Playland with a Purpose

A couple’s seaside cabana welcomes what they value most: family, nature, and philanthropic causes

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Kris Trustey and Sean McGraw developed a shared vision for the property next to their home that turned it into a place of peace and reflection. Photo by Lauren Rubenstein
Kris Trustey and Sean McGraw developed a shared vision for the property next to their home that turned it into a place of peace and reflection. Photo by Lauren Rubenstein

The parcel of land on South A1A sat vacant for almost five years, awaiting its destiny. But destiny works in mysterious ways, and what emerged from the ground up was unlike anything Kris Trustey had envisioned when she and her husband, Joe, purchased the lot along with the adjacent oceanfront estate in April 2015. 

“We originally thought of installing walking trails around it, as a place of meditative respite after losing our son the prior year,” says Trustey. But, three months after they purchased the property, tragedy struck again: Joe and the couple’s 18-year-old daughter, Anna, were killed in a plane crash. 

Through the ensuing weeks, months, and years of grieving and continual healing, Trustey eventually found new love with Sean McGraw, a former priest and professor at the University of Notre Dame and now a recurring visiting professor of political science at Boston College. 

Kris Trustey worked with landscape architect Mark Sartain on the layout of the property, with an eye toward symmetry and balance. Photo by Sam Wolfe
Kris Trustey worked with landscape architect Mark Sartain on the layout of the property, with an eye toward symmetry and balance. Photo by Sam Wolfe

Following their marriage in 2019, the couple took a fresh look at the vacant lot with the idea of creating a cabana that welcomes the things they hold most dear: family, nature, and their philanthropic causes. To execute their vision, they turned to Mark Sartain, owner of Sartain and Associates landscape architecture, and Page Franzel of Page 2 Design, who had fine-tuned the interiors of the main and guest houses.

“Knowing that the structure would be a small component of the entire property, we brought in the landscape architect at the beginning rather than at the end of the project,” explains Trustey, to achieve architectural continuity with the main and guest houses. “We spent considerable time with Mark and Page thinking about the possibilities that could be incorporated into the overall design of the property and structure.” 

Both nature lovers, they shared the main objective of creating an indoor-outdoor space in which to experience both the ocean to the east and the sunsets to the west. The result would be a place for healing with resort-style amenities.

Kris Trustey worked with landscape architect Mark Sartain on the layout of the property. Photo by Sam Wolfe
Kris Trustey worked with landscape architect Mark Sartain on the layout of the property. Photo by Sam Wolfe

Before the shovels went into the ground, a significant amount of fill was added to raise the elevation of the lot in relation to the adjacent property and create walkways connecting to the main house and driveway. Two years and many brainstorming sessions later, the vacant lot was home to a 2,600-square-foot cabana; a large patio area with firepit and pergola; a great lawn for games and outdoor gatherings; a 25-meter, infinity-edge lap pool; a tennis court and pavilion; an outdoor grilling area; and a
regulation-size bocce court. 

The patio is an inviting area that can seat guests around a firepit. Photo by Lauren Rubenstein
The patio is an inviting area that can seat guests around a firepit. Photo by Lauren Rubenstein

“Kris is a CPA, so she values balance and symmetry,” says McGraw. “The blue tennis court, blue tile on the pool, and blue ocean create this perfect symmetry with the natural environment. It was fun to watch Kris and Mark work collaboratively to make sure that the center of the cabana is perfectly aligned with the center of the firepit, the center of the pool, the center of the tennis court, and the center of the oak tree nestled in the parking area.” Even the pergola at the front of the cabana lines up directly with the view from the dining room of the main house, he points out. 

“I was honored to be invited to the table and have an opportunity to work on this project, from its initial thought bubbles to its completion,” remarks Sartain. “Page has a real talent for spatial design, and RCL Development did a fantastic job executing the technical details. It’s easy to give an architect credit, but the multitalented tradespeople make it happen, and I owe them a huge sum of gratitude.”

What’s unique about the result, according to Sartain, is that there are quiet, intimate spaces within the large-scale compound, making it feel spatially right whether there are two or 200 people there. “I’ve worked on at least 300 projects in Vero Beach and this one ranks among the very top.”  

