Palm Garden Retreat

Welcome to this year's Coastal Living Idea House, where our design team has created a seaside home with old-time ambience, modern amenities, and innovative style.
By Lacey N. Howard
The rhythmic slap, slap, slapping of waves against a boat's hull sets the tempo for life in MiraBay. This new South Florida community nestles along the eastern shore of Tampa Bay amid mangrove islands and bird sanctuaries. Its houses and other structures exude the atmosphere of Old Florida but come equipped with the latest technology. Custom architectural detailing, lush landscaping, and attractive streetscapes and waterscapes add to the development's sense of place.

Our 2004 Idea House embraces these same timeless design ideals. Street-side, palms shade the courtyard. Inside, beaded board forms wainscoting in bathrooms and the guest cottage, and hefty oak beams adorn the great-room ceiling. The furnishings and accessories take a fresh look at waterside style. "We really wanted the interiors to combine elegance and comfort. This house is truly a livable haven," says interior designer Susan Lovelace of Lovelace Interiors in Destin, Florida. To create the look, she teamed with designers Connie Simpson and Debbie Faulkner, also of Lovelace.

Outside, a pool and spa bring water to the back door. At the end of the dock, a boat awaits the morning commute MiraBay's freshwater lagoon and saltwater canals offer deepwater access to the bay and the Gulf of Mexico, allowing homeowners to bypass landlocked highways.

A redbrick drive escorts visitors inside the lush courtyard. A double garage on one side and a single garage with an attached patio on the other frame the heavily landscaped area. Architect Don Cooper of Tampa's Cooper Johnson Smith Architects points out that the courtyard, a detail borrowed from island architecture, is at home in the area's tropical climate. "You walk through a flourishing garden on the way to the front door," he says.

Palms wave in the breeze above bromeliads, lantana, and caladiums. Trailing vines climb the patio's arbor over a bistro table and chairs that "invite you to sit and relax before you even enter the house," says Debbie. Connie agrees: "It is a wonderful place to enjoy cocktails and admire the landscaping."

SETTING
In the Southshore area, just across the bay from Tampa, life slows to a more comfortable pace. Here, tucked off U.S. 41, Newland Communities has developed MiraBay, a 750-acre gated community offering waterfront living in a master-planned development. Homes nestle along saltwater canals, freshwater lagoons, and conservation areas.

Each structure, from community buildings to houses, features distinctive exterior details that pay homage to the past. "We've established an architectural tone for the neighborhoods," says Don Whyte, Newland's regional president. "We have about 20 elements?borrowed from Mizner, local coastal architecture, and a few other traditions?that we mix and match to create a look that is solely MiraBay." Brenda Kunkel, Newland's regional vice president of marketing, adds, "And our residents have the peace of mind that they won't see their house repeated just down the street. Our builders have agreed to build one-and-only exteriors here."

With just two-thirds of the community dedicated to residences, a significant amount of acreage is preserved as lakes, parks, and conservation areas. "You experience a true coastal situation," says Don. "We have an abundance of wildlife, including shorebirds and manatees. There is also a tidal marsh, and this property borders the Wolf Branch Creek Preserve."

Besides ecology, MiraBay focuses on recreation and social outlets for its residents. A large clubhouse features meeting rooms and a resort-style swimming pool with a waterslide and shady cabanas. A racquet club and fully equipped fitness center appeal to active members of the community.

FLOOR PLAN
Architects Don Cooper, Mike Willis, and Jennifer Garcia of Cooper Johnson Smith Architects wanted to capture the area's year-round warm-weather climate in the home's design. "We looked at Caribbean architecture and lots of different semitropical architecture for inspiration," says Don. The three knew they wanted the home to incorporate outdoor rooms and "something of an oasis in the back," he says.

As in typical tropics design, the house is shaped like the letter H, with a linear center pavilion and perpendicular wings on each end. "The structure is just one room thick in most places, allowing you to capture breezes and have windows on three walls of many rooms," Don explains. "It also increases the number of spaces that have a view of the water."

