35 feet is about the length of a school bus. It’s also roughly the same distance covered by four pool tables or six refrigerators. What it isn’t, however, is the typical width of a custom-built house.
Josie Myers wasn’t exactly thinking about that when she discovered the property on Doctors Lake last year. She and her fiancé knew they wanted their new residence to be on the water and spent weeks looking at homes in San Marco, Fruit Cove and Mandarin. At that time, rather, her biggest concerns were the condemned, 1950s-era fishing shack that sat on the land and the dilapidated dock and boathouse behind it.
The lot itself, she recalls, was “beautiful,” surrounded by trees and right on the water, and though property was noticeably smaller than the others on the street, she was confident it was large enough to accommodate the house she and her fiancé envisioned for their blended family. But when she learned the exact measurements of the lot—300 feet deep and 50 feet wide—she wasn’t so sure. As it turned out, with county-mandated setbacks, the house could only be 35 feet wide, not exactly ideal for the new construction home the couple had in mind, with five bedrooms and three and one-half bathrooms.
Myers realized it was going to be a challenge from the beginning, not only to maximize the space available but also take advantage of the views, so she called in Shawn Starr, owner and president of Dreambuilder Custom Homes as the builder/contractor.
As a custom home builder, Starr was certainly no stranger to dealing with construction challenges, nor was Myers, principal of Ms. J Design and an interior designer herself. “But I knew we were going to have to dig deep with our creativity to make it work,” she says.
Starr agrees. “We just let our creative juices flow. We were constantly brainstorming ways to configure the floor plan to give [the family] everything they wanted,” he says. Myers admits to many nights redrawing plans and spending a lot of time with a tape measure trying to visualize her new home. But she says the “amazing use of space” was all worth it.
Both Myers and Starr understood they needed to keep the design clean, simple and streamlined to make the home feel larger than it actually is and opted for a Spanish mission style, as seen in the plain, stucco exterior and hipped roof, with Caribbean elements like Bahama shutters. Dubbed “Spanish coastal” by Myers, the design theme—along with a few architectural tricks of the trade—were carried through to the home’s interior as well.
Instead of designing a grand foyer inside the front door, Starr conserved considerable space by planning a small but inviting area that serves as a landing for the staircase and entry into the dining room. The open floor plan which flows from entry to dining room to family room also allows for a direct, unobstructed view through to the water. In the dining room, a large, strategically-placed mirror creates the illusion of space, while the lack of a hanging lamp over the table prevents a disconnect between the two rooms.
The family room is similarly open with limited furniture and accessories, yet also indicative of the home’s Spanish coastal feel. A rustic chocolate leather sectional sofa with decorative nail heads and dark mahogany coffee table with turned legs are a nod to the home’s Spanish mission influences, while punches of color in the accent pillows, overstuffed side chair and tropical-themed painting on the back wall reflect the home’s Caribbean flair. Myers’ choices in decor certainly work in the room, but the most impressive element has to be the view.
The room is mostly where the family gathers to watch TV or listen to music together, but thanks to their larger-than-life windows on the world, watching storms roll across the lake has also become a popular pastime, according to Myers. Sliding glass doors, spanning the entire length of the room, open onto an outdoor living space that feels more like a pool cabana at a five-star resort than part of Myers’ back yard. Beyond that, a cozy pool and hot tub with a waterfall feature are surrounded by stone pavers and a path leading to the rebuilt boat dock.
Whereas the family room best reflects the home’s Spanish coastal design aesthetic, the kitchen best exemplifies Myers and Starr’s creative use of space. When cooking for a family of six, especially in a house that’s only 11 yards wide, functionality is critical, so they employed a number of elements that pull double-duty—like the prep island that also serves as a dining table and an under-the-counter microwave/convection oven. Cabinets feature pull-out lazy Susans and full-extension, soft-close drawers; pop-up power outlets conserve precious countertop space; granite countertops and travertine flooring make for easy clean-up.
Upstairs in the bedrooms, the focus isn’t so much on space-conservation or carrying out the Spanish coastal motif as it is on comfort, relaxation and reflecting each family member’s personality. Fifteen-year-old Will’s room, for example, features a fishing theme complete with rods, reels and maps of the St. Johns River. Lexi, 17, boasts a sophisticated space with black accessories and furniture, including a leather couch, striking black and white bedding and a hot pink accent wall.
The master suite (or “retreat,” as Myers calls it), on the other hand, is a tranquil space in shades that reflect the ocean from the Mexican sand wall paint to the cream and blue bed linens. Live flowers and plants also lend to the room’s essence of the outdoors, as do the views of Doctors Lake. In the master bath, custom cabinetry gives the couple plenty of storage space with modern conveniences like a flat-screen TV, garden tub and stand-alone, glass-encased rain shower with detachable shower heads. All told, the 4,000-square-foot home, which also includes a bonus room and home theater, is a marvel of clever space planning, creative interior design and the desire of two professionals to give a family a new beginning, not only by building narrowly but by thinking broadly.