Form meets outdoor function

Bob Hart believes in happy accidents. “One of my happy accidents was the first book I picked up, which was a book about classical architecture. I was introduced to symmetry, axiality and repetition development. It was that book that enticed me to look at buildings and appreciate those elements.”

When Hart picked up that book three decades ago, he started keeping a continuously updated sketchbook of elements of his dream house that employed classical elements. In 2009 he decided to stop drawing and start building what he describes as the love of his life. One of his most frequented areas of the Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., property is the outdoor living area.

Design as You Go

Hart, who attended architecture school before traveling through Italy and learning about its culture and history, teamed with Michael Lenahen with Jacksonville Beach, Fla.-based Aurora Custom Homes & Remodeling to create his home in a design-as-you-go approach.

“Bob said he knew if he stuck with it he’d keep designing for years and he just needed to stop and build,” Lenahen reflects. “He wondered if I’d agree to get started without holding me to a budget because he wanted to reserve the right to keep dreaming and creating. We had a very open arrangement where I’d be his home builder and whatever he wanted to add we’d keep going with it. Most of what you see outside the home was not on the original set of plans. It evolved while I was building the home. Bob said if I wanted to ride the ride let’s just have fun and design as we go, and build as we design.”

Hart had two goals for the outdoor space: to create an inviting and usable area and one that is beautiful to look at. “It was a combination of form and function,” he explains. “I followed symmetry, axiality and classical rules. In terms of function, it’s not just a place to sit, stand and walk, but also to eat, cook and garden. It involves a lot of family functions.”

Lenahen explains how the two pavilions in the backyard serve as bookends to the pool, which follows the symmetry and axiality Hart desired. “Everything is on center with the pavilion, and the pavilion is on center with the pool,” Lenahen says. “Everything is geometrically centered and lined up with something else on the house or the pavilion. The footprint really came out of the extension of what he did on the home.”

Even the inside looking out is based on an axis, Hart says. “I tried to have something you could see axially out of every door and window. It’s important you can see the progression of the design walking out of the library to the fountain in the south garden. That fountain is on an axis; it’s positioned immediately in the center of the library door. Likewise, as you look out the breakfast room to the fountain, the fountain is on axis to the breakfast room, which is on axis with the cabinet and the kitchen space.”

History also plays into the design. The pavilions on either side of the property are Tuscan designs. The south pavilion was Hart’s first architecture project. “I never had a chance to build it before now, but it was designed very rigorously following Tuscan architectural principles as laid out by Vitruvius and his form of architecture,” Hart says.

Because the home is bordering a lagoon, Hart wanted a dock for canoes. City code, however, did not allow for new docks to extend into the waterway. Rather than build out, Lenahen and Hart built a serpentine bulkhead that curved into the property rather than out, which has a dual-level canoe launch. “You not only have a bulkhead now, but it’s more attractive,” Lenahen says. “It’s a nice serpentine shape and we were able to get the canoe launch notched into the property, so it wouldn’t stick out and we could get approval for it.”

Piecing the Puzzle Together

Small, individual areas melt together to form the larger outdoor space. When viewed as a whole, the outdoor area can accommodate a large crowd, but each space has its own function that makes it intimate for one or two people. For example, what Lenahen refers to as Palm Court—situated outside Hart’s library—can stand by itself as a calming area near the fountain where Hart can enjoy a relaxing evening with his wife.

“When you look at the site plan, you see all the individual spaces that blend together yet can work separately to accomplish everything Hart wanted to do in terms of entertaining different-sized groups of people,” Lenahen says.

One of Hart’s frequented areas is the garden on the south side that has a rill, which is an Islamic architecture element that expresses Muslims’ beliefs that there is a ribbon of water that guides man to Paradise. The rill, which Hart and his dog, Maggie, walk each morning, begins with a fountain and ends with a circular pool similar to one Hart saw and drew at the Al Hambros in Grenada, Spain, 30 years ago. “I’ve been dreaming of a day when I could incorporate it into a garden design,” Hart says.

It All Fits

Hart created three main objectives for his house, which took 14 months to complete. One was to comply with hurricane standards. Second was to be energy-efficient. Hart and Lenahen achieved this partly through a 20,000-gallon underground rain-harvest reservoir, a geothermal pool heater and drought-resistant plants. The third goal was to make the space classically beautiful. “Vitruvius and all those great guys didn’t have to futz with energy efficiency and hurricane zone-compliant products. It was a little easier to design in those days,” Hart says. “They were interesting challenges and at the end of the day they turned out to be fun.”

The most satisfying aspect of Hart’s house is the individualized touch it has.

“I got lucky at the end of my life and made 30 cents,” he reflects. “I could’ve used that money to buy a house at the house store, and that would’ve been interesting but not very satisfying. It’s easy to buy stuff. It’s much harder to make stuff. The stuff in the garden and house represents my effort and creativity. Every day I think how neat it is and remember when it was just a piece of paper I was scratching lines on, hoping it would someday materialize.”