The majority of the living space is at ground level. The great room, dining area, and living area form the center with mirror-image wings?the kitchen, family room, and office make up one; the master suite, the other. "Upstairs, there are three bedrooms, two baths, and big porches, front and back," Mike says. "This could be kid space, although I would be very happy living in one of those bedrooms," adds Don. A guest cottage, attached via a screened porch, adds a fifth bedroom and bath. All five bedrooms have lagoon views.

The spacious house, with more than 1,500 square feet of outdoor living space, doesn't have to be constructed all at once. "This could be a house built over time?starting with the center, then making additions," Don says. "We just compressed that history."

ENTRY
"Inside the front door, the entry really sets the tone for what the rest of the house will show you," Connie says. "It's a refined, coastal look."

A hand-painted door cabinet displays carvings reminiscent of scallop shells and waves. Above, a custom-made shell mirror continues the theme alongside striking silver lamps topped with black shades. A beaded chandelier hangs from the coffered ceiling, while double-louvered doors, topped with an arch and pickets, open to reveal the great room and views of the pool and lagoon.

Louvered walls and doors lend island authenticity to the dramatic space. "In the islands, real louvers let the air come through, but they offer privacy and shade," explains Don. "These walls give a sense of that same breeziness. Louvers are used as detailing throughout the home. "The entry's application sets the tropical mood right from the beginning," Don says.

Three sets of French doors line one wall, open to the pool area, and shed light on the great room's striking details. A fireplace and mantel framed in crisp white anchor the living area. Above, the ceiling is tongue-and-groove cedar, stained dark to echo the floor color and accented by large, rustic beams. "Those beams are at least 100 years old and hand-hewn," says builder Mike Morris of the oak pieces salvaged from a barn in North Carolina. "The look of this ceiling is reminiscent of homes built in this area a long time ago, but here, it is purely decorative," Mike says. Architect Jennifer Garcia explains, "We needed something to break up the room visually, and the beams really add character to the house."

The designers took cues from the ceiling for outfitting the large space. The living area centers on the fireplace, surrounded by traditional furniture with modern upholstery. Building from the walls' neutral, gray-green palette, the designers chose fabrics to echo the nearby water. "We started with the hazy aqua, then we found the wonderful contemporary fabric on the wing chairs to add some rhythm," says Susan. The trio dressed a three-cushioned sofa in the aqua upholstery and a romantic chaise in a muted tone of the same hue. Throw pillows add color.

The dining area replicates the style, with a twist. A pair of round pedestal dining tables with a handsome ebony finish offers seating for eight. "Everything in the great room is very linear, including the room itself. The round tables really help make it less traditional," Debbie says. Susan adds, "With a group of people at a rectangular table, there are several friends you never get a chance to talk to. The round tables make conversation easier." A chandelier with green glass accents provides adjustable lighting. "The large chandelier unifies the dining room visually, so the two tables are seen as one unit," Connie says.

KITCHEN & FAMILY ROOM
Roomy louvered cabinets painted a creamy white frame the laid-back kitchen. Granite countertops and a tumbled-marble tile backsplash are peppered with black. "The mix?light-colored louvers, ebony island, wood and granite countertops, stainless appliances?really makes the kitchen a fun, relaxed space," Debbie says. The island, with a distressed black finish and mahogany top, offers bar-height seating in comfortable, leather-upholstered stools.

State-of-the-art appliances in a stainless steel finish give chefs the best of tools. A 48-inch gas range with convection, six burners, and a griddle provides a convenient work space. Twin 20-cubic-foot refrigerators with bottom freezers store make-ahead dishes. When guests arrive, a 30-inch warming drawer holds platters or up to four dinner plates at a time. Hard-anodized, nonstick cookware makes preparation a pleasure, and a three-rack dishwasher with electronic touch controls keeps cleanup effortless. After the work is done, the inviting space ensures the hosts can relax with guests.

