James F. Wilson

Lake Davis Drive is one of those established downtown Orlando, Fla., neighborhoods that hark back to the city’s roots, before Walt and Mickey and Shamu the killer whale set up their circus south of town.

Encircling one of the small lakes that dot the city’s core, the narrow, tree-lined street features a comfortable diversity of home styles and sizes, the latest being an imposing, 8,500-square-foot residence that replaced a pair of modest bungalows on a three-lot site: The New American Home 2011.

James F. Wilson

While such a large home may seem out of step with the current economy, sustainable building sentiment, and popular McMansion backlash, the classically designed manse built by Continental Homes & Interiors of Winter Park, Fla., is a reminder that there is still a market for large custom homes designed and built with a buyer on board. For the first time in its 28-year history, The New American Home, a show home co-produced by Builder and NCHI—The Leading Suppliers of NAHB in the host city of the annual International Builders’ Show, had a homeowner attached from the get-go. That meant no for-sale sign out front and no follow-up article about when it sold (and for how much less than its list price), but it also presented its share of challenges ranging from communication to product selection, and, ultimately, the size and interior design of the house.

Size 8,500 square feet (conditioned space); 11,000 square feet under roof

Lot size 0.6 acres (23,293 square feet)

Cost Approximately $3 million

Builder/Interior designer Continental Homes & Interiors, Winter Park, Fla.

Designer The Studio, Alexandria, Va.

Architect of record Donnelly Architecture, Beverly Hills, Fla.

Landscape architect Redmon Design Co., Maitland, Fla.

Green consultant Two Trails, Sarasota, Fla.

Furnishings and merchandising Furniture Brands Builder Services, Conover, N.C.

Lifestylist Lifestylist Design, Inc., Dallas

Structural engineer Structural Concepts & Design, Altamonte Springs, Fla.

Energy consultant IBACOS Consortium, Pittsburgh

Producers NCHI—The Leading Suppliers of NAHB, Washington; Builder magazine, Washington

“The economic conditions in Central Florida made building a high-end spec house highly impractical, if not financially impossible,” says Bill Nolan, the 2011 TNAH task force vice chairman, recalling the 2010 version in Las Vegas that was halted due to lack of financing. “Having a buyer eliminated that risk and resulted in a house that demonstrates the idiosyncratic nature of the current housing industry.”

The mere fact that the 2011 house was built on contract is not the only difference between it and a luxury spec home. It is also, simply, a beautiful house, a perfectly proportioned classic manor of historical reference that is about as architecturally akin to a cookie-cutter, gable-garbled McMansion as an apple is to a scissor truss.

“It is reminiscent of custom Florida homes in Palm Beach, Miami, and Sarasota from the 1920s,” says Chris Donnelly, the architect of record from nearby Beverly Hills, Fla., who shares credit with designer Michael Curtis of The Studio in Alexandria, Va. He points to roof forms, niches, cornices, columns, and openings that provide historically accurate details, with some of them also contributing to the home’s energy performance and indoor comfort.

But despite a floor plan that matched the home’s exterior in size, scale, and overall aesthetic (note the 24-foot ceiling in the great room just inside the front door on page 3), the interior finishes replace heavy formality with simple forms and light details to please the contemporary sensitivities of the owners and reflect prevailing lifestyle tastes across the country. “I decided that rather than reuse the old wheel, I would put a new spin on it and create a new classical,” says Kate Clarke, the builder’s in-house interior designer.

That approach was a departure from what builder Keith Clarke, her husband, has been providing to upscale Central Florida home buyers since the mid-1990s, but it somehow suited the process he and the project team undertook to deliver the house. “It’s a different overall style for Orlando, very urban-looking,” he says, comparing it more to homes in the D.C. area than The City Beautiful. “But it’s in an eclectic neighborhood, and the neighbors have embraced it,” adding yet another thread to the fabric along Lake Davis.


