Just a year or two ago, some of the region’s most luxurious new communities were still cattle ranches with hundreds of acres of pastureland and old Florida landscapes dotted with native cypress and live oak trees.
To developers and builders participating in the 2007 Parade of Homes—co-sponsored this winter by the Home Builders Associations of Sarasota and Manatee counties—this virgin territory represented fields of dreams, where they could create not only aspirational homes of a caliber few Americans will experience in their lifetimes, but also neighborhoods and lifestyles that are totally unique.
The 124 homes in this year’s Parade ranged in price from $149,000 to over $5 million, with an astounding 31 of them in the million-dollar-plus range. And many of these 31 were in three new developments: The Founder’s Club, The Lake Club at Lakewood Ranch and The Forest at Hi Hat Ranch.
For most Parade-goers, the transformation of the land east of I-75 into these world-class developments was too tempting to miss. They did not disappoint.
Take The Lake Club at Lakewood Ranch, where the ambiance of a Tuscan hill-country village has been captured with landscaping, cobblestone paths, pergolas and fountains. While the model homes in The Lake Club’s “showcase circle” are priced from $3.5 million and can soar to $8 million (they range in size from 4,200 to 9,000 square feet), there is no golf course to be found. This anomaly for Southwest Florida is deliberate, according to Lakewood Ranch spokeswoman Sondra Guffey.
“High-end country club people aren’t golfers,” Guffey says, citing research that indicates only 55 percent of the residents in upscale golf communities play golf. Instead, she says, Lake Club residents will have a mile-long linear park for walking and jogging, and an elegant clubhouse with concierge, day spa and fitness center, plus all the typical club amenities.
Of the 10 estate-sized models in The Lake Club, six entered the Parade of Homes. Because the overriding design mandate here is timelessness and diversity of architecture, homes ranged from the neo-Classical Cyprus by Pruett Builders, with its grand, architecturally correct exterior columns, to the decidedly French palatial style of the nearly 10,000-square-foot Palais du Lac by Westwater Construction. Even Med Rev is refreshingly subtle here, including the Mizner-inspired Camira by John Cannon Homes and the Avena by Naples-based London Bay Homes, unique for its integration of indoor and outdoor spaces to create a rustic Spanish farmhouse look. Interestingly, both Mediterranean models had been sold by the start of the Parade—the Camira for $3.5 million and the Avena for $3,394,000. The Cyprus, at 7,000 total square feet, sold for just under $3 million.
Moving on to The Forest at Hi Hat Ranch, the focus changed dramatically. This community off Clark Road, east of I-75, is rustic and classic at the same time, meant to capture the essence of Old Florida living. But the three estate models here (one by each of only three approved builders) would blend seamlessly into the North Carolina or Tennessee mountains. Spokeswoman Dee Anderson says that each house will be a minimum of 4,000 square feet under air-conditioned space on a three- to six-acre home site. “Every home is sited to maintain the natural landscape,” Anderson says, “and low-impact development guidelines are in place to preserve the integrity of the land.”
The lifestyle that this community offers is unspoiled, pure Florida country. In Lee Wetherington’s model, the Castella Rossa ($2,756,000 furnished), that’s achieved with high-pitched ceilings studded with dark wood beams, tumbled marble floors and rustic stone fireplaces, inside and out.
The Northern Italian-influenced Mallana by John Cannon Homes (from $1.6 million) focuses on bringing the outdoors in. Visitors to the Parade of Homes found the new installation of disappearing sliders in two corners of the family room intriguing; usually only one corner of glass opens to patios.
The 5,200-square-foot Sorrento by Arthur Rutenberg Homes/M. Pete McNabb ($1.2 million) was expanded to 6,800 square feet and a price tag of $3,965,000 for the model with exercise room, pool bath and outdoor cabana. In keeping with The Forest’s rustic look, this home features timber trusses from the living room through to the lanai, and timber beams through the kitchen and leisure room.
By contrast, The Founders Club off Fruitville Road and east of I-75 is a true golf community. Among its showcase homes, Villa Carina by Todd Johnston Homes won best overall in both 2006 and 2007 in the $3 million-plus category. Another model, Lee Wetherington Homes’ St. Andrews II, won for Best Overall this year in the $1.15 million range.
But even more enticing to Parade visitors were the brand-new, Low-Country- style Founders Club Golf Cottages, with back yards touching the 10th fairway. One, the Jasmine, was open for inspection but still under construction. The other, the Magnolia, offers a completely furnished insight into the ultimate in maintenance-free golf course living. With interiors by Lori Fountain, the designer of The Founders Club clubhouse, these courtyard-style homes, both over $2.5 million, are reminiscent of Florida circa 1910. But they also evoke images of gracious living throughout the South, and like other homes on this year’s tour, provide an antidote to the ubiquitous Med Rev style.
In fact, the news in new homes this year was the new choices in architectural styling and impeccable craftsmanship both inside and out. Sure, ceilings soared higher, and faux painting was even more dramatic. But the workmanship and materials were the standouts, making homes more exceptional than ever before. Exotic woods for floors and ceiling grids, stone cladding outside the homes, more French doors, beadboard and architectural moldings added a richness characteristic of custom homes of a bygone era. The homes were as timeless as the American Dream.
That’s the beauty of the Parade of Homes: It raises the bar for dream homes for at least a year to come.
AND THE WINNERS WERE
Here are the judges' picks for best luxury entries.
$1,389,000 to $1,650,000
Peregrine Homes: The Seville IV in Highfield in Country Club at Lakewood Ranch. Curb Appeal, Kitchen, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Best Overall
Pruett Builders: The Cyprus in The Lake Club at Lakewood Ranch. Curb Appeal, Master Suite. This home also won for superior green design.
$1,685,000 to $1,894,000
John Cannon Homes: The Mallana in The Forest at Hi Hat Ranch. Curb Appeal, Master Suite, Floor Plan, Best Overall
Lee Wetherington Homes: Castella Rossa in The Forest at Hi Hat Ranch. Best Kitchen. This home also won for Interior design in its category (Wetherington Design Center, Marnie Sorenson & Associates).
Perregrine Homes: Belmont in The Country Club at Lakewood Ranch. Architectural Detail
$2.06 million to $2,426,000
Pruett Builders: Villa Solivita in Teal Creek at Country Club at Lakewood Ranch. Best Kitchen, Best Floor Plan, Best Architectural Detail, Best Overall. This home was given honorable mention for water-wise landscape.
London Bay Homes: The Avena at the Lake Club at Lakewood Ranch won for best Curb Appeal:
Pruett Builders: Villa Solivita II at The Founders Club Pruitt. Best Kitchen, Best Master Suite. This home also won for superior green design.
$2,624,000 to $2,902,000
Todd Johnston Homes: Mandalay in The Lake Club at Lakewood Ranch. Curb Appeal, Architectural Detail, Best Overall. This home also won for superior green design and best interior design in its category (Masterpiece Interior Design).
John Cannon Homes: The Elanora in The Founders Club. Kitchen, Master Suite, Floor Plan.
$3 million to $3,454,000:
Todd Johnston Homes: Villa Carina at The Founders Club. Curb Appeal, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Best Overall
Westwater Construction: Palais Du Lac in The Lake Club at Lakewood Ranch. Best Kitchen
M. Pete McNabb: Bellaggio II in Teal Creek in The Country Club at Lakewood Ranch. Best Master Suite