"People like to hang out in the kitchen, so we [added the family room and] made it big enough to have plenty of seating," Don says. The two rooms share a hipped roof, with an exposed beaded board ceiling and rafters. "This type of treatment creates a relaxed setting and continues the louvered cabinets' tropical feel," Don says. "The kitchen is casual, and the table and sitting area are an extension of the space," adds Susan. The designers created an informal dining area for family meals with a rectangular table for four. Nearby, a chocolate-brown tufted-back sofa sits opposite an entertainment center and a pair of island-style chairs with rolling arms. "This is a comfortable space for families to enjoy time together, watching TV, doing homework, and cooking dinner," Debbie says. "The dark sofa fabric is very practical. You don't have to worry about kids dripping spaghetti sauce or adults spilling wine."

PANTRIES
Susan, Connie, and Debbie wanted to give the butler's pantry a reflective quality with different metals and stainless finishes. "We started with the embossed-tin ceiling tiles and chose a complementary backsplash and cabinet hardware, and we chose stainless for the appliances," Debbie says of a 50-bottle wine chiller and an ice maker, both installed under the counter. The designers outfitted the room with cabinets that have the same distressed black finish as the kitchen island. A deep, under-mount sink features a gooseneck faucet with a satin-nickel finish. Above the counter, folding doors open onto the dining room, making the butler's pantry ideal for bartending.

Just off the kitchen, another pantry features ample room for foodstuffs, dry goods, and pet treats. Drawers offer storage for linens and place mats alongside ribbon and paper for wrapping gifts.

MASTER SUITE
"When you walk into the master bedroom, you just go, 'Ahhhhh,'" says Connie. To keep the space restful, the designers selected a neutral palette. Bedding and furniture in pale colors, from soft butter to linen white, accent walls painted a serene, deep sage.

The king-size bed's panel head- and footboards are a contemporary spin on Shaker styling. Luxurious linens and a quilted sateen coverlet and shams dress the bed in seaside-resort style. Two leather night tables hold bedtime needs.

Yellow leather armchairs and ottomans and a leather bench lend comfortable seating. "We kept the master bedroom really simple," Debbie says. "The rug brings in color and frames the area at the end of the bed, but all the other fabrics are neutral." Window dressings are sheer panels, sewn from two fabrics cut into blocks and layered. For privacy, shades feature overlapping fabric. "The soft folds form a textured stripe, giving the space privacy and light control," she adds.

In the master bath, a deep, heated, jetted tub with lumbar support and a rolled backrest beckons. A classically styled faucet yields a column of hot water to fill the tub. Windows offer natural light and a view of lush landscaping. Folded fabric blinds lower easily. Walnut vanities with wire-screen detailing and limestone countertops give master suite occupants their own sink space. Twin built-in chests keep sand-hued towels and cloths at the ready. "This bath is really a warm and intimate space," Debbie says. Adds Connie, "With all the amenities of a luxury hotel."

OFFICE
Tucked off the kitchen, a masculine study overlooks the courtyard. The designers, inspired by local cigar shops and old cigar boxes, painted walls a deep tan and moldings dark brown. "This is not a huge room," Connie says, "so we hung four mirrors on the wall to make it appear larger." Much of the room's furniture, including a card table, home office center, and lounge chairs, holds to the dark palette. The desk, however, strays. "Instead of a traditional wood desk, we chose a glass-topped dining table to add some light to the room," notes Connie. The 38- by 80-inch tabletop allows space for two host chairs to pull up to the desk side by side or opposite each other. The desk's glass top rests on sawhorse-style bases finished in rich ebony. The black accent color continues in the leather desk accessories and the black-and-white photographs hung nearby. A small reproduction palm tucks into the room's corner, adding a low-maintenance hint of nature.

