Sometimes, ultimate luxury is in the intangibles–sunlight, ocean breezes, a certain quality of time. Considerations such as these are what inspired a modern seaside retreat designed by architect Clemens Bruns Schaub located on the oceanfront in the Windsor community of Vero Beach, Florida. “It’s about wind through palm trees, how light moves through a courtyard and being drawn to a space because the weather is right for that spot at that time,” says Schaub of the Anglo-Caribbean-style estate, which integrates a thoughtful dialogue of the built and natural environment.
The home was designed for a Toronto-based couple who wanted a sophisticated beach house to enjoy seasonally with their two grown daughters. “We love Vero Beach because it hasn’t been impacted by high-rises and crowds, and still feels a bit like old Florida,” says the husband. Schaub, renowned for his clean-lined modernity rooted in authentic Bahamian vernacular, had already completed some 50 residences in Vero, so he knew exactly how to design for the local conditions and meet Windsor’s strict building codes while constructing something fresh.
The house’s wide “U” shape–sited to buffer strong winds from the north and open up to sun and breezes from the south–creates a sheltered internal courtyard surrounded by pavilion-style spaces. “True Caribbean architecture is about designing for climate and reducing the effects of heat and wind,” notes Schaub, who worked on the project with senior design associate John Michael Ohler and design associate Shayna St. Peter-Weller. Connected by exterior galleries instead of interior hallways, spaces in the main house and wings all open onto the serene garden in classic tropical style.
To get the views just right, Schaub, working with general contractor Roy Wissel, raised the elevation of the home, which, from front to back, subtly climbs six-to-eight feet above existing grade. A series of steps spaced evenly and sometimes only two at a time throughout the property makes the rise almost imperceptible. Soft rooflines in graduated height allow for optimal light and ocean views in almost every room and help break down the scale of the 12,000-square-foot structure.
Many aspects of the project are Schaub hallmarks, including the classic material palette of limestone, bronze, integral-colored stucco and white oak–all “bulletproof” against the realities of the environment. Operable wooden jalousies throughout–a Jamaican feature Schaub adapted in unfinished cypress with help from local millworkers–naturally cool the home by shaping airflow. “It works even better than air-conditioning,” Schaub says of the traditional wooden louvers. The homeowners appreciate their visual appeal, noting “our jalousie budget was bigger than the window budget,” says the husband. “But it was worth it–the Bahamian influence reminds you that you’re in a tropical space.”
The home’s modern interiors, devised by designer Christine Pokorney, continue the nature-inspired scheme with limestone and oak flooring, walls and ceilings painted in various shades of soft white, and furnishings in bronze, marble, textured linens and woven sea grass. “Every inch of this house is custom-tailored to suit its owners and reflects their refined, yet casual style,” says Pokorney. In the living room pavilion, a pair of nautically inspired coffee tables designed by Schaub define the space with a whimsical note and connect to pieces made for the outdoor living areas.
A number of furnishings and custom artworks add a key layer of color and texture. For example, when something with visual pizzazz was needed for the space above the entryway console that could also be impervious to the elements, a local artisan was enlisted to hand-texture the wall behind it based on a pattern Schaub had admired on a building in Chicago. Paintings that conceal televisions in the kitchen and master bedroom interject ashes of blue and yellow, and other bright accent pieces–including a pair of vivid yellow lamps in the master bedroom and a red-lacquered credenza in the back entryway–lend vibrancy to the home’s neutral backdrop.
In regards to the surrounding grounds, the first order of business for landscape designer Neil Sickterman was to restore the native trees and understory plantings–including live oak, sago palms, palmetto and sea grape–that were removed during construction. “We basically came back in and recreated the indigenous coastal hammock at the front and sides of the house,” says Sickterman. Informal canopy trees and palms create dappled light along with privacy around the site’s perimeter, however the approach in the courtyard is more refined. Structural plantings of classic Sylvester date palm match the scale of the home and “organize the garden into different spaces,” says Sickterman. The pool, placed off-center on a secondary axis, features a few extra feet of depth at the deep end, creating a supernatural shade of blue to rival the ocean.
In keeping with the spirit of the project, the homeowners valued the process of working with the architect–another intangible pleasure for those attuned to it–as much as the results of the collaboration. “People always say home projects are exhausting,” says the husband, “but I found the journey energizing and came away from it saying, ‘I want to do this again.’”