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.

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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."

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.

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."

"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."

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