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
October 02, 2004

The rhythmic slap, slap, slapping of waves against a boat's hullsets the tempo for life in MiraBay. This new South Floridacommunity nestles along the eastern shore of Tampa Bay amidmangrove islands and bird sanctuaries. Its houses and otherstructures exude the atmosphere of Old Florida but come equippedwith the latest technology. Custom architectural detailing, lushlandscaping, and attractive streetscapes and waterscapes add to thedevelopment's sense of place.

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

Outside, a pool and spa bring water to the back door. At the endof the dock, a boat awaits the morning commute MiraBay's freshwaterlagoon and saltwater canals offer deepwater access to the bay andthe Gulf of Mexico, allowing homeowners to bypass landlockedhighways.

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

Palms wave in the breeze above bromeliads, lantana, andcaladiums. Trailing vines climb the patio's arbor over a bistrotable and chairs that "invite you to sit and relax before you evenenter the house," says Debbie. Connie agrees: "It is a wonderfulplace to enjoy cocktails and admire the landscaping."

In the Southshore area, just across the bay from Tampa, lifeslows to a more comfortable pace. Here, tucked off U.S. 41, NewlandCommunities has developed MiraBay, a 750-acre gated communityoffering waterfront living in a master-planned development. Homesnestle along saltwater canals, freshwater lagoons, and conservationareas.

Each structure, from community buildings to houses, featuresdistinctive exterior details that pay homage to the past. "We'veestablished an architectural tone for the neighborhoods," says DonWhyte, Newland's regional president. "We have about 20elements?borrowed from Mizner, local coastal architecture, and afew other traditions?that we mix and match to create a look that issolely MiraBay." Brenda Kunkel, Newland's regional vice presidentof marketing, adds, "And our residents have the peace of mind thatthey won't see their house repeated just down the street. Ourbuilders have agreed to build one-and-only exteriors here."

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

Besides ecology, MiraBay focuses on recreation and socialoutlets for its residents. A large clubhouse features meeting roomsand a resort-style swimming pool with a waterslide and shadycabanas. A racquet club and fully equipped fitness center appeal toactive members of the community.

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

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

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

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

"Inside the front door, the entry really sets the tone forwhat the rest of the house will show you," Connie says. "It's arefined, coastal look."

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

Louvered walls and doors lend island authenticity to thedramatic space. "In the islands, real louvers let the air comethrough, but they offer privacy and shade," explains Don. "Thesewalls give a sense of that same breeziness. Louvers are used asdetailing throughout the home. "The entry's application sets thetropical 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 fireplaceand mantel framed in crisp white anchor the living area. Above, theceiling is tongue-and-groove cedar, stained dark to echo the floorcolor and accented by large, rustic beams. "Those beams are atleast 100 years old and hand-hewn," says builder Mike Morris of theoak pieces salvaged from a barn in North Carolina. "The look ofthis ceiling is reminiscent of homes built in this area a long timeago, but here, it is purely decorative," Mike says. ArchitectJennifer Garcia explains, "We needed something to break up the roomvisually, and the beams really add character to the house."

The designers took cues from the ceiling for outfitting thelarge space. The living area centers on the fireplace, surroundedby traditional furniture with modern upholstery. Building from thewalls' neutral, gray-green palette, the designers chose fabrics toecho the nearby water. "We started with the hazy aqua, then wefound the wonderful contemporary fabric on the wing chairs to addsome rhythm," says Susan. The trio dressed a three-cushioned sofain the aqua upholstery and a romantic chaise in a muted tone of thesame hue. Throw pillows add color.

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

Roomy louvered cabinets painted a creamy white frame thelaid-back kitchen. Granite countertops and a tumbled-marble tilebacksplash are peppered with black. "The mix?light-colored louvers,ebony island, wood and granite countertops, stainlessappliances?really makes the kitchen a fun, relaxed space," Debbiesays. The island, with a distressed black finish and mahogany top,offers bar-height seating in comfortable, leather-upholsteredstools.

State-of-the-art appliances in a stainless steel finish givechefs the best of tools. A 48-inch gas range with convection, sixburners, and a griddle provides a convenient work space. Twin20-cubic-foot refrigerators with bottom freezers store make-aheaddishes. When guests arrive, a 30-inch warming drawer holds plattersor up to four dinner plates at a time. Hard-anodized, nonstickcookware makes preparation a pleasure, and a three-rack dishwasherwith electronic touch controls keeps cleanup effortless. After thework is done, the inviting space ensures the hosts can relax withguests.

