Mountain of a makeover

Imagine a larger, down-at-its-heels version of the Brady Bunch family’s 1970s home redone for the current generation of Dallas’ Ewing clan, and you’ll get some idea of the scope of this Jacksonville, Fla., makeover. The home, which may have been a good teardown candidate for different owners, has been transformed into a North Carolina-like mountain lodge with resort-quality finishes, giving its long-time owners new opportunities for enjoying an extraordinary waterfront location.

The project began as an effort to fix the home’s failing exterior — rotting siding and leaking windows were leading to water intrusion. But as the need to completely remake the exterior became more apparent, the scope grew from practical to aesthetic as the homeowners began dreaming of a North Carolina-style mountain home in their very un-mountainlike location on the banks of Jacksonville’s St. John’s River.

Avoiding a teardown

The work required was so extensive that building pros initially saw the home as a teardown. David Rinzler, project manager with the Jacksonville-based general contractor Browdy & Browdy Builders, was an early believer that the best option for his firm’s new clients was a wrecking ball and a clean slate, especially after an extensive survey of existing conditions was completed and the budget started climbing north of $1 million according to the firm’s president Richard Browdy.

“I was an advocate of tearing the house down,” Rinzler said. “But the owners refused because they had a lot of memories there.”

In fact, one could say the home’s previous problems went from the ground up. Unnoticed by the owners, the house was settling unevenly, thanks to unstable soil conditions beneath the slab. The Browdy & Browdy team noticed the issue from its first meeting around the dining room table with the owners, but it took a full engineering study, including a number of soil borings under the slab, to reveal the extent of the problem.

“The result of the testing was that the soil under the existing home was very poor — the house should have been built on pilings, but it never was,” Rinzler says. To stabilize the foundation and the adjacent pool area required more than 100 helical pilings drilled to location-specific depths and bolted into the slab, with a soil engineer determining just how deep the pilings needed to go.

Once it became clear renovations would be far more than cosmetic, architect James Dupree was brought into the effort. The owners had always wanted a North Carolina-style timber-frame home, and Dupree quickly went about bringing the couple’s alpine ideas to life. “They particularly like the look of logs and stone and natural elements on the exterior,” Browdy says. “They shied away from anything artificial.”

So, the rotting siding was replaced with a combination of red cedar clapboards, bark siding and natural stone veneer, and, of course, the timber supports that no self-respecting mountain home can be without. Dupree worked with Lock-Tite Log Systems in Salisbury, N.C., to ensure the logs were engineered and treated to meet Florida wind-code requirements. Lock-Tite then transported and erected the timber systems. The company’s contributions continued inside the house, where it also manufactured the timber staircase — though the unique mountain laurel balusters came from another supplier.

Interior style

The interior floor plan didn’t change a great deal, according to Browdy, though the finishes were substantially upgraded. Take, for example, the kitchen: Though it was the most recently remodeled of the home’s interior spaces, little remains of that earlier upgrade, aside from a couple appliances.

“Baronial” might be an apt description of the room today. To match the scale and visual weight of the rough-hewn timbers (and oversized dining and living room furnishings), Dupree called for chunky French-styled cabinetry loaded with detail and wedding-cake layers of trim, but the formality has been rubbed off with finishes that balance gentility with an appearance of age. The granite countertops (and “slab” is the most appropriate term to describe their visual weight) look like they might have been quarried from the same mountain from which this home was mythically transported.

On to the outdoors

With their home being transformed into something resembling a mountain resort, the owners opted for an equally grand pool-area makeover. Dupree’s plan brings in the mountain-style materials and makes the most of a setting Browdy describes as “captivating, stunning — all of those things. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful site.”

In place of the previous backyard’s aging pool and prefab hot tub, the architect created an outdoor living area worthy of a five-star resort. A kitchen and dining pavilion is topped with timbers similar to those at the home’s entrance. An expansive patio wraps around the new pool, which features a swim-up bar area. A built-in spa perched above the pool provides a picture-postcard view of the home’s dock in the distance.

The entire project took just less than a year to complete. It’s an experience Rinzler says he won’t soon forget. Being a participant in and witness to this dramatic makeover goes down as a career highpoint. “The architecture was pretty unique; using the trees and logs is very unusual,” he said. “All the subcontractors still talk about it. The entire transformation was a very gratifying moment in my career. I’ve been a licensed contractor for 30 years, and it’s definitely been a career highlight.” QR


Chuck Ross writes from Brewster, Mass., about remodeling and design.