By the time architect John Melhorn found the home that would become his young family’s new residence, the structure, a bank foreclosure, had been on the market for three years. “It was your classic stucco-concrete Florida house, devoid of any architectural interest,” he recalls. “But I had been looking for a home with an appealing location.” And the property, which is tucked in a golf community that borders a marshland preserve and is convenient to his office, was perfect in that regard.
As Melhorn and his business partner, Christian Thomas—an architect who oversees construction for their firm—began reimagining the residence with input from John’s wife, Julie, they were motivated by both tradition and innovation. “We wanted to take classic forms and make them simpler and more approachable,” Melhorn says. Golf-community homes can follow a particular, predictable style, Thomas points out. “We wanted to rethink what that aesthetic looks like,” he says.
They landed on a look Melhorn describes as “traditional Florida vernacular in its materials and details.” The façade has a concrete-block wall on the first floor and horizontal siding on the second—a nod to the region’s long tradition of building with pine—all topped with a cedar-shingle roof. A trio of double-hung windows on the upper level crowns the front door, its warm wood a handsome contrast to the exterior’s relatively stark palette.
That front entry creates “a sense of arrival and broadcasts strength and security,” Melhorn says, calling the design “a kind of elliptical element embracing and surrounding you as you prepare to enter the home.” While many neighbors have glass double front doors, this one—wood in a chevron pattern—creates a quiet moment of expectation before revealing a foyer that leads to the main living areas, with views straight to the backyard and expansive preserve beyond. “I like that the entry doesn’t reveal all of the home’s qualities immediately,” Melhorn says. “You don’t experience it all at once.”
What you do find inside is a clean, contemporary palette and rooms that open graciously to one another. On the main level, the line between the living area fireplace and the kitchen’s range hood create a “spine” through the center of the home.
To further unify the public spaces, the team applied a wax-plaster product, developed by the firm, to the walls and ceilings. “It’s very durable—rock-hard,” Melhorn says. “But from an aesthetic standpoint, because the workmen apply it by hand and burnish it over and over, you get this beautiful character and warmth you can never get from drywall.” As the sun sets, light passes through the French doors that line the back wall of the west-facing living area, bouncing off the treatment.
The neutral, earth-toned furnishings and decor—including rugs and window treatments selected with help from interior designer Krista Alterman of Krista + Home—add accents of blues, greens and yellows to complement the views and reflect an easygoing elegance. The living area has two seating arrangements: an intimate space near the fireplace and a slightly larger one that faces the kitchen. Meanwhile, the more casual family room—home to the only television in the house—has a large, cozy sectional sofa and playful geometric ottomans. The bedrooms offer a subdued take on the color palette and rely instead on layers of neutral texture, like the main bedroom’s cotton headboard, jute wallcovering and wool rug.
The strategy was to keep the interior focused on the grounds, revamped by Melhorn and landscape designer Todd MacLean. The duo built a retaining wall to correct the site’s steep slope toward the marshlands and leave room for a pool, a play area for the children and an entertaining space. Using Bermuda grass, MacLean also created what he calls “an infinite edge” against the cordgrass and sawgrass of the preserve. In the front of the house, he moved existing coconut palms to flank the entry, relocated sabal palms into natural clusters and supplemented the garden with plants that attract birds and butterflies. “We enhanced what was already a beautiful site with a genuine Old Florida feel,” the landscape designer says.
The project could be a case study for what the new generation of Old Florida homes might look like. It was also, Melhorn and Thomas say, a chance to fine-tune their firm’s approach to designing and building homes specifically for a client’s needs—even one of their own. “Ninety percent of architecture takes place in the field,” Thomas says. “We’re sewing back together architecture and construction into one coherent whole, in hopes of creating houses that respond to the individuals who live in them.”