// by Juliet Johnson
Matt Kane and his wife, Dr. Alexis Kane, had moved enough. “Why not just build what we need and be done with it,” said a frustrated Matt after yet another house-hunting junket. He knew a builder, a guy who had acted as the alumnae advisor for his fraternity at Jacksonville University. A so-called “dream builder.” In fact, that is the name of Shawn Starr’s company: Your Dream Builder. Together, the trio checked out lots in San Marco and Avondale and then, on Starr’s recommendation, headed to the beach. There, with more selection, and closer proximity to Alexis’ work, they quickly found a prime spot. “It is a stone cold location,” Matt beams. “With the best backyard you could imagine.” But what to build? Alexis wanted French rustic, while Matt leaned toward a Colorado mountain home. Starr and his team saw commonalities between the two styles, selecting wood and glass as central elements and settling on a contemporary, shingle-style beach cottage look for the exterior, and organic urban modern on the interior. With a turret. Because it’s a dream home, and the Kanes have daughters.
ut building at the beach, on the oceanfront, is an altogether different sort of house-building experience. Engineers have to consider wind speed in addition to everything else required by the area’s rigorous code. An oceanfront location put the home under the jurisdiction of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The DEP wants your house to survive a storm not necessarily for the sake of the homeowners, but for the damage it could cause to the dunes and surrounding property were shingles and windows to come loose. Because the DEP is empowered with a right to an opinion, homeowners must apply for a building permit at the state level, in Tallahassee. What takes two weeks locally, takes three to four months at the state capital (and that’s just the time required to get the application in the right hands). Once permitted, the pouring of concrete begins. The Kanes were building a three-story, 3,400-square-foot home, which required 40 concrete piles that were 27 feet deep. Starr added a crawlspace in case of a high storm tide, and started the first floor seven feet up, where he was also required to place two steel i-beams, 22 feet x 12 inches. It’s a huge investment, one that no one will ever see, and is one of the less obvious reasons homes on the oceanfront are more expensive. It’s not just the limited supply of lots with unobstructed ocean views, but also the expensive way structures must be built. The exterior is a striking combination of grays and black with a fresh yellow front door. The materials of wood shaker and board and batten siding, with a standing seam metal roof, are coastal vernacular around here, made hip and edgier in black. Thanks to foam insulation, the black has no impact on the temperature inside the house.
Matt’s favorite design element is the “spatial differential of the three-story foyer.” Its simplicity is as impressive as its clever cantilevered landing, which is designed so that the last flight floats to the private master suite on the third floor. Four massive glass globes (Pottery Barn finds) dangle at varying heights on a bronzed chain, filling the space with style and creating a custom-design effect. A guest room with full bath is tucked away down a short hall, but visitors wouldn’t notice. The ocean view draws you in as soon as you enter the front door, through an open concept great room, kitchen and dining space. The kitchen has a stand of rich, dark cabinets which look more like furniture than fittings, and a large island of white corian which holds the stainless steel sink and a built-in breakfast bar. Often these large central islands are the focal point of a kitchen, but not here. Rather than more dark wood cabinetry, Alexis opted for floating white shelves to display the family’s fine china. This meant that the herringboned white subway tile now goes all the way to the ceiling. The light refraction from the tile’s multiple surfaces adds a lustrous element without fuss or fancy. It’s extremely affecting, opening up the space so views and sunlight prevail freely.
The great room’s nine-foot-high ceilings are accentuated with repurposed barn beams from a timber yard in North Carolina. Curiously, these beams are suspended, not resting on columns. Hung from above, they had to be installed by crane while framing. This is why the builder insisted that all of the couple’s decorative choices be selected before construction began. This would allow them to get a better sense of the budget, and make the whole process faster and, hopefully, less stressful. The dining room is the first room in the turret. The room’s 12-foot diameter ensures infinite panoramic views and serious people-watching potential—or birds, or fish, if that’s more your thing. The second floor is considered the children’s floor, with two bedrooms connected by a Jack and Jill bathroom, a playroom, an office and a laundry room. The whole point of a custom home is, of course, the special touches—like the laundry room’s sliding glass door on barn door track and the playful pebble floor in the children’s bathroom.
Matt’s office claims the second room of the turret. His double desk, sourced online and then custom-made, lends an organic flavor, while Matisse’s Son of Man reminds him of all that’s hidden in plain sight. Matt runs a software company and is a “civic engager.” He sits on four boards, a commission and the Mayoral taskforce for JaxPort. (He credits his time management skills with his ability to spend any time in that idyllic space at all.) Clever custom design ideas continue onto the third floor. Tucked into the roof line, the bedroom, bathroom and closet have interesting angles to play with. The retreat includes a sheltered private balcony, just big enough for two Adirondack chairs that make for an ideal perch on which to watch the sunrise. The master bedroom features an accent wall of ghost wood. Ghost wood boards come naturally in 16-foot lengths so there are no joins in this 15-foot space. It adds a rough, textured finish without being expensive nor requiring extra stain or seal. Between the bedroom and the spacious walk-in closet is a fun master bath, with “drive-through shower” and a magnificent slipper-back soaking tub with a view. Alexis wanted a place she could relax with a great view. This bath tub, in its own alcove, delivers. The shower is called a drive-through thanks to it being open at both ends. The ultimate in practicality for the morning rush hour, the shower’s large black tiles give it a sleek modern look, and the marble tile floor in herringbone pattern once more ties top to bottom in design motif. As you can see, Matt and Alexis are slow to buy furniture. Partly because they like a distinctively plain simple look, but mainly because they prefer to acquire things over time—things that will represent each era. Right now, the Kanes have babies, and lots of large plastic toys, rattles and ride-alongs. But soon, as any parent will tell you, life will give way to a whole new set of parameters. Highchairs get replaced by balls, rackets and surfboards; the ‘Sing and Play Farm’ gets exchanged for American Girl Doll paraphernalia; the LeapReader becomes a Nintendo becomes an iPad. They have time for their furnishings to evolve as need dictates. He may not like moving, but Matt can be a patient man. Fall of 1999, on campus at JU, Matt opened with “You look really lost.” Now, 15 years later, he and Alexis are married, living in their “forever home,” with a second baby girl on the way. Dreams do come true. ]