Stairway to Heaven
Art and eco-consciousness bring a new point of view to an oceanview home
Inside this contemporary structure flooded with light, the staircase is the first thing you see. It draws the gaze in and sends it flying like a flock of doves let loose. Glass and metal bend and intersect and spiral upward in a pattern so rhythmic, you’d think a musician had a hand in the design.
“There isn’t another staircase in the world like it,” says Dan Bronk, project manager and senior superintendent for Charco Construction. “The handrails were custom bent, and the glass and everything else had to fit that bend so the entire staircase would appear to be floating on air.”
Seemingly impossible to create, the sculptural staircase required 38 feet of metal beams. The glass banister alone required “a lot of back-and-forthing” to get the precise bend throughout. Then, with the drywall and floor already completed around the structure, the team had to mask off the entire entry so the staircase could be painted—and not just by any hand. For this work of art, the team went beyond the traditional house painter and instead recruited an expert on painting exotic antique cars.
“There was more thought put into the level of perfection on this house than I’ve seen in the 43 years I’ve been in business,” says Chuck Swimmer, Charco president.
It could be said that in this coastal home—once a 1960s tract home with wood shingles and a footprint no more than 2,000 square feet—life follows art. The owners didn’t just want modern; they wanted spectacular and sophisticated—a home more livable than a museum yet worthy of their art collection. They put together a team led by architect T. Kent Prater, AIA, president of Prater Architects. Charco oversaw the project, and designer Anita Dawson completed interior and outdoor spaces.
“My vision was to create an updated version of the ’60s modern coastal house, with a low-pitched roof, stucco exterior, commercial-grade aluminum doors and windows that would take advantage of the wonderful blue-water views up the coast,” Prater says. “The use of natural-finish wood ceilings and soffits helps to warm the structure and creates contrast with the coolness of the aluminum and stucco.”
His design retained 50 percent of the exterior walls, a strategy that avoided the need for a coastal development permit, which would have added significant cost and time to the project. The biggest challenge, however, was accommodating the home size the clients envisioned within the zoning limits imposed on the lot.
“One way we maximized the space was to use sliding glass door panels to open the second-floor gallery space to the lanai,” Prater says. “Both spaces have the same ceiling and floor finishes, and when the doors are tucked away into their pockets, the space becomes a wonderful outdoor living room with fireplace, bar and a great view up the coast. It was anticipated that this would be a prime entertainment space, so we included a dumbwaiter to serve from the kitchen below.”
Knowing exactly how they wanted to display their contemporary art collection, the clients gave the team specific dimensions to keep in mind. “We had to develop a plan that would accommodate every piece of art,” Bronk says. “The dining room, for example, had to hold a 12-foot painting.”
With its architectural magnitude and dramatic art, the home needed a neutral background to maintain its modern sensibility. Dawson began with a beach palette representing sand, white and ocean and accented it with organic finishes of stone, glass and wood. “Attention to detail also allowed us to maintain a sophisticated design,” she says. Such details included “the finish on the walls, the combination of flooring materials, the limestone fireplace, even the aluminum baseboards that make the gallery walls appear as if they’re floating.”
Perhaps the most eye-catching eco-friendly detail in the home is the flooring. For the area surrounding the staircase and throughout the first level, the homeowners selected an engineered hardwood product by FineLine. Made from eighth-inch strips of wood previously unusable in the production process—the fall-off from seven wood species—the boards create a unique linear pattern with the welcoming feel of bamboo.
“It’s very cool to see the electric meter running backward,” Prater says of the impact made by the home’s photovoltaic solar electric system, another green element that was incorporated into the design. Power-actuated shades on all windows and doors provide another savvy approach to energy efficiency. The shades are linked to a whole-house automation system that allows the openings to be automatically covered at the appropriate times of the day. High-efficiency furnaces, building insulation that exceeds the minimum standards, synthetic turf in the front of the home and xeriscaping in front and back yards also complement the homeowners’ eco-conscious lifestyle.
Environmentally and aesthetically, this contemporary home is a step up.