The symmetrical layout of the floor plan follows the classic style of the home’s exterior. The center-set front porch is placed slightly back from its flanking forms, the one on the right (A) a stair tower that enables the 24-foot volume of the great room (B) to remain uninterrupted and allow a clear view through to the garden beyond. The owners also enjoy a completely private retreat, in which a rotunda (C) serves as a sitting room and as a hub from which a spacious walk-in closet (D), bathroom (E), and sleeping area (F) spin off. In addition, the owners’ retreat includes access to the pool (G) and to a “secret” garden (H), a contemplative space to contrast the far more public outdoor areas that occupy the rest of the footprint. A second rotunda (I) serves a similar purpose as the one across the way, offering the option of the stair tower—the epitome of the home’s classic-contemporary melting pot—as well as a peanut-shaped powder room (J), and the library (K) while itself serving as the home’s formal dining room with ready access to the kitchen (L). The dramatic family room (M) sits beyond that through a passage narrowed slightly by columns and cabinets and provides ample access to the outdoors. Completing the first-floor plan is an attached garage (N), cleverly designed to accommodate five cars within a three-car façade and set far back on the property to reduce its impact. The deep balcony of an extensive guest apartment (O) further reduces the garage’s impression and also shields the private entry and stair that lead to the living space above. The main house plan, meanwhile, supports a second-story bedroom suite off the stair tower (P) and a long gallery that leads to a rec room and another full suite. (Q).


James F. Wilson  


Even a fabulous photo can’t fully capture the impression created by the great room upon entering the house. Unencumbered by a staircase, it stretches wide and tall while immediately providing a glimpse of the garden through a trio of glass doors that mirror those of the entry at left. Climbing 24 feet to a simple coffered ceiling and featuring a stone-faced fireplace on one end, the room nevertheless feels comfortable thanks to an abundance of natural light and views to the outdoors.


James F. Wilson  


The connected kitchen-family room arrangement is meant for entertaining, and not just within their combined, 50-foot-long expanse. Effectively separated by a columned passage to maintain a human scale, both rooms provide ready access to the outdoors to encourage indoor-outdoor interplay. The exposed (if decorative) wood and metal trusses in the family room give a contemporary nod to the home’s Gothic roots.

James F. Wilson
James F. Wilson  


Though daylight and a chandelier fixture provide ample ambient light, cooks in this large kitchen appreciate the in-cabinet and especially the undercabinet lamps from Progress Lighting (model #P7022-30EBWB) that throw light where they need it, when they need it. The fixtures are part of an energy-efficient lighting package in which at least 60 percent of the home’s lighting (inside and out) is LED, linear fluorescent, or compact fluorescent fixtures. www.progresslighting.com.


James F. Wilson  


The expansion of the garage from a three- to a five-carport meant that the apartment above it grew, too, boosting the home’s conditioned footage. Fortunately, the space is packed with usable features, including an efficient kitchen and a wide-open center bookended by balconies, the rear one with a spiral stair to the garden below. The apartment also is served by its own entry to the left of the garage that leads to a private staircase, with no other connection to the main house except through the carport. That  separation allows it to be a truly private space for an in-law, seasonal caretaker, or nanny.

James F. Wilson


James F. Wilson  

Rinnai’s condensing tankless water heater (model #RC98HPi), installed in the garage and fueled by natural gas, kicks in if the rooftop solar thermal collectors need a boost to deliver domestic hot water. The tankless unit heats water only when called for and is 95 percent efficient, reducing its energy consumption to about half that of a standard-efficiency electric tank heater. As a condensing unit, it also activates at a flow rate of just 0.4 gallons (versus 0.69 for non-condensing units), such as from a bath faucet, to deliver a constant supply of hot water anywhere in the house and support water conservation efforts. www.rinnai.us.

