Neutral Territory


words by Juliet Johnson // images by Agnes Lopez

Well, they’re Canadians. French Canadians. So it’s no wonder that the home Bonnie and Ben Pineau had custom-built is massive, open, airy, sophisticated and take-your-breath-away gorgeous. It is a big house, to be sure—vast might be a better word, almost civic in scale, with enormous amounts of light pouring in and gorgeous views. It’s a fun house to view in person—which, coincidentally, anyone can do this month if they purchase a ticket to the March 28 Legacy Trust Ponte Vedra Beach Home and Art Tour to benefit the Ponte Vedra Cultural Center.

The house sits on a quirky, angular lot on the right-hand side of a peninsula into the Ponte Vedra Beach marshes. Facing north and west, the panoramic views of the Guana River and surrounding preserve dazzle every time the light hits. Architecturally, the house is based on West Indies traditions.

“The slope of the roof, the organization of the windows, the stucco and the detached nature are all timeless elements of Caribbean building custom,” says Joe Cronk of Cronk Duch Architects. But, it differs from the prevailing Florida-Caribbean fare, thanks to the contemporary twist of simple, clean lines. “The Pineaus wanted classic elements but taken in a more contemporary direction than our usual kinds of houses,” says Cronk’s partner, Cliff Duch. “It becomes transitional style, and was very successful with Bonnie’s interior design.” Bonnie and Ben met the architects while working on their last house in St. Augustine’s Palencia neighborhood. When they found a lot in Ponte Vedra, with mad angles thanks to the waterline’s edge, they reached out to Cronk Duch as partners in creating a timeless, individual family home. Ben is the kind of doctor who gets up at 4:30 AM and returns home around 8 PM to catch up with the family and then review case files before he heads to bed. Bonnie is the chauffeuring, car-pooling mom, juggling dance class and sports schedules with a deep passion and flair for interior and landscape design. She studied art and design in Canada and landscape design in North Carolina and California. The couple’s heritage, family and lifestyle guided the home’s structure and floor plan; Bonnie’s creative sway continually evolves in the interiors. Tucked beneath tall trees, a shared driveway leads to a substantial two-story house with tall windows, metal roof and a roof line with a grand gable that extends over the main entrance and split garages. On approach, you get no sense of the interior’s rambling spaces; it seems more like a nice, tall house with lovely water views. The back door being larger than the front might surprise you, but it’s a great clue into how the Pineau family prefers to live.

A modest glass door with contemporary numbers above leads into a foyer with a skylit staircase. Not that visitors would notice. Your eye is drawn first to the achingly chic dining room open on the right. Straight ahead, across various family rooms, a white marble kitchen, patios and a pool with a raised infinity edge, lies the view of the marsh. Light drenches the rooms, catching white linen sheers that soften stalwart columns. It’s an overwhelming flood of visual stimulation, from the soar to the drape and the textures. Undeterred by color “pops,” this monochromatic palette is modern organic design at its finest. “I wanted something airy and unusual,” says Bonnie of the delicate wire and crystal chandelier, which was found in France. “Each one is hand designed. No two are alike.”

Nor are any two of the zinc dining room tables, purchased from ABC Carpet & Home in New York City. The base of the table is a tree root, which varies in nature. Chairs are slipcovered in smooth, white linen. Tall white birch branches frame the windows looking back toward the wooded driveway. The floor is limestone, in giant 36-inch squares with a rectified edge, which require no grout. (They may have taken longer to install, but they are easier to maintain.) The other open wall is part of a columned transitional space leading to the main family room. The column-sheer combination recalls a high-design boutique hotel. Drapery can be drawn for greater intimacy on either side, but when the Pee-Wee Sharks football team comes over, the sheers have to be kept open and tucked neatly. “People always hang out in the kitchen, so why not just make it the center of the house?” says Bonnie. A 13-foot island of honed white and gray Calcutta marble looks chunky and solid, a fitting companion for the floating stainless steel shelves of matching thickness. All the horizontal surfaces have been raised by three inches, per the couple’s specifications (Bonnie is just over 5’10” and Ben 6’+).

A pantry is built into the back staircase. Among the usual items is a first-rate water color painting on the top shelf. Bonnie has owned this little colorful piece by a Canadian artist since her single days, when she was more a fan of color. In the main family room, the seating is casual and slip-covered in gray. During the summer months, the slipcovers are changed over to white, so the interior is seasonal, adapting to complement the seasons unfolding outside. A dramatically long coffee table (which is actually a repurposed factory shutter designed by Cisco Brothers) anchors the room with an enchanting collection of Chinese calligraphy brushes on an antique silver serving tray, along with vibrant coffee table books and other curios. To the west of the kitchen is an open den with a slipcovered sectional and a large French armoire to house the TV. When the sun’s out, you can’t actually see the television—which is just how the family likes it. Video games are allowed only on the weekends; Ben is a runner, Sophie dances, Sam surfs, plays football and runs marathons with Dad. An adjoining laundry room feels enormous, partially due to the tall ceiling and stacked washer and driver, and partly thanks to the open back staircase. “I’m a bit claustrophobic, so we don’t have any closed in spaces,” says Bonnie. The master bedroom suite sits in the home’s southwest wing, accessed via a long passageway running alongside the salt-water pool. With the pool so close to the house, it feels almost like one could walk on water. A tall tufted headboard was made by Bonnie, (because no one else made one high enough) and the 12-foot tall ceilings are, like all of the bedrooms in the house, vaulted. Bedside tables are a deliberately mismatched set and were originally painted a rich cherry, but repainted white by Bonnie. Both of the children’s bedrooms contain a loft playroom (which sit above the bathrooms). To get to Sam’s, you have to tackle a climbing wall. It is a great play space, with six-foot ceilings, but not so easy to get down from at night (a fire pole for sliding will be installed shortly). Sophie’s loft playroom is accessible via ladder and features pale lavender walls with a darker shade in the bathroom called “Swanky Gray.” “Swanky” might just be the best adjective to describe the Pineau’s striking home. In shades of gray and white, it simmers with an elegant simplicity and style. The 7,800 square-foot residence also includes double and single bedrooms for guests, as well as an upstairs theater room. Altogether, it’s a house built to welcome, nurture and nourish.

The sixth annual Legacy Trust Ponte Vedra Beach Home & Art Tour takes place March 28, 10 AM-4 PM. The tour includes stops at five homes in Ponte Vedra, as well as Fantasy Farms, an exotic animal farm in Palm Valley. Tickets are $30 per person and may be purchased at