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House*Home: From Martha to Modern

Joe King is wearing a plaid button-down shirt and jeans on a rainy Tuesday morning. It’s three days to go before his wife’s parents move in to the home he designed and built for them in his eco-friendly development, River Forest. His eyes dart across the house as he monitors tradesmen working through the punch list—grouting tile, installing ceiling fans, wiring a doorbell.

It’s unusual for an architect to be running the show this late in the game. But Joe King is not your typical architect. In addition to developing and designing all the homes in this award-winning east Bradenton community, he’s recently become a licensed contractor, too. This is his first project as a GC, and as it turns out, he likes it. “It’s a control thing,” he says. “When you’re involved in the construction, you’re able to work collaboratively with tradesmen and the client. You make sure the right light goes on the right fan. You work on a fine grain scale.”

But there comes a time in every project when the architect must step aside and hand over the key. “It just sort of happens,” says Joe. “All of a sudden you realize you’re in somebody’s home, and you want to respect their privacy. It’s a funny feeling. It just comes on you. And that’s when you know that it’s theirs.”

Three days later, Joanne and David Klement’s PODS arrive.

Varying Shades of Modern

Joanne Klement is a peppy brunette who says she had a Martha Stewart house before anyone knew who Martha Stewart was. Her northwest Bradenton friends are still in shock, not only about her moving “out east,” but her 180-degree shift from shabby chic to sleek. Joanne says it’s all because of her son-in-law Joe, who co-authored Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses and purchased the Rudolph house across the street from the Klements long before he and the Klement’s daughter, Sara, were even dating. “I never though it was very attractive, myself,” Joanne says of the Rudolph home. “But the inside was amazing—so much light. That house made me a modern architecture convert.”

Joanne’s friends wonder how long it’ll take before the Martha works its way into the Modern, and maybe Joe does, too. As he steps into the master bedroom to show off the private outdoor patio with a hot tub and shower, he pauses, eyeing a ceiling fan. “That wasn’t here before,” he says.

He’s caught off guard for a moment, but he goes with it. “Just because you live in Frank Lloyd Wright house doesn’t mean you have to have uncomfortable Frank Lloyd Wright furniture,” he says. “They’ve been amazingly hands-off throughout the construction process. They’re excited to start ornamenting the house.”

A Pavilion in the Woods

Joanne marvels at Joe’s patience throughout the process. “I mean, can you imagine building a house for your mother-in-law?” she says.

Working with Joanne’s vision of “a pavilion in the woods” and the constraints of a narrow lot, Joe designed a V-shaped house with a courtyard in the center. Florida limestone climbs up the exterior of the home, connecting the building to the ground and the ground to the building. Water gardens grace the front door area, creating a counter curve and offering an alternative to what might typically be mulch or a stack of rocks.

Inside, every room offers a giant view of wild Florida landscape, and Joanne couldn’t be happier. “If I had my choice I’d live outside,” she says while running a Swiffer across her reddish-brown cement floors. “I don’t know about you,” she says to her husband. “Would you?” she asks. And although his answer is a firm “no,” the house offers David what he ultimately wanted, too—low maintenance.

When David turned 62, he told Joanne he was ready to move. “I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life cutting palm fronds,” he says. His “Martha” house had more than 50 palm trees on the property. Now he has a tidy flowerbed to tinker with rather than acreage to maintain. “This is my last move,” he says. Joe designed wide passageways to accommodate wheelchairs, and placed all rooms on one level.

Joanne and David are still giddy about living in a house designed just for them. “I said to Joe recently, ‘It’s like living in a piece of art,’” Joanne recalls, “and he said, ‘That’s the point.’”

A Neighborhood Imagined

With only three plots in River Forest remaining, Joe King’s job is about to expire.
Just as Joe King was completing his internship with Carl Abbott, the 25-acre property adjacent to his family’s ranch went on the market. King jumped at the opportunity. “I guess you could say I wanted to build good neighbors for us across the creek. I hope it’s been a useful role,” he says.

Although King hasn’t applied for official “green” certification, River Forest has served as a model community for developers statewide. Once finished, River Forest will consist of just 26 homes, connected by a narrow tree-lined pathway that feels more like a park trail than motorway.

The houses, which range in style from bungalow to modern, are barely visible from the street, hidden behind a dense makeup of pines, oaks, hollies and palms. Driveways are made of shell or permeable bricks rather than concrete, and front lawns come “pre-landscaped” with dense native brush rather than chemically enhanced lawns.

“The experiment was, would different styles of houses all work together?” says King, who relied on the landscape rather than the style of each home to provide visual consistency. “Handled within context of the landscape, the houses have enough similarities that they make sense together as a group of individuals.”

King became an architect because he likes to make things. “This path has been a good way to make that happen. From site planning to marketing to selling lots, I wanted to make a neighborhood.” And what a neighborhood he has made.

By Britta Alexander. Photos by Gene Pollux.
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