James F. Wilson


James F. Wilson


A large house affords some special places. The rec room (above), located on the second floor by way of a long gallery from the top of the stairs and a guest suite, provides a getaway from the activity of the public spaces. The library (below), however, is a bit more public. Located directly off the dining room rotunda (as well as through the clever butler’s pantry from the kitchen), it delivers the grandeur of an Old World book haven and study, complete with floor-to-ceiling shelves and a rolling ladder.

James F. Wilson  

PRODUCT SPOTLIGHT: Fire Suppression System


The whole-house Rapid Response home fire sprinkler system from Tyco provides the owners with a higher measure of fire safety and property protection over smoke detectors. The complete system uses the Blazemaster CPVC fire sprinkler–rated pipe and fittings (see photo left) from FBC Building Solutions and a variety of subtle wall- and ceiling-mounted heads throughout the house (which can be factory finished to any color in the Sherwin-Williams palette). A single pendant sprinkler can cover 400 square feet. www.tyco-rapidresponse.com; www.lubrizol.com/BuildingSolutions.

AT ISSUE: Fire Sprinkler Mandate

The 2011 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC), effective on Jan. 1, includes provisions that mandate fire sprinklers in single-family homes and townhouses. Independent, real-world research puts the average installation cost at $1.61 per sprinklered square foot when using a CPVC or PEX distribution system. Some states and municipalities offer rebates or tax credits to further offset a builder’s costs, while insurance rates may be up to 20 percent lower for homeowners. Developers may also gain approvals for narrower streets, deeper setbacks, and fewer hydrants by mandating fire sprinklers for homes in their communities. The 2011 IRC allows individual states and local jurisdictions to adopt, amend, or decline the provisions. To date, 27 states are keeping the code voluntary and two have mandated the new provisions.


James F. Wilson  


A modern twist on a classic form, the rotunda of the master wing serves as a private sitting area for the owners and the hub to the rest of the retreat. The room provides comfortable seating to enjoy a “dual hearth” of a flat-screen TV over a fireplace or just a quiet place to read. And, because the walk-in dressing room, bathroom, and sleeping quarters are all separate spaces spun off this center core, one partner won’t disturb the other on early mornings.


James F. Wilson  

The master bathroom features a recessed fanlight from Broan-NuTone (model #744SFL) installed directly over the shower. The flush-mounted unit features an adjustable humidity sensor to automatically activate its quiet, 70 cfm fan to exhaust moisture and turn it off when humidity levels moderate, saving energy while mitigating potential moisture problems. www.broan.com.

AT ISSUE: Fresh-Air Ventilation

Builders planning to follow the 2011 Energy Star Qualified Homes standard, which went into effect this month, will need to address fresh-air ventilation more aggressively to gain certification. In this home, a whole-house energy recovery ventilator (ERV) within the home’s central forced-air setup supplements spot (or local) ventilation in the laundry room, bathrooms, and kitchen. The ERV transfers the heat of exhaust air to the incoming fresh air to reduce energy demand while also providing a measure of dehumidification, an important feature for Florida’s climate. Combined, the home’s ventilation scheme meets the airflow (cfm) per-square-foot standards established in ASHRAE 62.2-2007, which the new Energy Star standards reference. The federal program boosted its ventilation standard in light of tighter building envelope requirements, which demanded a higher measure of controlled, balanced fresh air exchanges to maintain healthy indoor air.


It might be a stretch for some people, including its designer, to describe The New American Home 2011, at 8,500 square feet, as resource-efficient. “It’s something of an absurdity to say that a home this size for two people can be called green,” says designer Michael Curtis, who admittedly followed the desires of the homeowners to expand the footprint well beyond the 5,000 square feet initially programmed. “From the beginning, the owners wanted a larger home, so we designed what they wanted.”

But also consider the items on the other side of the balance sheet: That the two smaller homes it replaced on its 0.6-acre lot were responsibly deconstructed (pictured, above) to divert a significant portion of materials away from landfills; that the house is expected to achieve a 58 percent whole-house energy savings versus a comparably sized home built to the Building America benchmark; that it features a rainwater recycling system for irrigation and solar thermal collectors for hot water; and that its rooftop solar electric array will generate about a third of the home’s energy and earn credits from the local grid—all of which and more will earn the house Emerald-level certification from the NAHBGreen rating system based on the National Green Building Standard.

