Starr Sanford Design is defining a new Florida vernacular


Borrowed from the past, steeped in tradition, but clearly from the present, the Florida vernacular is evolving, and Ponte Vedra is center stage. The new homes along our coastline depict a coastal modern vernacular with a decidedly old Florida style.

Local architect Julia Starr Sanford with Starr Sanford Design (SSD) is leading this evolution with nearly a dozen homes designed by SSD along the Boulevard. SSD is an architecture and interiors firm excelling in coastal vernaculars and versed in a range of aesthetic traditions. The practice encompasses custom home design, historic renovation and restoration, boutique commercial design and full interior design, including the furniture and home accessories line, Sublime Original.

The homes that SSD designs sit at the intersection of sustainability and beauty, engaging all the senses while achieving environmental excellence through permanence and material choice. SSD emphasizes fine craftsmanship to promote sustainability, as building well leads ultimately to building less, diminishing environmental impact.

Five signature elements define SSD’s new Florida vernacular. The first of these is the color white. Sun bleached variations of white reflect the sun’s light, naturally cooling the home and providing a backdrop to enjoy the afternoon’s shadows cast by a home’s western trees.

The second element is held in the massing of the home, terracing the homes into the dunes to capture the earth’s steady thermal temperatures and limiting each portion of the building to one room wide. This is accomplished by carving courtyards and gardens into the core. The courtyards in turn facilitate cross breezes through the home allowing the fragrances of the gardens and the healing benefits of the salty ocean air to travel through the living spaces. And the courtyard gardens provide outside spaces protected from harsh winds, capturing solar gains and providing comfortable outdoor seating.

Orientation is another key element. A home’s eastern exposure is best open for the breezes and views but needs protection from the sun and wind with the use of overhangs. Courtyards are designed to be open to the south and east to capture the sun’s light. And western exposures are equipped with Bahama shutters to protect the home from the harsh afternoon sun.

Solid masonry is the fourth element. Building with concrete is lasting and appropriate for an oceanfront environment. It is used for its energy savings and its permanence.

The final element is the preferred natural wood materials of cypress and cedar. Pecky cypress ceilings bring an element of the outside in. And cedar roofs with overhangs protect the homes from rain and heat. These natural woods smell good and weather naturally. Cedar shingles, unlike asphalt shingles, are not made from petroleum-based products and can last 30 to 50 years with proper drainage and air flow. Additionally, it insulates up to twice as effectively as other roofing materials.

Each custom home is designed with its own personality and characteristics. These common sustainable and sensual elements create the new Florida vernacular. Engaging all of the senses, SSD creates spaces for a life well-lived.

SSD currently has 32 projects on the boards in various stages of design and construction along the Eastern Seaboard from Ponte Vedra to Windsor, Florida, from Sea Island, Georgia to Charleston and Kiawah, South Carolina. Several homes are also being designed in the Bahamas. SSD is expanding its interiors division, with a second location and interiors gallery soon to be announced.


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