They make things big in Texas: big ranches, big oil, big hair. They make big people too, as in a very tall couple with very tall children and very tall grandchildren, who wanted a Florida beach house that could accommodate their large, leggy family.
The husband and wife, originally from Texas, reared their family in Colorado as he continued his career in the energy business. When they realized cold-weather sports were becoming less and less appealing, and children and grandkids had moved east, they asked some of their friends where they should look for a winter family beach home. The unanimous answer was John’s Island.
In October 2019, the couple closed on a 23-year-old Moulton Layne P.L. classic Bermuda-style home on the North Course. “It was love at first sight,” says the husband. However, the house was dated and needed to be reconfigured to meet the large family’s needs.
The wife made three phone calls. Consulting a “little yellow sheet” provided by the real estate agent listing local designers’ contact information, her first two calls went to voicemail. The third design firm answered the phone. “I could already tell she’s my gal,” says the statuesque wife, referring to Shelly Craft, director of design with Spectrum Interior Design, who was working late and picked up. She immediately tasked Spectrum with quarterbacking a total renovation with additions to the 4,034-square-foot home, all during the pandemic. Craft and Spectrum founder-president Susan Schuyler Smith assembled a team that had previously worked harmoniously together to get a job done: architect Harry Howle, contractor David Lyons of Croom Construction, and landscape designer Mark Sartain.
First and foremost, the homeowners wanted a “beach house.” With a home in Colorado and a hunting lodge in mid-Florida, where they are avid bird shooters, the couple wanted their new home to be distinct and emblematic of its coastal context, just as their other two homes referenced their particular environments. “I want to know I’m in Vero Beach when I walk in,” says the husband.
Howle was charged with executing the homeowners’ vision of a uniquely Vero Beach home that physically and aesthetically accommodated their family. Howle took the original house from 4,034 to 5,534 square feet, with an additional 750 square feet of porches. The street-side elevation gives away none of this dramatic expansion, and its other elevations are utterly organic. Inside, Howle initially found the house was a bit meager on detail.
“We’re doing more now in interior architecture; we’re adding beams, tongue-and- groove ceilings, coffered ceilings, moldings, columns— texture,” he explains in his Beachland Boulevard office, the home’s blueprints spread out on his desk. The distinctive Doric columns on the front’s exterior reappear in the living room just as one enters the front door, an original gesture that he honored.
Howle addressed every room in the structure, replacing an office with a powder room; expanding the kitchen and marrying it to a breakfast area and family room; creating a two-bedroom and full-bath family guest wing hyphenated to the main house by a seamlessly integrated screened lanai; reworking wasted space off the living room into a large dining area; and creating a more separate access to the master suite. The entire home is beautifully detailed and spacious, but the showstopper is the master bath.
“I was trying to create a wow factor in there,” he says. While the rest of the house is rectilinear, the master bath is a shimmering celebration of curves and ellipses; basically reveling in its sinuous, rhythmic layering of ovals.
While Howle drafted it, Croom had to execute it. “Wow” is an understatement.
Lyons had been part of the crew that built the original house. The greatest challenge of this renovation, he explains, was the installation of the oval, freestanding tub in its bath alcove. Because of the tile work that had to be completed before the installation, as well as the plumbing, the tub had to go in last.
“Getting the tub in between the shower room on the left and the toilet closet on the right was a really big challenge,” says Lyons. “The 500- pound tub had to be hoisted vertically, carefully, pushed through the opening into the alcove because the walls were too narrow. We had to make a block and tackle. At one point you had this $6,000 tub floating in mid-air, rotating it, lowering it just enough so the plumber could make the connections to the drain and supply,” he explains. The curved molding in the master bath posed a different challenge, because, simply put, “Wood doesn’t bend,” says Aaron Benson, the site superintendent on the project. “That whole room is oval. We had to order special trim material for all the framing. We had to hand-build that to form the substructure. The goal is to make the seams invisible.”
Given all the attention to detail, COVID-related supply chain issues (kitchen cabinets, refrigerator), and the inherent challenges of uniting an original structure to new ones, the Croom crew has high praise for the homeowners: “They were such great clients—understanding and patient.”
And decisive. The husband knew exactly what had to happen for the two-year project to succeed and initially addressed the team accordingly: “I want to stay married, so it has to meet her needs.” For her, it was all about the family of three adult children, spouses, and five grandchildren—all boys. “We are very tall people,” she says. There had to be enough extra-long beds, tall counters (40 inches high as opposed to the standard 36 inches), large-scale furniture, lots of seating, places where all can gather, and great flow.
When it came to the color palette, however, it was all about the husband.
“We had been looking at houses. It kind of comes from the land, the Bermuda colors, the Bahamas colors, pastels,” he explains. The wife laughs, “Here’s this big, busy guy. He gives the color palette to Spectrum, they took it and ran with it.” Enveloped by bright, white walls and white oak floors, the pastel palette leans toward the organic side—beiges, whites, blushes, grays, blues, gray-greens. Lucite accessories keep things light. The result is a beachy sophistication—not a pelican or palm tree in sight.
And absolutely everything, from floor to ceiling, is high performance.
“The carpet, the upholstery, all are solution-dyed acrylic,” notes Craft. The husband gushes, “All those white couches. This new stuff is really cool. We’ve lived on this.” But what really made the project worthwhile was the way the house functioned. “The chaos of 20 people in the house—the design, the layout made that endeavor doable. I will tell you: You just feel better when your surroundings are integrated.
I have a great respect for interior designers,” he says.
Where the interior design leaves off, the landscape design takes over, luring the eye through the house and out to the gardens. Sartain had to consider how the family was going to use the narrow backyard, with its north-south orientation.
He and the wife agreed on a series of five outdoor rooms with different functions, including dining, a water feature/plunge pool, a cloister garden, and two additional gardens— all inspired by formal English and French gardens and tied together with crushed stone underfoot.
The gardens start at the front door: “We really wanted to continue the sense of arrival that you get when you enter the house,” says Sartain. One is drawn outside to the circular cloister garden off the great room, the center of which is a large potted bromeliad. The other gardens contain “families” of pots that appear to have been collected over a period of time. Benches inspire moments, and the paths lead to the different rooms. “I love just standing outside,” says the wife.
“This couple were some of the best clients I’ve ever had. They weren’t easy on us, but they trusted us. That trust was very rewarding,” says Sartain.
“It went so smoothly because of the association and relationships between the professionals on the project. We had all worked together before. The clients are really down- to-earth and easygoing,” says Howle.
Tall and down-to-earth. A seeming paradox, but in reality, the epitome— the quintessence—of this couple, their family, and their very Vero Beach home.