by Juliet Johnson // photo by Wally Sears
When Jon and Van Kerner relocated to Jacksonville, they agreed there weren’t many places better suited to raising children. Here, they could fuse work and family time together—as if on permanent vacation. All they needed, of course, was the right house.
They found it in a rambling one-story red brick ranch built in the 1960s. It had been modified over time, albeit not that attractively, on a lagoon lot in a family-oriented cul-de-sac a few blocks away from the ocean. The footprint and lot size would support a two-story, five-bedroom, five-bathroom home. With a house found, next on the list was an architect.
On a recommendation from a friend, they connected with Julia Starr Sanford. The Kerners both loved Rosemary Beach, a master-planned community on the Florida Gulf where Sanford had worked on numerous projects. Together, they shared a vision of open spaces, views of the lagoon from every room and a sophisticated coastal design that merged casual with natural elegance.
The recessed double front doors shelter visitors from ocean winds, with a built-in bench and a rampaging potted fern balances the other side. Glorious vistas start right at the front door of the swimming pool and fish-stocked lagoon beyond, with rolling lawns in between. Even at the front door, the view shoots straight through to the pool and lagoon beyond.
The foyer opens to a visual feast of contrasting elements. A new verticality rises in stairs of white oak and picture-frame paneling leads down a long hallway of stone, painted a soft dove gray. A substantial barn door frames the entrance to the dining room on the right, harkening back to Old Ponte Vedra, where horse farms were once common. (A few remain, closer to South Roscoe Boulevard, and you can still ride at Mickler’s Beach.) A large painting of white herons pondering bright blue water, from the Jim Draper collection Feast of Flowers (exhibited last year at the Cummer Museum), adds colorful life as visitors pass through to the sunroom and entrance to the kitchen.
What is now the sunroom was once a glassed-in patio with the swimming pool set right against it. One of the first design decisions the couple made was to move the pool to give the house some breathing room. The room is still long and thin so to maximize the space, seating is set at one end, with dining at the other. The doors of the sunroom fold back, so that the room can be utilized as a patio once more. The furniture is made of indoor/outdoor fabric meaning it can be hosed clean—with an athletic family of three children and active adults, one can imagine the wisdom of this choice. Teak stools painted white double as side tables, while teal and purple glass sculptures mimic anemones and jelly fish. A zinc-topped table easily seats five and serves as the family’s go-to choice for casual meals.
Double glass French doors lead to the adjoining kitchen, where lime-washed cypress paneling continues on the ceiling. A giant center island, topped in honed statuary marble, provides sizable workspace both for cooking and homework. A new butler’s pantry holds the microwave and more tall cabinets storage. Lush potted herbs surround the Wolfe cooktop; a glinting pale gray hand-glazed ceramic tile backsplash refracts the lights above to make cooking a most cheerful chore.
To add decorative detail to the large island, Sanford added crossed boards. It’s a subtle connection back to the barn door in the front foyer, and brings a casual note to this otherwise sleek, contemporary space. The island, the sink within and the stove behind form an axis, centered on the fireplace in the open, double-height family room.
The strong central focus on the fireplace is enhanced with new windows and pillow-topped bench. The fireplace’s original red brick is now lime-washed for a beachy, weathered look and a flat screen TV hangs above. When it’s not in use, the Kerners can hide the TV beneath a painting. Newly added wood beams emphasize the vaulted ceiling and a hollowed-out tree makes for a fun coffee table accent; it’s filled with white painted pomegranates. A giant clam filled with mossed rocks adds varietal texture, as does the layering of rug and skin on the floor. The original dark hickory floors have been bleached and lightly re-stained. Facing the lagoon view is a weathered sideboard, with painting from William Myers above and a primitive road runner in front.
Leading off the family room is a gym with its own bathroom, and a “sand room” (Sanford’s phrase for the Southern version of a “mud room”) filled with cubbies for those coming in from the garage.
Upstairs are three children’s bedrooms, two bathrooms and a playroom. The master bedroom is downstairs, down a hallway that also leads to the music room and guest room. The master bedroom is a retreat indeed.
The wide room naturally falls into two halves, with the bed in one spacious half and a sitting area in the other. So stunning are the views here that Jon will often bring in his water rower (a replica of the one used by Frank Underwood in House of Cards).
Jon’s office is en suite. His desk faces not only the lagoon, but a dock the couple had built for fishing. When he’s not traveling, Jon can throw out a rod while enjoying his morning coffee and then retreat to the master bathroom, a panoply of whites and grays, crystal knobs and towel rails and sea ferns in shadow box frames.
Typically, a renovation of this size will include some adventures along the way—surprises, unbudgeted repairs, etc. This particular assignment, undertaken by Aurora Custom Builders and Remodelers, came with only one major hiccup—the discovery of a roof beneath a roof. There was one unanticipated visitor though—a long black snake who outran family and crew to take up residence in the garage. It was caught eventually by the foreman, whose only phobia, as fate would have it, is snakes.
In spite of a few minor issues that arose during the renovation process, the Kerners ended up with exactly what they had been after—a chic coastal cocoon and space for an endless vacation.
Architecture: Starr Sanford Design Julia Starr Sanford, Principle Designer Peyman Abadi, Project Manager Michael Sherrod
Interiors: Starr Sanford Design Julia Starr Sanford, Kendall Cardone Dennis
Construction: Aurora Custom Home Builders & Remodelers • Jeff Brecko
Suppliers: Hollingsworth Decorative Tile & Plumbing Cabinetry: Stan Dukeman Custom Cabinets Specialty
Finishes: William Meyer, Artistree Studio Landscape
Design: Jamie Ross Photography
Assistant: Joey Hodges