Not to mention a design that includes proper orientation and roof angles for sun reflection and proper rainwater drainage, cross-ventilation and passive cooling, and ample and shared daylight that offsets artificial lighting demand, reflecting the inherent efficiencies of the classic style.

PRODUCT SPOTLIGHT: Rain Harvesting System

Buried and concealed in the garden, the Complete Home 1700PE rain harvesting system from BRAE cleverly captures rainwater from the home’s gutter system, filters it within an underground, 1,700-gallon cistern, and pumps out non-potable irrigation water to nourish the landscape. The system also manages overflow, directing it to a buried filtration system that gently returns it to the ground instead of spewing it into the street and the city storm-sewer system. www.braewater.com.

1. Filter
The system’s downspout basket filter is offered in a small (5,000-square-foot) or large (12,000-square-foot) capacity, depending on the size of the other components and site conditions.

2. Inlet/Overflow Pipe
The inlet/overflow pipe is available in either a 4-inch or 6-inch diameter, depending on capacity.

3. Tank
The BRAE system is modular, allowing the interconnection of several tanks. The one-piece, rotationally molded tank has a capacity of 1,700 gallons, which was the capacity chosen for the house given site restrictions and available clear underground area.

4. Pump
The ½-horsepower automatic submersible ECOS pump features run-dry protection (automatically turns off and won’t run when dry) and is designed to run off of a 115-volt or 230-volt circuit.

5. Enclosure
The system offers two enclosure types: rock or an insulated green cover. The former was selected for the system installed at the house.


The IBACOS Consortium, working in conjunction with the federal Building America program, conducted a variety of tests to measure and verify the home’s performance values. Among its findings:

  • The tight building envelope achieves a mere 0.8 air changes under blower door testing;
  • Sealed ductwork exhibits 3 percent or less air leakage of the system’s airflow;
  • Mechanical ventilation provided by an energy recovery ventilator delivers 70 percent efficiency.



CertainTeed’s new Certa-Spray open-cell expanding foam insulation was a key component in achieving the home’s energy-efficiency goals. Completely filling wood-framed wall cavities furred out from the perimeter concrete block walls, as well as the ceiling frame, the foam effectively encapsulates mechanical runs in the cavities and combines an effective air-sealing quality with a high R-value per inch insulating value in one application, resulting in R-19 wall and R-30 ceiling assemblies. www.certainteed.com.

Take the Tour

The New American Home 2011 is open for free guided tours during exhibit hours of the 2011 International Builders’ Show in Orlando, Jan. 12–15, with free shuttle service from the Westwood Entrance of the West Concourse of the Orange County Convention Center. To reserve a seat on the bus, visit the Show Home Tours booth inside the main entrance to the West Concourse. Parking at the show home is severely limited and driving is discouraged.


NCHI Contributors

Members of the National Council of the Housing Industry (NCHI)—The Leading Suppliers of NAHB, contributed to The New American Home 2011.

American Gas Association (natural gas support services)

Belgard Hardscapes by Oldcastle (concrete pavers)

Broan-NuTone (ventilation, ironing center, and central vacuum system)

BSH Home Appliances (Thermador and Bosch) (major appliances)

CertainTeed (insulation)

Closet Factory (closet system)

ClosetMaid (closet organizing system)

Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association/CEDIA (home electronics integrator)

Daltile (tile and stone surfaces)

DuPont Building Innovations (solid surfacing)

Eaton Corp. (electrical and low-voltage distribution)

FBC Building Solutions (CPVC plumbing system)

Generac Power Systems (automatic standby generator)

Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association (industry support)

InSinkErator (waste disposers and hot water dispensers)

JELD-WEN (interior doors)

Kohler (plumbing fixtures and fittings, bath accessories)