UPSTAIRS
Dedicated to the young and the young at heart, the second floor features three bedrooms and a play area. "The kids can make it their own space," Connie says, "and it's a place to play games, do homework, and hang out while the adults are entertaining downstairs." The designers chose upholstery for chairs and ottomans in colors "out of a crayon box," Connie says. An oak armoire stores video games and board games alongside playing cards and action figures. A flip-top console table offers space for arts and crafts, but can open to dining-table size when needed. A French door and windows lead to a porch, perched above the courtyard, where rocking chairs wait. Porthole windows give the space a nautical feel.

A queen-size bed topped in honey-colored quilted linens and crowned by an upholstered headboard waits in a suite bedroom. "There's nothing more inviting or comfortable than a headboard covered in soft fabric," Susan says. A white bedside chest and dresser stand out against coral walls. "We didn't use traditional paint colors," Connie says. "We chose an orange for the walls and melon for the ceiling, and trimmed it in yellow."

Kiwi green with white molding sets a cottagey tone for the middle bedroom. A dark-stained apothecary chest acts as a bedside table for white iron twin beds. Above, hot-pink flamingos strut through ankle-deep water on oil-painted canvases. "We wanted this space to be soft and girly with fresh, crisp colors," Debbie says. Oversize square bolsters covered in a playful botanical upholstery act as footboards for the beds. "I just picture kids lounging on these," Debbie says. "It really gives them comfortable, easy-to-move seating that's just their size."

"The third bedroom is a little more traditional," Susan says. "It has a soft, French feel." Matelass? linens on a queen-size iron bed create the quiet, romantic look. A black credenza, hand-painted with botanical accents and topped with a matching mirror, brings storage space to the cozy room. "We used a credenza in place of a regular dresser because it is not as deep and doesn't take up as much space," Connie says.

All three bedrooms open to a porch that has a bird's-eye view of the pool and lagoon. Oatmeal-colored spa-weave outdoor fabric and a bevy of outdoor throw pillows cover wicker chairs and chaise longues. Hammocks, constructed of a fiber that promises the feel of cotton while maintaining durability and colorfastness, encourage an afternoon nap. Lantern-style lights offer the look of gas flames but stay lit against sea breezes and ceiling fans.

GUEST COTTAGE
Separated from the main house by the screened porch, this suite provides privacy. Guests have access to the outdoor kitchen near their bedroom door?ideal when hunting for a midnight snack. "It's basically your own little living space," Debbie says.

"This small room has lots of character," Don adds. The space features a bamboo ceiling, tall white wainscoting, built-in closets with louvered doors, and ocean-blue walls. The design team chose West Indies?style furniture in a tobacco-colored finish. Built-ins flank a queen-size bed with square mesh caning. Angled between woven-shaded windows that overlook dhe lagoon and pool, a matching chaise longue offers a place to relax. "It's the perfect spot for someone to be alone with the view of water," Connie says.

The adjoining bath echoes the island theme. Louvered wainscoting and brick-shaped "subway" tiles add texture to the walls, while a yew-wood sink base with ebony inlays carries the bedding's pinstripe into the bath. A vessel sink perches on top, and modern fixtures in a satin-nickel finish give the space a contemporary edge.

OUTDOOR KITCHEN
A screened porch yields alfresco living, dining, and cooking spaces and overlooks the pool and lagoon. A rattan sofa and armchair feature cushions and throw pillows in coordinating outdoor fabrics. Spunky square ottomans surround the tile-topped cocktail table. "We mixed all different types of furniture?rattan, woven, iron," Connie says. Susan adds, "We're really approaching outdoor spaces the same way we approach interiors because people love outdoor living so much. On the screened porch we added lamps and artwork to make this space as enjoyable as the indoor spaces."

Behind the bar, a five-burner grill anchors the kitchen. Outfitted with an under-counter refrigerator and a stainless steel sink with a gooseneck faucet, the space is ready for an afternoon cookout. Slate countertops work with stainless appliances and cabinet hardware to give the space upscale flair.