"People like to hang out in the kitchen, so we [added the familyroom and] made it big enough to have plenty of seating," Don says.The two rooms share a hipped roof, with an exposed beaded boardceiling and rafters. "This type of treatment creates a relaxedsetting and continues the louvered cabinets' tropical feel," Donsays. "The kitchen is casual, and the table and sitting area are anextension of the space," adds Susan. The designers created aninformal dining area for family meals with a rectangular table forfour. Nearby, a chocolate-brown tufted-back sofa sits opposite anentertainment center and a pair of island-style chairs with rollingarms. "This is a comfortable space for families to enjoy timetogether, watching TV, doing homework, and cooking dinner," Debbiesays. "The dark sofa fabric is very practical. You don't have toworry about kids dripping spaghetti sauce or adults spillingwine."

Susan, Connie, and Debbie wanted to give the butler's pantrya reflective quality with different metals and stainless finishes."We started with the embossed-tin ceiling tiles and chose acomplementary backsplash and cabinet hardware, and we chosestainless for the appliances," Debbie says of a 50-bottle winechiller and an ice maker, both installed under the counter. Thedesigners outfitted the room with cabinets that have the samedistressed black finish as the kitchen island. A deep, under-mountsink features a gooseneck faucet with a satin-nickel finish. Abovethe counter, folding doors open onto the dining room, making thebutler's pantry ideal for bartending.

Just off the kitchen, another pantry features ample room forfoodstuffs, dry goods, and pet treats. Drawers offer storage forlinens and place mats alongside ribbon and paper for wrappinggifts.

"When you walk into the master bedroom, you just go,'Ahhhhh,'" says Connie. To keep the space restful, the designersselected 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 acontemporary spin on Shaker styling. Luxurious linens and a quiltedsateen 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 lendcomfortable seating. "We kept the master bedroom really simple,"Debbie says. "The rug brings in color and frames the area at theend of the bed, but all the other fabrics are neutral." Windowdressings are sheer panels, sewn from two fabrics cut into blocksand layered. For privacy, shades feature overlapping fabric. "Thesoft folds form a textured stripe, giving the space privacy andlight control," she adds.

In the master bath, a deep, heated, jetted tub with lumbarsupport and a rolled backrest beckons. A classically styled faucetyields a column of hot water to fill the tub. Windows offer naturallight and a view of lush landscaping. Folded fabric blinds lowereasily. Walnut vanities with wire-screen detailing and limestonecountertops give master suite occupants their own sink space. Twinbuilt-in chests keep sand-hued towels and cloths at the ready."This bath is really a warm and intimate space," Debbie says. AddsConnie, "With all the amenities of a luxury hotel."

Tucked off the kitchen, a masculine study overlooks thecourtyard. The designers, inspired by local cigar shops and oldcigar boxes, painted walls a deep tan and moldings dark brown."This is not a huge room," Connie says, "so we hung four mirrors onthe 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 atraditional wood desk, we chose a glass-topped dining table to addsome light to the room," notes Connie. The 38- by 80-inch tabletopallows space for two host chairs to pull up to the desk side byside or opposite each other. The desk's glass top rests onsawhorse-style bases finished in rich ebony. The black accent colorcontinues in the leather desk accessories and the black-and-whitephotographs hung nearby. A small reproduction palm tucks into theroom's corner, adding a low-maintenance hint of nature.

Dedicated to the young and the young at heart, the secondfloor features three bedrooms and a play area. "The kids can makeit their own space," Connie says, "and it's a place to play games,do homework, and hang out while the adults are entertainingdownstairs." The designers chose upholstery for chairs and ottomansin colors "out of a crayon box," Connie says. An oak armoire storesvideo games and board games alongside playing cards and actionfigures. A flip-top console table offers space for arts and crafts,but can open to dining-table size when needed. A French door andwindows lead to a porch, perched above the courtyard, where rockingchairs wait. Porthole windows give the space a nautical feel.

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

Kiwi green with white molding sets a cottagey tone for themiddle bedroom. A dark-stained apothecary chest acts as a bedsidetable for white iron twin beds. Above, hot-pink flamingos strutthrough ankle-deep water on oil-painted canvases. "We wanted thisspace to be soft and girly with fresh, crisp colors," Debbie says.Oversize square bolsters covered in a playful botanical upholsteryact as footboards for the beds. "I just picture kids lounging onthese," 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 ironbed create the quiet, romantic look. A black credenza, hand-paintedwith botanical accents and topped with a matching mirror, bringsstorage space to the cozy room. "We used a credenza in place of aregular dresser because it is not as deep and doesn't take up asmuch space," Connie says.

