You might say it was renovation at first sight the day Victor and Barbara Aprea drove up to the Indian Trails home they would eventually make their own. Not that it mattered to the couple; they had already decided to trade their renovated circa-1910 Colonial farmhouse in suburban Bernardsville, New Jersey for a property in tropical Vero Beach, where several of their friends and neighbors had already put down roots. This renovation would not be their first.
“The house was a dated mess, but it had a good foundation and floor plan,” says Victor, president and chief creative gardener at Potted Garden & Design, a boutique garden design, installation, and maintenance firm. The Indian Trails community was also a plus, he says, with its nature-preserve atmosphere, beautiful oak canopy, mature lush plantings, and ocean-to-river accessibility.
Following the closing in January 2017, the Apreas wasted no time executing their vision, which was to reinvent the 3,500-square-foot, late-1980s ranch into an eclectic open floor plan with overtones of a British West Indies cottage. Privacy was also paramount, as they were moving from a 5.5-acre property to one with under an acre of surrounding land.
Working with Jason Short of Mills, Short & Associates and general contractor Tim Conn of TC Enterprise of the Treasure Coast, the couple embarked upon the project by first enlarging the home by 500 square feet to accommodate an office. They installed all new impact windows, plumbing, and electric. They added a powder room off the kitchen and incorporated a laundry room into the deep existing garage space. The ceiling in the foyer was raised and embellished with a unique shiplap design, creating an airy and inviting entrance.
“There were many irregular angles within the home’s structure, but we made them work within each space,” says Barbara, a retired banking industry information technology manager. “That’s why the island in the expanded kitchen is a 10-by-9-by-8 trapezoid. Together, the scale and space comprising the kitchen, breakfast niche, and a more formal dining area create a unique and inviting indoor entertaining environment.”
Anchoring each end of the U-shaped home are the primary bedroom and a large guest suite. Windows were replaced with doors in these bedrooms as well as the main living areas, offering convenient access to the newly built covered outdoor entertaining space, lanai, pool, and outdoor shower.
Privacy was accomplished by starting with a blank palette and getting creative with landscaping—Victor’s forte and lifelong passion. “We cleared most of the property of foliage and kept the mature oaks and palms,” he says. “In the front landscape, I added layers of plants in a horizontal orientation complementing the architecture, mixing Florida-friendly, native, and tropical plant material in variations of greens and whites. It’s important to balance texture, color, and scale in a garden design enhancing the style of any home. When properties are small, I like to minimize grass and avoid an overgroomed look.”
“Our gardens are always a work in progress,” he notes, “as each space has particular requirements. Shade on one side, sun on the other. We added shade-loving plant material to the northern exposure; but on the edge of that, where a sunny area transitions to the lanai, we integrated a mini-pineapple grove. We’ve enjoyed delicious pineapples two years in a row!”
The sunnier southern-facing side of the property sports a palette of tropical colors and palm trees, with shades of pink, coral, and white blending with potted citrus trees. Obelisks and other distinctive garden elements are integrated into the scene to create balance and interest.
After living in a rental property during most of the seven-month renovation, the Apreas are delighted with their transformation.
“Although, 4,000 square feet is not exactly a cottage,” concedes Victor, “we love that the structure looks very unassuming. It’s simple from the outside, but once inside you have an expansive U-shaped floor plan with a serene covered entertaining and pool area accessible from every room. It’s where we can gather with guests in the morning and retreat after a long day.”
The Apreas leaned into a British West Indies aesthetic by choosing white walls and dark, varied-width hardwood floors to showcase their eclectic mix of coastal and transitional furnishings, antiques, and a substantial art collection.
“When we transitioned here, we took some key pieces that had emotional value and aesthetic appeal, but that would also work well with the overall design of this home and our new life,” explains Victor. “We purchased some additional pieces that met our vision as well as some classic pieces from Bali and Thailand that gave us that updated British West Indies feel.”
In the open dining floor plan, for example, a circa-1910 chandelier and a cherished collection of vintage Hitchcock chairs (all from the couple’s New Jersey home) grace a recently acquired round Thai dining table. Opposite, in the breakfast banquette/informal dining area, Hitchcock chairs are paired with a more transitional fixture of mixed metals and pieces reminiscent of sea glass. Three large pendant fixtures illuminate the oversize trapezoidal island in the all-white kitchen, featuring floating shelves, a large farmhouse sink, and generous workspaces.
When it came to color, the couple embraced Barbara’s recommendation of coral, using it on
the facade’s Bahama shutters, a teak bench in the lanai, and throughout the indoor spaces in minimal touches. “Color was really important to us,” says Barbara, “but we didn’t want to overuse it, so that it would compete with our artwork and existing pieces.”
Although this was the couple’s third major home renovation, Barbara admits there were some challenging decisions to be made along the way. “It’s helpful to have some good friends in high places who helped source things and guide us when we were stumped,” she chuckles, referring to designers, gallery owners, and antique dealers whom they count among their closest friends and ad hoc advisors. These include John Stringer and Caesar Mistretta of J.M. Stringer Gallery; Gregory Allan Ness of Coastal Interiors; Christiana Lipscombe of Distinctive Cabinetry Designs; Tiffany Sweeney of Decor Envy; and Leslie Gustafson of Leslie Gustafson & Co.
“Each home we have owned has always been through a transformation to make it that special place,” remarks Victor. “It’s what we do.”