Modern homes, with their straight lines and hard angles, can easily become too austere for a young family seeking casual comfort. Such was the paradox designer Maggie Cruz addressed when her clients asked her to infuse a new house they were building with the vintage vibes of an old-Florida plantation home. “It’s a very grand house,” Cruz says, “yet the wife wanted to make sure it felt cozy and charming but at the same time modern. She really wanted it to feel like a Florida home— authentic and appropriate.”
Cruz worked with frequent collaborators—residential designer Scott Tao and builder Mark H. Candela—to combine soothing colors and rich wood tones within a crisp shell of black and white to achieve that goal. “We definitely felt like the house needed to be grounded in natural textures,” she says. Tao shared the same mission with regard to how the home would be built. For example, a small coral-stone house sat on the property when the owners purchased it. It had been neglected for too long to save, but it inspired the team as the new residence took shape. “Bringing some of that old-Florida vernacular was something they wanted to do as an homage to that old house,” says Tao, who partnered with associate architect Jose Perdomo on the project.
The mix of old and new starts with the weathered brick driveway that leads through a smooth stucco façade into a private courtyard. Only then does the house reveal itself through a set of glass-paned blue doors that open into a foyer lined with checkerboard tile and shiplap-paneled walls. “They wanted a colored door that sets the stage, that says you’re about to go into a cool house,” Cruz says.
The first-floor architecture bears modern hallmarks of voluminous angular spaces with oversize windows, but Tao says its L-shaped layout enhances the classic plantation design, where French doors in nearly every public room and bedroom open to a porch, veranda or balcony. “It brings back the lure of living in a tropical climate,” Cruz says. She used knotty, whitewashed oak on the floors as a contrast to the sleek white walls—“a huge way of giving it some warmth,” she explains. Cruz also designed a wall of built-in shelving to create a library space in the multipurpose living room of the foyer. The natural-oak backing of the shelves, encased in white-painted wood, provide a handsome frame for the family’s collection of old encyclopedias. A pair of eggplant tufted armchairs adds a note of elegance to the otherwise neutral setting. “It’s a nice place to introduce color but in a sophisticated way,” she says, a hint of formality that works well when the family entertains.
The wife, who is Colombian, displays her mother’s sculpture on the living room shelves. But although her South American heritage speaks through the art, the culture’s tendency to separate kitchens from social areas doesn’t hold true here. “The kitchen is the heart of the house,” Tao says. Two sides open to an expansive outdoor terrace and loggia that frame a large pool, and there’s no formal dining room. Given the importance of the kitchen, Cruz faithfully combined old and new elements on every surface: Modern cabinetry and stainless-steel appliances contrast with a brick backsplash; a custom cabinet and hutch blends rustic old-world painted cement tile with smooth marble; and a glass-and-metal globe light hangs over woven French bistro chairs that surround a black farm table.
The design team gave just as much thought to the outdoor spaces, from the pool that can be seen from most of the interiors thanks to the L-shaped architecture, to the simple, elegant garden of clusia plants, pigeon plums and lady palms by landscape designer AJ Morales, to the inviting alfresco living area: the husband requested a large outdoor seating, dining and entertainment area to be as well-appointed as the interiors. Cruz responded with large-scale contemporary furnishings set within the columned loggia, and she rewired indoor pendant lighting to hang alongside the colonnade. “You can see them from the inside,” Cruz said. “I really wanted to make sure they flowed well and were pieces that were noticeable.”
Upstairs, the master suite balcony sits atop the loggia, with 180-degree views from the street to the pool. A well- used rec room on the other side of the property offers front-porch viewing from a wide balcony that connects it to the main house—a detail that evolved from the owners’ request for a larger garage. “I said, ‘Let’s take advantage of that, reinforce the foundation and create a second-floor volume,’ ” recalls Candela, who helmed the build with supervisor Steve Tofolli. The new bridge between the two buildings not only creates another outdoor room, but it also forms a striking porte cochere that frames an entry into the courtyard below. “You can see everything right from that bridge,” he says.
Cruz notes that in a neighborhood filled with “big, new houses,” this one is successfully grounded within its leafy plantation-like surroundings. “The house really makes them feel like they are living in a slower and more family-oriented time,” he says.