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

Separated from the main house by the screened porch, thissuite provides privacy. Guests have access to the outdoor kitchennear 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 spacefeatures a bamboo ceiling, tall white wainscoting, built-in closetswith louvered doors, and ocean-blue walls. The design team choseWest Indies?style furniture in a tobacco-colored finish. Built-insflank a queen-size bed with square mesh caning. Angled betweenwoven-shaded windows that overlook dhe lagoon and pool, a matchingchaise longue offers a place to relax. "It's the perfect spot forsomeone to be alone with the view of water," Connie says.

The adjoining bath echoes the island theme. Louvered wainscotingand brick-shaped "subway" tiles add texture to the walls, while ayew-wood sink base with ebony inlays carries the bedding'spinstripe into the bath. A vessel sink perches on top, and modernfixtures in a satin-nickel finish give the space a contemporaryedge.

A screened porch yields alfresco living, dining, and cookingspaces and overlooks the pool and lagoon. A rattan sofa andarmchair feature cushions and throw pillows in coordinating outdoorfabrics. Spunky square ottomans surround the tile-topped cocktailtable. "We mixed all different types of furniture?rattan, woven,iron," Connie says. Susan adds, "We're really approaching outdoorspaces the same way we approach interiors because people loveoutdoor living so much. On the screened porch we added lamps andartwork 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 steelsink with a gooseneck faucet, the space is ready for an afternooncookout. Slate countertops work with stainless appliances andcabinet hardware to give the space upscale flair.

"You should feel like you're on vacation when you come homefrom work," says Don Cooper. A pool, spa, tropical landscaping, andcomfortable furniture turn the lagoon-side lawn into a resortlikebackyard oasis. Large, cast-stone tiles create a wide pool deck.Luxurious faux-bamboo double chaise longues in a faux-tortoisefinish join bar-height bistro sets "for eating, drinking, and beingmerry," Debbie says. On a wide veranda just outside the great room,oversize black rattan ottomans and chairs topped withoyster-colored cushions create a shady space for reading andnapping. "We kept the veranda uncluttered and symmetrical," Susansays, "so that it welcomes you outside, but nothing inhibits theview from indoors."

Just steps from the pool, a bubbling spa entices the weary.Here, low-slung palm trees and sea grapes provide privacy fromneighbors. The nearby master porch, draped with lengths of outdoorfabric, offers a place to relax after a dip in the warm spa. Agrouping of faux-bamboo chairs and an ottoman invite morerelaxation. "We wanted the master porch to be a sort of privatepatio for the couple to enjoy coffee or cocktails together," Susansays.

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

"The location of the house allowed us to incorporate someplants we couldn't use further inland," says Sean Murphy. Sean andJaime Ebberts, both of Atlanta's Amenity Architects, designed thehome's landscape plan. "We were able to include several species ofpalms 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 browntrunk?serve that purpose.

Street-side, Sean and Jaime framed the square, redbrickcourtyard with beds and softened the silhouette of the gardenfence. "We wanted the landscaping in front to be very lush," saysSean. Crape myrtles frame the front door, while bromeliads andcaladiums thrive in the shade below. "There are also quite a fewvarieties 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 varietiessuch as Confederate jasmine that climb by twining, so that thevines don't adhere to the structures," Sean explains.

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

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

Around the spa, a lush garden gives privacy from neighbors andpassing 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 gardencentered on a bonsai-style plumeria tree. "We added a few limestoneboulders to the space, and behind it planted a huge cardboardpalm."

For Mike Morris and his team at Bayfair, the battle betweenbuilding products and the harsh coastal environment is a constantone. "In this climate, I don't know what we'd do without compositeproducts," says Mike. "We do appreciate the look of naturalproducts, but with the moisture, salt air, and sun, they can beimpractical."

Exposed to the elements, a home's exterior can take a beatingwithin a year. A composite-siding product, offered in a number ofstyles, maintains its fresh look. "It cuts and nails just likewood, and you can paint it," says Jennifer Garcia. Mike adds, "Youtreat it exactly like wood, it's just more durable andlonger-lasting." Upstairs, exterior handrails and floors and theoutdoor kitchen floor boast a composite-wood product that will notrot, crack, or split. "You can use it in an application whereregular wood wouldn't apply," Mike says.

A metal roof, common to coastal architecture, features acontemporary Dutch-seam design. Aluminum-clad windows and doorsrequire little maintenance, are energy efficient, and can bepainted or stained.