Rancho da Flórida
Contrary to common beliefs, the architecture that best describes Florida’s historic vernacular is Florida Cracker.
Long before Addison Mizner introduced Mediterranean Revival to Florida’s Palm Coast, homes built in Florida were of the “Cracker” variety. In its early years of settlement, Florida was a cattle-ranching state and most of its settlers were involved in cattle. The Florida Cowboys were often referred to as “crackers”, likely due to the use of whips to help drive the unique cattle through the inhospitable Florida landscapes.
Cracker homes might easily be dismissed now, as simple shacks, barns, or basic homesteads but further examination reveals some brilliant architectural solutions that helped these early Floridians survive hot summers, major rains, floods, droughts, and the rest, in relative comfort. Being a peninsula, access to a variety of building materials was rarely an option, so these homes were generally built using our local yellow pines, cypress trees, tabby concrete, tin roofs (or sometimes cypress shake) and lime rock.
These early settlers realized the value of elevated structures which allowed for storm waters to rise and recede without causing damage to homes. Homes were placed with consideration to orientation of the sun, and proximity to tree shade to reduce day time heating. Long eaves helped to shade windows from the sun, and to move rain water away from foundations. “Dog Trots” (physical spaces that were generally roofed and open air) were used in place of hallways to promote air movement between rooms prior to the advent of air conditioning.
Like you, my clients were largely unaware of any of this. When they purchased their 40 acre parcel in eastern Manatee County and called me to discuss building their new home, they asked me to build them, “A real Florida home. You know, heavy stucco, deep arches, and clay tile roof. What you’d expect to see out here.” They had no idea what they were in for.
They were an interesting couple; moving out east from their home on Longboat Key. She, born and raised on a farm in Brazil, was eager to get back to her farming roots. She would be raising cattle, pigs, goats, chickens, guinea fowl, and any other odd assortment. She would also be planting orchards, gardens, and more orchards. The owner of a women’s boutique in Sarasota, she is a beautifully kept lady, and a farmer with dirty nails, at the same time. I love the duplicity. She reminded me of my own wife.
He, a native of Long Island with a lifetime of experience as a design/build landscaper in some of America’s wealthiest enclaves, had lived a lot of lives, in a lot of places, before deciding to make this change with his wife. He was looking for a life more connected to nature, and a home that exactly served the life that they hoped to build. He wanted a home that was healthy to live in, tread lightly on the land, and was extremely efficient. He and I connected personally.
Mr. Client, being a New Yorker, was quite direct about his expectation for design. This was not his first go around. I, being me, was also quite direct about what a real Florida home was. I watched with familiarity as their brows furled, and eyes glazed over as I educated them on the merits of our true vernacular. They later admitted that words like cracker, dog-trot, and passive design had them immediately convinced that I was a crazy person. I punctuated my insanity with my assertion that this home should, in fact, be a Contemporary Florida Cracker Home based on the site and the program.
Puzzled, Mr. Client left the meeting and began searching the web for “Contemporary Cracker Homes,” and called me the next day to let me know that aside from an old paperback book, all he had found was a home I designed and built in 2010 called the PowerHaus. I think he thought he was on an episode of Punked. Still, we had a good connection (and I think he was just really curious) so he stuck with me and asked me to either design the home or help him find an architect that might make this crazy idea into a picture.
After meeting with three very talented architects, Mr. and Mrs. Client selected SweetSparkman to translate my crazy idea into a concept.
I present to you, Rancho da Flórida.
This home is far more unique than the pictures alone illustrate. For one thing, there is actually more outdoor living space than there is air- conditioned space. I can tell you from experience, the outdoor spaces are extremely comfortable, even in the middle of July, in record heat, in the afternoon. A massive wall of motorized screens on the west face serve to control insects and increase shade in the late afternoon after the sun dips below the generous eaves.
The structure is made up of three primary volumes, each separated by generous dog-trots, and all under one “butterfly” styled metal roof. The roof is actually a nod to the last big architectural movement in the area, the Sarasota School of Architecture. The middle volume is the common living space, and features the entry door, the kitchen, a massive butler’s pantry, the dining space, the living space, a powder bath, and a massive outdoor kitchen, dining and living room. In moving from the garage volume to the common living volume, you are moved through a long, covered dog-trot adjacent a louver wall that separates you from the outdoor kitchen. It smells of citrus blossoms and kitchen herbs as you pass by the kitchen garden.
To get to the sleeping spaces, you leave the main living space and enter a screened courtyard, again flanked by wood louver screens, where you move by the outdoor hot tub. It is an amazing way to adjourn to the bedroom! There are two primary halls, each that terminates with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the gardens, the lake, or the pastures. The master bedroom is situated with massive views of the pasture, the sunset, the lake and cypress stand, and the hot tub courtyard. The master bath, with a focus on privacy from guests, draws you through an open shower to a soaking tub with views of the pasture, sunset and lake. Wading birds, curlews, bobcats, turkeys, deer, and foxes frequent the view. It is magical.
Material selections were to be primarily natural ones, influenced by both the Florida landscape, and by Mrs. Client’s native Brazil. The home is fully elevated, but it is made to feel rooted by massive columnar elements of clay brick and ubiquitous elevated planters of exposed form concrete. In the guest rooms, I built the bookshelves from a massive slab of reclaimed Guanacasté wood (a common Brazilian tree) that was recovered in Sarasota following Hurricane Irma.
Rancho da Flórida is the most energy efficient home in Florida, and among the most energy efficient homes ever built anywhere. It has a HERS index of minus 31 (produces 31% more power than uses) and is certified Emerald by NGBS.
Mr. and Mrs. Client now understand the virtues of their “Contemporary Cracker” home. I hope more clients will step out of the boxes that so many before them have been building and see the light of day afforded by better architecture.
Land Planning- Josh Wynne
Interior Design- Josh Wynne
Construction- Josh Wynne Construction
Photography- Ryan Gamma Photography
Engineering- Snell Engineering
Energy and Green Consultants- Two Trails, Inc