of the haven within. Once inside, visitors travel down a narrow hall. The passage ends at an expansive great room with a happy arrangement of kitchen, living area, and eating nook, all with large windows that overlook a backyard through a pergola-shaded lanai roomy enough for a large dining table plus seating.

In Southern California’s temperate climate, the lanai can function as another living area for most of the year, adding some welcome extra space to the snug 1,673-square-foot home.

Upstairs are three bedrooms and two baths, including a master suite with a roomy closet. For a family that can make do with two bedrooms, the third can become a cozy loft refuge with enough space for a couch, flat-screen television, and desk area.

Grounded Wing

A different shade of green house lands at Stapleton.

Among the crowd of traditional homes at Denver’s Stapleton community, Infinity Home Collection’s aptly named Lime model stands out like green fruit in a basket of red apples. The home received a LEED Platinum rating with a HERS score of 38, and was built using a variety of recycled materials, including wood from trees killed by the pine beetle plague along with recycled runway concrete and metal blast fencing from the airport that once operated on the site.

But Lime offers unique design, too, as well as a nod to the area’s former life: The home’s cantilevered front porch roof tilts slightly off horizontal, as though it were an airplane wing banking toward a landing at a long-gone runway. The other-than-90-degree angle theme continues throughout the house with porches and decks angling off the home’s narrow-deep mass.

The 2,342-square-foot house lives well, too. The open plan features a great room at the front of the home and a novel “Do room” on the back side of the house near the kitchen. The room features a stacked washer and dryer and dual craft desks built into a wall of storage.

The upstairs holds three bedrooms and a loft space. And an outdoor living space on one side was created on the narrow alley-loaded lot by sliding the home to one side of the 50-foot-wide lot.

Poker Façade

A large, modern-style house hides behind a formal limestone front.

There are some surprises hiding behind the classic stately limestone façade of 1120 Montana.

For one thing, there are more layers than a trifle in this narrow, but deep house, each delightfully distinct, and all decidedly less stuffy and more of an eclectic modern-traditional fusion than its upper-crust Chicago street face suggests.

Visitors climb up from the street to reach the main living area, arriving as would be expected in an open formal living area adjoined by a dining room. The kitchen-great room at the rear of the home overlooks a stone deck with an outdoor fireplace that separates the home from the three-car garage. The second floor houses the sleeping quarters, including a roomy master suite and three other bedrooms. The basement holds a large guest suite, exercise room, and a family room.

But while the front elevation shows two stories and a basement, this house actually has an additional floor: a roof deck level situated over the rear-loaded garage that includes a conservatory and fifth bedroom. Together, the spaces add up to 5,800 square feet in a 27-foot-wide, 68-feet-deep footprint.

Download the complete 2011 BALA Award Winners List

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Orlando, FL, Chicago, IL, Bradenton, FL.