the Manatee River teams with marine life as it snakes toward the Gulf of Mexico and long-legged shore birds skim the estuary for the catch of the day. Here on seven acres of unblemished savannah marshland, amid a grove of old-growth live oak trees, a family built its forever home. The owners bought the property at least a decade before they began construction. They wanted to “take their time, be sure they got it right,” architect William Litchfield says.
When the architect visited the site, he was instantly attracted to its Lowcountry charms. He romanced 18th-century schooners sailing into the river’s elbow to weigh anchor and daydreamed of traveling overland through an allée of live oaks drooling with Spanish moss. In a style befitting his vivid imagination, Litchfield called forth the design of an 18th-century, Lowcountry Georgian revival house for his new clients, a young couple who will rear their children in this special place.
No ordinary site, no ordinary couple — the husband a concert violinist, the wife a former professional ballet dancer — no ordinary architect, they chose Litchfield because years of research led them toward examples of his landmark homes; and also because, ironically, the lady of the house hails from Litchfield, Connecticut. “It was destiny,” Litchfield says.
No ordinary custom builder, either. When Ryan Perrone was shown the site, he saw himself as a seven-year-old boy setting out in a canoe to build a fort. Instead, he and his business partner, Abbie Forrest, traveled to Charleston to research historic Georgian architecture firsthand because that style of period home is not typically built in Florida’s Gulf Coast region. Collectively, the entire team collaborated for more than three years on the historic research, the site plan, the design, the construction down to the details rendered by Litchfield’s project manager Heather Kurtzer. Every effort was made to protect the live oak trees and a protective wetlands easement also on site. The teams spent two months interpreting the site plans using Litchfield’s elevations and Perrone’s drone technology until a decision was reached. And once completed, the interior design was in the very creative hands of the homeowners to achieve the desired aesthetic for a family with young children. “The clients have incredible taste,” Perrone says. “Throughout the house they wanted to use real materials … to wear over time.”
From the formal entry, the living and dining rooms are central to the floorplan and on axis with the Manatee River. The home is designed to host large family gatherings. A small family den to the right of the entry functions as a family room. Consistent with Georgian style, the first-floor rooms follow a symmetrical pattern even if the uses of the rooms break from tradition. “This is a very unusual, unique program,” Litchfield says. The kitchen and breakfast room line the west side of the house, but they balance the music room on the southeast corner. “They wanted a very large music library,” the architect says. “I wanted that office space to be on the river. The husband travels all over the world. I wanted to create an oasis for him. When he’s traveling the world, he has this place to return to.”
With the river flowing 300 to 400 feet from the rear entry, and two growing children under roof, the need for a mud room was inherent. This custom, rear entrance leads directly into a multi-functional laundry room — an oversized space equipped with a rolling ladder and table space that doubles as an activity room for the kids.
Both Litchfield and Perrone credit their clients with the inventive use of space borne of family values and a shared mindfulness of history, both natural and manmade, to the project’s successful conclusion. “The wife decorated the home herself,” Litchfield says. “I helped her with color, wall coverings, scale and lighting fixtures; but she deserves the credit.” The choice of real wood handrails and shutters add verité to the parent style of the home, and when weathered will show the patina of aging over time. Live oak saplings selected by the couple’s children will also age over time. Planted among the old stands, the new growth will nurture the lush promenade that ensures the privacy this family relishes.
Architecture by William B. Litchfield, William B. Litchfield Designs, Atlanta, GA
Builder Ryan Perrone, Nautilus Homes, Sarasota, FL
Landscape Architecture by Stephen Hazeltine, Hazeltine Nurseries, Venice, FL
Text by Marimar McNaughton
Photography by Jessica Glynn, Atlantis, FL