Mad About Modern


words by Juliet Johnson // images by Wally Sears

Debbie Katz wanted a contemporary house with clean lines that didn’t look too modern; she’s quick to point out that Glenn, her husband, had no say in the matter. It was his job that moved the Katz family from the New York City suburbs in the first place, after all. No thanks to him, they bought a horrible house on a great piece of property on one of Ponte Vedra’s many lakes. It had avocado appliances. Not that you could see them, the place was so dark.  Says Debbie, recoiling with the memory, “There’s retro and then there’s what you’re prepared to live with.”
She had the whole house painted white before sitting for a year—learning the light, the sun, and collating her considerable wealth of ideas and experience into what now stands—an intriguing, unique house with as many inspiring views within as without.
Should guests survive the dogs at the front door, they are treated to a magnificent vista of floating stairs accentuated by sculptures, anachronistic antique furniture pieces, lustrous colorful glass, and a stunning water view beyond a sparkling pool. It’s hard to know where to look first.
The stylish drama starts in the foyer with a marble-topped bureau given to the couple by Glenn’s aunt, a trusts and estates lawyer. The hanging mirrored ball chandelier is a cheeky wink back to Saturday Night Fever’s disco strut, all grown up now, suspended, shimmering and a magnificent focal point. That it was sourced in an antique store in Alabama on a spontaneous weekend adventure merely adds to the allure.
The elegant salon, situated on the right of the entryway, is what Katz calls an adult room. “It’s the room I wasn’t allowed in when I grew up.” She isn’t joking—the room is off-limits to children, thanks to an enormous photograph of a naked woman lying face down in water. The massive image was shot by a fashion photography student of Richard Avedon’s (one of the most well-known fashion photographers of the past few decades). Sensibly, it was shipped flat, but when no one in Jacksonville could frame it, it was shipped back to New York to be framed there. A limestone coffee table in the center of the room adds a grounding contrast and displays the first of many clusters of colored glass carafes. Old pine beams acting as rafters create further counterpoint. Warmth comes from the Ralph Lauren suede finish painted walls and raw beams on the ceiling. “I wanted a loungey feel in this dark, moody space; I love mixing it up.”
The architect, John Rowan, designed the house to recall loft spaces, so that the couple’s extensive art collection could be displayed in concert with the glass. That meant floating walls, columns and an openness to let sea breezes waft through. The stairs allude to an industrial vibe with their cable rails. Rowan says that Debbie was a terrific client, thanks to her vision: “she can read a floor plan and immediately see what it will look like in 3D.” The couple enjoyed Rowan’s ability to create something contemporary without it looking starkly
The dining room has only two solid walls—one is open at the top and the other is comprised of glass shelves between two columns, to display Debbie’s extensive glass collection. The table may not be as contemporary as Debbie initially hoped, but it serves as a nostalgic reminder of life in Chappaqua, New York. Paired with a custom chandelier from Zia Priven, the look is luxurious and casual.
The family room, casual breakfast table and kitchen are an open concept running along the back of the house. Invigorating water views showcase a lake, pool, sunken fire pit and potted privet bushes that recall The Hamptons. So as to not obstruct those views, there are no upper cabinets in the kitchen. Instead, there is a glorious accent wall of tortoiseshell mosaic glass tile and floating shelves to display more glass accessories. The stovetop is Thermador (Debbie wanted it “for the blue knobs”). Glass-fronted lower cabinets and a glass Sub-Zero refrigerator door keep the space light and airy.  Debbie says she has no problem keeping the fridge tidy; she’s naturally neat. The kids? Not so much. So where does she store stuff? Two clever spots.
The first is a larder that runs the full length of the kitchen, in which guests can see everything laid out on sturdy shelves and appliances sit at waist level, making it a sensible design feature. The second is a handsome freestanding black cupboard, whose central doors open to an amply stocked bar.
Behind the wood burning fireplace is the master suite, and the only wall remaining from the original build. (Katz heard that retaining one wall from the former home would temper the renovated home’s tax assessment. Just a rumor, as it turned out.) By painting the walls the exact shade of the linen drapes, Katz has created a remarkably calm oasis in taupe and white. The turquoise accents say “beach house” in a subtle, elegant way. That the wall color matches the Katz family dog is no accident; since “she often sits at the end of the bed, she might as well match the walls!”
The master bath sports the ubiquitously popular white Carrera marble, modernized with square sinks from Kohler. With a swimming pool and spacious hot tub, the couple saw no need for a bath tub. Instead, they have a huge shower, complete with luxurious rain head. Mr. Katz had hoped for a steam shower, too, but there was a strict budget and some things were cut.
You might expect a large, meticulously designed home like this to have a large TV or home theater. But Mr. and Mrs. Katz like to go out to the movies, and they’d rather trade the television for contemporary art, which is their favorite hobby—looking at it and buying it. They regularly attend Art Basel in Miami and also spend time foraging for antiques and collecting glass. Over the years, the couple has combined an eclectic array of disparate elements that, when paired together, manage to comprise a dazzling home. Not that Mr. Katz had a whole lot of say in it.