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Modernist architecture taking hold in Vero Beach


Modernism has arrived in Vero Beach in a big way, with a number of impressive modernist homes recently completed or underway on the island and more projects planned.

Architects from London, the Hamptons and other parts of Florida are jetting in to design seven-figure oceanfront houses that brilliantly embody the clarity, functionality and drama of the style, which has emerged in retrospect as the highpoint of 20th century architecture.

“The modernism you have seen for a long time in South  Florida is definitely coming here now,” says island developer and builder Yane Zana, whose company Coastmark Construction recently completed a striking modernist home on Reef Road for English clients.

There have always been scattered examples of modern residential design in Vero Beach, a house here and there – along with skepticism about a style many viewed as too urban or avant-garde for the community – but the trend is taking off as Vero continues to gain national and even international cache as a sophisticated but still unspoiled seaside resort.

The trend began when businesswoman Katherine McConvey built her home on Ocean Drive in Central Beach in 2013. Designed by Jared Della Valle of New York-based Alloy Development, which is co-owned by McConvey, and built by Joe Foglia of Foglia Custom Homes, the project literally stopped traffic as it was going up, with sidewalk superintendents along the street watching progress and debating the virtues of the 8-bedroom, 12-bath, 18,000-square-foot modernist masterpiece that has since disappeared behind a wall of plantings.

Another smaller but still striking modernist home was built nearby, at 319 Live Oak Drive, and others followed, including, most recently, the house Zana built for Graham and Laura Hazell.

The Hazells and their Architectural Digest-worthy home on the ocean near the Moorings are a good illustration of the advent of modernism on the barrier island.

The couple, whose home in England is a historic estate in Hampshire that was frequented by Jane Austin, discovered Vero Beach while visiting Laura’s parents in Stuart.

Like many other visitors before them, they were charmed by what they found.

“We instantly felt at home in Vero,” Graham wrote in an email to Vero Beach 32963. “Whilst we enjoyed our time in other towns nearby, nothing else came close in providing the range of places we liked to be. Whether it’s walking through Rio Mar, pedaling along the Jungle Trail or strolling on the beach, everything about Vero made us feel lucky and happy to be here.”

He remembers the day and hour when “the idea of building our own home [on the island] suddenly emerged whilst we were walking through The Moorings.”

The Hazells, who have various business ventures in England, sold a house in the South of France and bought a .91-acre lot with 100 feet of ocean frontage on Reef Road for $1.9 million.

They chose noted modernist architect Jeremy Young, of Featherstone Young Architects in London, to design the house and credit him with the essential style, though Zana says both Laura, who has a background in design, and Graham, were co-designers, adding many features and details.

“They deserve a lot of credit for creating something very special,” says Zana.

The sleek, inviting structure, sheathed in cypress, shell-stone and stucco, belies the misperception of modern architecture as sterile and cold.

“They brought in a lot of natural elements that give it warmth and texture,” Zana says.

A three-car garage and three-bedroom guest house seen from the street hide a magnificent central courtyard with a stepping-stone swimming pool that Graham says is one of his favorite parts of the layout.

At the far end of the courtyard is the main house with a killer kitchen, sunken media room, ribbon staircase and corner of pocket doors that slide back to open the main living area fully to the oceanfront environment. Beyond the main house is a lanai with retractable screens, another swimming pool and a wooden walkway leading to the beach.

Including guest house and main house, the estate encompasses 15,000 square feet under roof with about 8,000 square feet under air, and includes two full kitchens, 7 bedrooms, 8 full baths and 2 half-baths.

With the architect in London, the design and build process was leisurely, with the house permit pulled in April 2015 and the house completed in October.

The Hazells spent part of the fall at the house and plan to winter here in the future, getting involved in the community as time goes by.

“We need to reduce our UK commitments, and then we will be able to spend a good portion of the winters in Vero,” Graham says. “Hopefully we will have more and more time in Vero as the years go by.”

Meanwhile, a mile or so south at 2120 S. Highway A1A, another major modernist structure is half built, already dwarfing the so-called Bar Code Lady’s house beside it.

Designed and built by Orlando architectural and development powerhouse Phil Kean Designs, the house sits on a 3.44-acre double-lot with hundreds of feet of ocean frontage that was purchased by Trace McCreary for $2,570,000 in 2015 and elevated with 13,000 cubic yards of fill.

With approximately 20,000 square feet under roof, the house rests on a forest of steel reinforced concrete pilings extending 43 feet below grade. It has bedrooms and baths galore, extensive balconies and terraces overlooking the beach and three interior staircases.

In a blog on his website, Kean writes, “Modern architecture lends itself to a lifestyle – large pieces of glass, indoor/outdoor spaces, sculptural elements and artistic expressions used to articulate a building. I find that designing the floor plan to meet lifestyle needs first, then designing the elevation afterward is a modern concept that I use . . . Though one might think of a simple ‘white box’ when discussing modern design, that is only one example of what can be considered modern architecture. Much of today’s modernism uses wood, stone and texture to add warmth to the typical concrete, metal and glass materials.”

A few hundred yards north of the Kean project, at 1980 S. Highway A1A, still another significant modernist home is in the works on a 5-acre parcel with 300 feet of ocean frontage that was purchased for $7.59 million in June 2016.

“It is being designed by an architect from the Hamptons in a totally modern style and will be in the 15,000 square feet range,” says Zana, who has the contract for site preparation that included moving 300 palm trees and creating a Tahiti-like grove along the front of the property.

“There is definitely a movement and trend toward modernism on the island,” says Joe Foglia, who adds that he has seen plans for several other large modernist homes that are being bid right now. “I wasn’t a fan before I built the beautiful house Katherine McConvey and her people designed, but working on that had a big impact on me and what I do as a developer.”