OUTDOOR LIVING
"You should feel like you're on vacation when you come home from work," says Don Cooper. A pool, spa, tropical landscaping, and comfortable furniture turn the lagoon-side lawn into a resortlike backyard oasis. Large, cast-stone tiles create a wide pool deck. Luxurious faux-bamboo double chaise longues in a faux-tortoise finish join bar-height bistro sets "for eating, drinking, and being merry," Debbie says. On a wide veranda just outside the great room, oversize black rattan ottomans and chairs topped with oyster-colored cushions create a shady space for reading and napping. "We kept the veranda uncluttered and symmetrical," Susan says, "so that it welcomes you outside, but nothing inhibits the view from indoors."

Just steps from the pool, a bubbling spa entices the weary. Here, low-slung palm trees and sea grapes provide privacy from neighbors. The nearby master porch, draped with lengths of outdoor fabric, offers a place to relax after a dip in the warm spa. A grouping of faux-bamboo chairs and an ottoman invite more relaxation. "We wanted the master porch to be a sort of private patio for the couple to enjoy coffee or cocktails together," Susan says.

A dock stretches over the deepwater lagoon. At its end, kids and adults can climb into a boat and head out to sea for an afternoon of birding, fishing, cruising, or picnicking on the bay.

LANDSCAPE
"The location of the house allowed us to incorporate some plants we couldn't use further inland," says Sean Murphy. Sean and Jaime Ebberts, both of Atlanta's Amenity Architects, designed the home's landscape plan. "We were able to include several species of palms in order to complement the architects' tropical detailing," he says. Triple- and single-trunk coconut palms, foxtail palms, travelers palms, and a teddy bear palm?which sports a furry brown trunk?serve that purpose.

Street-side, Sean and Jaime framed the square, redbrick courtyard with beds and softened the silhouette of the garden fence. "We wanted the landscaping in front to be very lush," says Sean. Crape myrtles frame the front door, while bromeliads and caladiums thrive in the shade below. "There are also quite a few varieties of heliconia, a tropical plant, in the beds," Sean says. Along the fence and arbor, the pair trained vines on copper wire, wrapping and twisting them to create shapes. "We selected varieties such as Confederate jasmine that climb by twining, so that the vines don't adhere to the structures," Sean explains.

"Behind the house, we wanted people to focus on the pool and the view," says Jaime. "We didn't want to overpower the space." Around the pool, ample containers hold tropical plantings that bring texture, color, and a mix of large leaves to the expansive tile surround. Tall palms frame the view of the lagoon, and bromeliads of several colors circle the trunks.

Two terraces?off the master porch and the outdoor kitchen?also garnered their attention. "We knew those would be focal points," Sean says. He and Jaime crafted radically different gardens in the twin spaces.

Around the spa, a lush garden gives privacy from neighbors and passing boats. "By mixing all kinds of foliage with interesting, large leaves, we created a strong screen," Jaime says.

On the opposite side, Sean and Jaime built a succulent garden centered on a bonsai-style plumeria tree. "We added a few limestone boulders to the space, and behind it planted a huge cardboard palm."

BUILDER NOTES
For Mike Morris and his team at Bayfair, the battle between building products and the harsh coastal environment is a constant one. "In this climate, I don't know what we'd do without composite products," says Mike. "We do appreciate the look of natural products, but with the moisture, salt air, and sun, they can be impractical."

Exposed to the elements, a home's exterior can take a beating within a year. A composite-siding product, offered in a number of styles, maintains its fresh look. "It cuts and nails just like wood, and you can paint it," says Jennifer Garcia. Mike adds, "You treat it exactly like wood, it's just more durable and longer-lasting." Upstairs, exterior handrails and floors and the outdoor kitchen floor boast a composite-wood product that will not rot, crack, or split. "You can use it in an application where regular wood wouldn't apply," Mike says.

A metal roof, common to coastal architecture, features a contemporary Dutch-seam design. Aluminum-clad windows and doors require little maintenance, are energy efficient, and can be painted or stained.