South Florida is an entity unto itself — the culture, the climate, the bugs, the art, and of course the architecture, create a sense of a place that’s southern, but not quaint, modern but not quite metropolitan. Historical Concepts, a Georgia-based architecture firm that designs homes throughout the South — each one celebrating the local vernacular of the region — has captured South Florida’s essence in its buildings throughout the area.
Now, Historical Concepts has released a book, Coming Home: The Southern Vernacular House that illustrates the thought process behind their work. The title of the book illustrates the firm’s approach to design — the idea of coming home. Striving to create homes that feel rooted in the past, Historical Concepts’ design process calls upon three concepts that help define vernacular architecture: style, place, and time. To many, Southern architecture may mean simply Greek Revival country plantations or Miami’s Mediterranean-influenced homes, but the local vernacular varies throughout the South and there is much more to be appreciated.
Andrew Cogar, a partner at Historical Concepts, took the time to speak to Salty Eggs about using local influences to create unique designs that are both architecturally-based and reflections of the personality of its owners.
How do the Southern Vernacular styles reflect the idea of coming home?
Andrew Cogar: Through style, we thoroughly research the local idiosyncrasies and subtleties of craft and detail as they are applied to a particular style in a particular place. It is the differences found in common styles between the regions that we strive to understand and apply appropriately. This understanding and application creates an intuitive sense that our designs have been in place much longer than their actual age.
Through place, we seek to orient and site a building to make it a part of the landscape. We pay careful attention to solar orientation, and predominant breezes so that every room can maximize natural day lighting and ventilation. Working the home under the limbs of older trees also gives the illusion of time; that the house has always been there and the trees have grown around the house. All of these considerations give each room in the house a sense of purpose and provide a welcome respite, adding to the sense of “home.”
Through time, we seek to use reclaimed materials, natural patinas, and layered massing to provide a sense of permanence in our designs. We seek to engage all the senses through the selection of our materials, whether it is the auditory creaking of an antique front door or the fragrance of old growth cypress in a library. We seek to activate the imagination by unbundling our floor plans to suggest generational layers of time. We design not just for the end result, but to plant evidence of a supposed past by stepping back a few generations and considering how a home would have evolved into its current state.
How would you describe the spirit of style, soul of place and sense of time in South Florida?
We push beyond the often-referenced Mediterranean influences found in the Classical Revival and Beaux Arts homes of West Palm Beach, created by Addison Mizner and his peers. While we have also designed in the classical tradition, our work in South Florida has delved into other layers of the state’s architectural heritage. We have employed the handcrafted details that evolved from old cracker cattle ranches and farms in Florida’s central and southern counties. We have also drawn on the rich antebellum architectural heritage that initially was rooted in Florida’s northern counties, but spread south with the expansion of the railroads. And, of course, we continue to find inspiration in the uniquely American building types and folk Victorian detailing found in Key West. The Barnacle in Coconut Grove is a similar example of applied vernacular precedent and is just as much a source of inspiration for our work in South Florida as is Vizcaya.
The model of architectural style and process developed by George Merrick in the founding of Coral Gables reflects much of how we approach the spirit of style, the soul of place, and sense of time in South Florida. Merrick’s vision to create the internationally themed villages in Coral Gables borrowed from a rich and eclectic palette (ranging from Dutch colonial, to French colonial, to even a Chinese revival), but he adapted each style to become a specific response to the climate, vegetation, and materials found in South Florida. From the beginning Merrick was able to achieve an architecture that had a unique but locally appropriate character that felt at home in its surroundings and created an authentic sense of place.
Do you merge any other Southern Vernacular types with your South Florida designs?
Yes. The palette we have drawn from ranges all the way from the Spanish Colonial of St. Augustine to the Folk Victorian of Key West as well as the Mediterranean Revival of West Palm to the Florida Cracker traditions of early settlements outside of Vero Beach. As a reference tool for our work in South Florida, we have surveyed and documented the architecture from a variety of South Florida towns and cities to include: Key West, Coral Gables, Everglades City, West Palm Beach, Jupiter Island, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, White City, Fort Pierce, and Vero Beach.
How has the architecture of the South evolved over time and how do you meld the new influences with the old?
Anytime we think we are getting a new or more “modern” request from a client (an open floor plan, a wall of contiguous windows, double height atriums with interior mezzanines) we seem to always be able to come across an image of historic precedent where it has been done before. We are finding that throughout the South, and across all our client types (home owners, commercial developers, and civic authorities) quality, detail, and permanence take a front seat in the design process.
Andrew Cogar and Kevin P. Clark, also a partner at Historical Concepts, will be appearing at Books & Books (265 Aragon Ave, Coral Gables) at 8 p.m. on Friday, July 20. Price: Free. Contact: booksandbooks.com and historicalconcepts.com.