words by Juliet Johnson // photos by Agnes Lopez
With restaurants Orsay and Black Sheep under his belt—and two more projects in the works—chef Jon Insetta plays an important role in The New Jacksonville. At work, he’s surrounded by heat, bustle, frenetic deadlines and a relentless commitment to perfection. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that, when it came time to design his home, he wanted "calm and soothing,” somewhere he could wear any pair of his extensive sneaker collection and not slip (professional kitchen floors are the ultimate “slippery when wet”), somewhere he could raise a puppy and, most importantly, a place where he could relax.
He found his rest and relaxation in a Northeast corner of a high floor in San Marco Place. Initially, the condo was a three-bedroom unit with a graceful octagonal foyer and expansive river views, the city’s richly varied urban landscape tucked in around the St. Johns and stretch-ed beyond.
For this active entrepreneur, the apartment was not practical. Over time, he has smoothed out angles to add storage, removed walls and crafted an open concept, one-bedroom home with grande vistas. What was originally the Great Room has been transformed into an office/ music room. The third bedroom, which had the best views, is now the dining area. The second bedroom has become a comfy media room. The second bathroom could be for guests, but is currently the domain of Monte, Insetta’s French bulldog. His bathroom has a rain shower and an incredible view of the only remaining vacant land on the river in San Marco, soon to be developed.
So, what does a successful chef’s home kitchen look like? For Insetta, it’s his food lab. “We can’t test dishes at work, as there are too many interruptions,” he says, and his home kitchen has to function without the benefit of gas, a staggering expense in a condo tower impossible to justify. The pros’ alternative to gas is an induction burner cooktop and Gaggenau, a German manufacturer of high-end home appliances, makes the best performer. The company’s oven is one of the few residential ovens that heats up to 550 degrees (for perfectly crispy pizzas) and its refrigerator, with heavy doors that close with a satisfying thunk, is even more culinarily impressive.
A large prep area doubles as a breakfast bar thanks to four Charles Ghost stools in vibrant, transparent polycarbonate. Like so many of us, Insetta wishes he had a second oven. When he was building his kitchen, he opted for an in-wall coffee machine. It looks cool, he admits, but it doesn’t get used as often as he had anticipated, as he and girlfriend Ashley Soles tend to drink their coffee at work. Six spices are always out—turmeric, chile powder, paprika, pepper flakes, cumin and bay leaves. These are the ones he uses most often and they’re also the most colorful. Of course, there is a full pull-out cabinet housing the rest of Insetta’s spices. (Guests will notice the lack of a microwave, as he prefers an immersion circulator. Chefs, man.) Soles cooks, too—“a ton of desserts, a ton of pastries, homemade ice cream”—a jar of brittle sitting on the counter, eyed wistfully by guests, is her work. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the couple met at Insetta’s former Downtown restaurant, Chew.)
With such significant views, the living room furniture was a challenge for Insetta. He left it bare for quite a while, while he mulled over modern options. But as his art collection grew, he knew he needed something and settled on two white Barcelona chairs, a white leather daybed and cow hide. The furnishings are the perfect neutral when amped by dramatic lighting fixtures—in this case, two different, classic chandeliers are wrapped in a sheer, smoky plastic shade. The crystals sparkle at night, mimicking the twinkling lights on the river.
A large Shaun Thurston work dominates one wall. Thurston, an artist known for his Downtown graffiti works, is one of the chef’s favorite local artists. “He’s a great asset for Jacksonville,” says Insetta. “His talent for this city at this time, it’s really ideal.”
A fantastical Candace Tripp of a cheerful blue bear on a bit of tree perches between the windows. In the media room, a screen drops down, while a splendid standing AK47 Rifle Lamp in gold is set on the black credenza. “I was reading an article about a Japanese rap artist in Vice magazine and he had one of these lamps,” says Insetta. “I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I ever saw. Two days later, I had to have one!”
Insetta gets many of his décor ideas from a blend of Wallpaper magazine and restaurant supply catalogues. That and the year he spent studying in London, “Just as the restaurant era was beginning to have an impact on an international level. I was able to see some amazing restaurant builds. It’s had a big influence on my vision of what I want to do in Jacksonville.”
The music/office room contains a giant gray pin board, where Insetta storyboarded Black Sheep (his restaurant with rooftop bar in the 5 Points neighborhood). Today, the pin board details where he will progress his next two projects, though details were not divulged. (Maybe in an upcoming issue.) The master bedroom continues Insetta’s favored “super clean, simplified look” with a low-rise king-sized bed that slides back to access a set of shelves. He took a while to find the right steer skull to put over the bed, as he wanted the correct proportions: a large, chunky head with long horns. Though a black armchair and charred chandelier look like remnants from a night of cooking gone horribly awry, the two pieces are actually part of the Smoke trio by Dutch designer Maartin Baas for Moooi. The iconoclastic pair act as the perfect rebellion against all the smooth white surfaces, and have an almost “goth” feel. Ironic for a chef to relish burnt stuff, one would imagine.
The master bathroom features a Toto tub with overflow onto a custom teak deck, and a fabulously luxuriant shower, with lights, rainhead squares in the ceiling and a sleek contemporary spray on the wall next to the sophisticated control panel. Even a Toto toilet comes with special metallic control panel.
And then there’s Insetta’s closet. Since he was the condo’s first resident, he has the most space, which he needs, thanks to his sneaker collection. At 2,300 square feet, this is not a small condo by any means, but “it is only a one bedroom,” chuckles the jovial Jax native. He is one of many folks around Downtown very pleased with the giant new scoreboards at EverBank Field and looks forward to seeing projects like Shad Kahn’s proposed waterfront plan and the USS Adams come to fruition. This Jacksonville son is ready to play his part, and then kick back and enjoy the view as it unfolds all around him.