Lennox Industries (HVAC)

Mohawk Industries (reclaimed wood flooring)

Overhead Door (garage doors and openers)

Panasonic Corp. of N.A. (consumer electronics)

Phantom Screens (retractable door screens)

Ply Gem Windows (windows and patio doors)

Portland Cement Association (cement)

PrintComm (marketing support)

Progress Lighting (all interior and exterior lighting)

Rinnai (condensing tankless water heater)

Schneider Electric (solar inverters)

Sherwin-Williams (paints and coatings)

Simpson Strong-Tie (framing connectors)

ThyssenKrupp Access Corp. (elevator)

Timberlake Cabinetry (cabinets and built-ins)

Tyco Fire Suppression & Building Products (fire sprinkler system)

USG Corp. (gypsum and cement wallboard)

Supporting Contributors

The New American Home 2011 was also supported by various trade partners and suppliers.

A-1 Block Corp.

Above All Enterprises

Affordable Signs

Aggressive Appliances

Albritton’s Down To Earth Grading

Alfresco Living

All Builders Glass

All Stone & Marble

Allsolar Service Co.

American Clay Enterprises

American Granite Factory

Arcusstone Distributors

AT&T Connected Communities

Beaver Door & Trim

Borris Petkoff


BRAE Rainwater Technologies

Brant & Son

Brew Express

CBS Builders Supply

Charlotte Pipe

Chadsworth Columns

Cherry Lake Tree Farm

Clean First Time

Collis Roofing

Control 4

Custom Service Hardware

CUTCO Cutlery

Designer Services

Dixie Textile & JF Fabric

Done Right Heating & Air

Dorr’s Plumbing

Dreamcatcher Enterprises USA

Eclipse Technologies

84 Lumber

Electronic Creations

Emtek Products

Eragy Inc.

EWS Inc.

Falcon Termite & Pest Control

FAS Windows & Doors

Florida Concrete Products Association

Forever Lawn

Four Seasons Gas Services

Francois & Co.

Garage Design Works

Genox Inc.

Genuwine Cellars

Golden Marble & Granite Inc.

Guardian Home Technologies

Haddonstone USA

Hart & Cooley

Home Team Pest Control

HQ Hometek/HydroCare USA

Hunter Industries

Indiana Limestone Fabricators


Integrated Healthy Environments

Isokern Fireplaces

J. Barraza Windows

J&N Stone

John Deere Landscaping

JS & Sons Construction

Just Concrete & Masonry

Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet Pizza Oven

KBG Construction Services

Kim Dedden Interiors

Kis Construction

KVAR Energy Savings

Lara Leigh LLC

Legacy Scapes

L.J.L. Designs

Lindemann Bentzon Engineering Co.

Linder Enterprises

Masonry Association of Florida

McLean Lightning Protection

MSS Installation Trim

National Concrete Masonry Association

New Line Industries

O2 Innovations

Onkyo USA Corp./Integra

Onsite Safety

Orlando Utilities Commission


Phillip Chappell

Preston Studios-Artistry in Stained Glass

Professional Service Industries

Professional Warranty Corp.

R K Edwards Inc.


Ring Power Corp.

Robert Martin

Robinson Iron

Royal Style Design

Sequel Technologies


Site Solutions of Central Florida

Smart Warehousing


Snap AV

Somfy Systems

Southern Pool Designs

Steve Servis Painting

Stone Tile Direct

Stone Tile Restorations

Structural Concept & Design

Sun Craft Draperies

Sunstate Plastering




Terminix Commercial

Traditional Finishes

Triad Speakers

Tropical Welding & Fabricating


United Electrical Sales

United Rentals

United Site Services

Universal Engineering Sciences

Universal Window Coverings

USI Affinity Insurance

Victor Oolitic Stone Co.

Waste Management of North Florida

Windows Interiors

Winter Park Blue Print Co.

Zurich Insurance Services

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Orlando, FL, Los Angeles, CA.

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