Setting out to renovate a Spanish Colonial vacation home in Fort Lauderdale for a couple with four teenagers, New York-based designers Daniel Heighes Wismer and Gregory Dufner knew exactly what they were in for. “We’d worked with them on eight or nine homes over the past 15 years, in California, Northern Michigan, Chicago, and New York,” recalls Wismer. “This is their Florida incarnation.”
Situated on a tranquil peninsula along the Intracoastal Waterway, the house already had some appealing features, including striking water views on three sides and established landscaping. But although the architecture fit in nicely with its surroundings (an important distinction for the homeowners) and the structure had good bones, the interiors left something to be desired.
“The interior didn’t meet the owners’ aesthetics,” explains Wismer. “It became a project of stripping away layers and very carefully and selectively putting back elements of character that were in keeping with what had been done architecturally.” In addition to cleaning up the flow of the floor plan, more significant changes included relocating the master suite downstairs, which required an expansion that allowed for a new upper-level guest bedroom and gym.
Room by room, Wismer and Dufner brought every element up to par. Within the entry, new limestone floors were laid, a sculptural staircase was reconceptualized with a rearranged landing and a custom-designed handrail, and hand-painted wallpaper with a willow tree motif was applied to the double-height walls. A reclaimed New England hemlock plank ceiling and white painted beams were incorporated into the clubroom, one of three living areas, where the family often gathers to read or catch a game. The addition of double-vaulted Venetian plaster ceilings transformed the dining room and adjacent formal living room from plain white boxes to graceful, light-filled spaces with framed-in water views.
Throughout the home, contemporary furnishings are set against a clean white backdrop and are accented with soft, subtly textured pillows, throws, rugs, and draperies in subdued colors such as seafoam green and gold. “It’s a palette of restraint,” says Wismer. “We didn’t want anything to stand out or look like it doesn’t belong.” All of the furnishings were either custom designed or selected, except in the kitchen, where the existing cabinetry was pulled out to make way for new Siberian oak flooring and then replaced. “Each room has its own personality and detail,” says Dufner.
Attention to detail is what builder Rodney Sarkela, who oversaw construction for this renovation and was involved in the original build with the previous owners, attributes to its splendid result. “It was very creative,” he shares. “The drawing details and design were so incredible in terms of the level of finishes and the selection of everything from flooring to cabinetry to lighting systems. We went back down to the basics and brought it up again in a new design. It’s truly unique for this client.”
To finish off the project, Wismer and Dufner also completed slight modifications to the exterior, including removing extraneous ornamentation. Along with Big Orange Landscaping, the duo tweaked the existing landscape, keeping it as minimal and natural as possible. “We cleared out the excess foliage and amplified the volume of the healthiest, most vibrant plants,” Dufner says. They also refreshed the courtyard with more uniform stonework and decorative tiles, specified an arch of bougainvillea at the back of the house to soften the loggia, refinished the swimming pool with Italian glass mosaic tile, and added a companion spa.
Overall, the home reflects the owners’ waterside lifestyle as well as the purity of their taste. “The house is a family affair,” says Wismer. “The indoor-outdoor connection is important. It’s contemporary without being a cliché.”