Winding paths from the home on the south property lead to the cabana. Photo by Lauren Rubenstein
Winding paths from the home on the south property lead to the cabana. Photo by Lauren Rubenstein

The cabana is designed to be totally open to the outdoors, with screens that can be lowered from the porches at the flick of a switch as well as quadruple retractable pocket doors on both east- and west-facing sides. The interior includes a large open gathering space with a generous seating area, a dining table that seats 12, a fully functional chef’s kitchen with granite-topped island, and a rear bar area leading to the outdoor grill and bocci court.  

“Kris and Sean were very emotionally connected to this project and, therefore, very involved in its creation,” says Franzel. “I considered it a personal endeavor to make a
perfect retreat for them in every sense.” 

Trustey and Franzel collaborated on tile and granite selections for the kitchen and bath; creative backsplashes fashioned out of mother-of-pearl, abalone, and brushed stainless steel; custom furniture, lighting, and accessories; and a palette of warm beiges and subtle colors inspired by Mother Nature.  

Colors incorporated into the interior were chosen to reflect the tones in the cabana’s natural surroundings. Photo by Lauren Rubenstein
Colors incorporated into the interior were chosen to reflect the tones in the cabana’s natural surroundings. Photo by Lauren Rubenstein

“I enjoy all kinds of decor, but I especially love tranquility and peace,” says Trustey. “I wanted something that allows me to breathe easily. The ocean changes color all day, and the colors in here blend seamlessly with the outdoors.”

To complement the white oak engineered hardwood floors, Franzel applied an acid lime wash to the soaring oak ceiling and interior mahogany doors. She designed a pair of ceruse oak built-ins on either side of the conversation area to house large-screen TVs, and she had remote-controlled retractable solar shades installed to soften the effects of the bright morning sun.

Trustey and McGraw are quick to point out that it was intentional not to include bedrooms in the cabana. “We want it to be a shared space,” Trustey says. 

In addition to color choices, the idea of bringing the outdoors inside is enhanced by the retractable pocket doors on both the east and west sides of the structure. Photo by Lauren Rubenstein
In addition to color choices, the idea of bringing the outdoors inside is enhanced by the retractable pocket doors on both the east and west sides of the structure. Photo by Lauren Rubenstein

“I know what I like and don’t like,” she adds. “But to make it all come together, that’s where Page came in. She did a good job of listening, right down to the idea for the two TVs,” which provide the perfect opportunity for checking in on football or March Madness scores amidst all the outdoor activities.

“It’s a bit of a playland,” smiles Trustey, adding that McGraw’s buddies have affectionately renamed the property “Splendida Fundida” from its original name, Splendida Dimora. It’s a playland with a purpose. 

“Creating ‘a gathering space for good’ was central to the overall design of the cabana,” says Trustey, who, with McGraw, generously supports several philanthropic causes through personal giving and their family foundation. 

The dining room. Photo by Lauren Rubenstein
The dining room. Photo by Lauren Rubenstein

“We wanted this space to be a place for meaningful conversations about important issues,” says McGraw. “We care about mental health and education. In this serene, quiet, safe space you end up having those kinds of honest conversations. Everyone has had darkness in their lives. This space is an invitation into the light and a place for healing.” 

Trustey and McGraw can attest to the healing power of their cabana by the sea. “It’s a great integration of indoor-outdoor living that truly reflects our lifestyle,” says McGraw, who swims or jogs in the pool daily. “Bringing the outdoors in gives us peace and a sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.”

“The nice thing about having the property for a number of years is that we had the opportunity to think about what we wanted and what would work best,” reflects Trustey, who says the cabana has become a daily respite from their busy lives when they’re in residence from January through May. “We leave our work behind in the main house and love coming over here to sit by the firepit with a glass of wine. We enjoy watching the sunset as it reflects off the ocean and sets over the river.”

“Kris makes fun of me because I never want to leave,” chuckles McGraw, but Trustey admits she’s making progress.

“I finally convinced him to go out to dinner!” 

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