When HGTV house planner Jack Thomasson was scouting locations for the network’s latest project, he had a special connection to Jacksonville Beach. He had lived there in the late 1980s, and his sister lives in Ponte Vedra.
That’s how the HGTV Smart Home ended up in the Paradise Key South Beach neighborhood, just five blocks from the ocean and right around the corner from the A1A entrance to Butler Boulevard.
“This was a really great discovery,” Thomasson said during a recent tour of the property. “Compared to the other places, this rose to the top of the list.”
He should know — he’s been involved with many of HGTV’s giveaway homes, such as Dream Home, Urban Oasis and Green Home, which evolved into the Smart Home to incorporate new technology along with environmentally friendly practices.
Thomasson’s familiarity with the area is evident in the many locally inspired furnishings and artwork he and interior designer Linda Woodram utilized throughout the 2,400-square-foot, two-story home.
Many pieces from Ponte Vedra artist and designer Karen Robertson’s collection are featured in the rooms, such as the spectacular anchor made of bright white starfish with a see-through glass frame, hung against the turquoise-and-white-striped paneling in the foyer alcove.
Woodram was already familiar with Robertson’s work, but one night she stopped at the nearby Target to pick up a copy of Coastal Living and realized that the artist lived in Ponte Vedra. She called Robertson the next day, then she and Thommason went to the artist’s studio and warehouse and left with about 22 pieces to use in the HGTV project.
Her marine-inspired home décor collection features about 200 products online (karenrobertson.com) that she or several freelance artists create.
Robertson moved to Ponte Vedra from Massachusetts two years ago to get away from the winters. Now she incorporates locally inspired elements into her work, such as the oyster shell succulent that sits on the dining room table in the Smart Home; she found those shells on Amelia Island.
In the master bedroom, several of Robertson’s pressed brown seaweed pieces frame the headboard. Robertson said she learned the process when she was very young from her mother’s friend and recently started incorporating it into her collection.
“I went up to New England and collected as much seaweed as I could, losing friends and family members along the way because of the smell,” Robertson said.
The intricate, delicate seaweed is both sophisticated and natural. That combination is what Woodram said she strives for in her work.
“That is always my goal, to have people walk in and have that aha moment and go ‘whoa,’ but then I want people to sit down and put their feet up. I don’t want people to be intimidated,” Woodram said.
“The home is a vehicle for people,” Woodram said.
“It should feel great but not more significant than you are.”
Part of what makes the house so friendly are the many local touches, such as the foyer wall covered with large format black-and-white photos framed in cypress wood. In the upstairs kids’ bathroom, a vintage Red Cross lifeguard uniform hangs above the toilet. Those pieces came from the Beaches Museum & History Park.
Several works by other local artists are also featured, such as octopus prints by Laura West and photography by John Kuss and Laird.
Although most of the house is furnished with items from HGTV partner Bassett Furniture, there are a few recycled items in keeping with the green theme, like the rustic outdoor dining table, painted with a high-gloss turquoise finish at an automotive store.
Other environmentally friendly features include crushed-quartz countertops that are naturally mold, mildew and scratch resistant, hardwood floors with an engineered inner core made of wood byproducts that normally would become waste, Shaw Floors rugs made with recyclable Anso nylon, and no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, which means there’s no “new house smell.”
The “smart” part of the home also refers to the inclusion of the latest in home technology, such as a toilet lid that automatically opens as you approach. The homeowner can program the shower temperature to a desired setting, and even turn on the water from a remote control, while still in bed.
“The goal is to simplify your life,” Thomasson said, “anything that makes it easier to function.”
Jason Moore, of Moore Electrical Contractors, demonstrated how the entire house can be controlled from a tablet: security cameras, lighting, HVAC, door locks, pool jets, audio/video and window shades. The homeowner can monitor the energy use of the house and see real-time information.
“You can make informed decisions before making changes like changing the thermostat,” Moore said.
Art and technology merge in the great room, where three flatscreen TVs hide behind paintings by Isabelle Gautier from Roswell, Ga., outside Atlanta. Though “Gold Medal,” “Silver Medal” and “Bronze Medal” were painted vertically, they are hung horizontally for the aspect ratio of the TVs.
“For me, my artwork does not always need to be looked at in only one way,” Gautier wrote in an email. “Once a painting is purchased by a collector or designer, I am always open to their own form of creative expression.”
The house also incorporates environmentally friendly building technologies such as tankless water heaters, natural gas, low-volume water fixtures, soy-based closed-cell foam insulation, window and doors with double-pane insulated glass, fiber cement shingles instead of wood, and a metal roof that reflects heat and lasts longer than conventional roofs.
The house sits on an irregular-shaped lot that backs up to a manmade canal draped with natural vegetation that was not cleared from the development, as is common in many new neighborhoods. The lots are easier to maintain, with strict limitations on the amount of sod allowed. The Smart Home has no sod, but instead uses drought-tolerant native and Florida-friendly plants and pine needle mulch. The Paradise Key development is a Water Star Community, a designation to assist developers and designers to increase water efficiency to the highest extent possible. Lon Walton, the developer, said the neighborhood’s goal is to be smart about consumption.
Glenn Layton, the builder on the project, said this house sets up expectations for what future homes will be like.
“People are staying in houses longer,” said Mike Stauffer, the home’s architect. “A big part of sustainability is not having to rebuild what you have.”