Building a home in an urban area rarely offers opportunities for seclusion. But for one couple looking for an escape from the bustle of Fort Lauderdale, Florida’s F.A.T. Village arts neighborhood, architect Max Strang was able to design just that: a modern and comfortable sanctuary that celebrates its private site.
Homeowners Elliot and Ileen Gross sought solitude and natural beauty when they purchased the original 100-year-old house on the property located at the end of a quiet street on the New River. Yet, it quickly became apparent that the residence was not meant to be: Moisture from the river and climate eroded its foundation and, according to Elliot, “the floors started collapsing.” They carefully considered their options until one morning, the husband says, “I just woke up and without hesitation decided to mow the place down.”
So, Elliot turned to Strang to create a sleek, modern structure that rejected the traditional Mediterranean-style abodes found in the area. Instead, the architect devised a house encompassing the airy, cubical volumes that define much of his practice. While Strang completed the design, Elliot worked with general contractors Jay Lefka and Karl Vargo to refine the details to his specifications.
The resulting residence sits long and low against the riverside. Covered in white stucco, its pristine appearance set against the tropical flora is striking–the structure appears formally sculptural but complements its lush surroundings. The home is comprised of one level but includes three elevations creating delineations between the ample family space, the large master bedroom and suite, and a study and maid’s quarters. “We hid the guest room on an upper level to the back for added privacy,” explains Strang.
In addition to emphasizing solitude, the architect addressed two major considerations while designing the space: the clients’ lifestyles and personal preferences, and the site’s placement against the river with views of a nearby nature preserve. Elliot, who works from home as a radio frequency engineer, is a self-described introvert who enjoys peace and quiet. “As a private person, I work and play out of the comfort of my house,” says the husband. So Strang responded with a floor plan that provides physical separation from work, play and living: He put Elliot’s work space on a lower level divided from the living areas on the main floor. Outside, Strang created a large entertaining region with a swimming pool and covered patio on the slightly elevated main level that appears to oat above the back terrace. The space, which overlooks the river and nature preserve, is ideal for hosting large parties, and an outdoor bathroom helps to keep guests separate from the living and work areas.
For the furnishings, designer Margaret Marquez created a clean palette of colors and textures to soften the home’s modern edges. “The clients are laid-back and requested durable, low-maintenance materials,” says Marquez. While much of the flooring is porcelain, the wooden-like staircase that leads to the upper-level guest suite provides a material respite. “We wanted to warm it up a bit,” says Marquez, “but wood is difficult in this area and gets destroyed easily.” As a solution, the designer employed porcelain tiles treated to look like the wood used on the outdoor cabana area. The same tiles were also used on the interior ceiling providing continuity from the inside to the outside.
Strang also emphasized an indoor-outdoor flow by orienting the house away from the street and employing floor-to-ceiling windows to the east and west river-facing views. The master suite and living spaces all have views of the water, while the nature preserve on the east river bank ensures privacy. Even the smallest details–a small garden outside the master bath that includes 200-year-old cypress tree roots–highlight the natural setting.
“It feels like the house is pleasantly in the middle of nowhere,” says Strang. The homeowners are also very happy with their quiet sanctuary nestled into the city. “We’re in a little oasis but one mile from everything,” says Elliot. “I never have to leave.”