100 years of Florida architecture

The history of home design has delivered a wide range of looks that remain popular.
Published February 9 2013

Mid-century modern

Mid-century modern style Eichler Homes were built in the 1950s and 1960s.

Builder Joe Eichler fused the modernist styles made popular at the time by architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra with mass production, affordable construction processes, impressive quality and innovative marketing. Approximately 11,000 homes, ranging from 1,100 to 3,000 square feet were built by Eichler, with their signature open plans, exposed post-and-beam construction, floor-to-ceiling windows, and built-in furnishings.

Remarkably, these homes are just as popular and relevant today as they were back when they were being built, with new generations of enthusiasts vying to purchase them.

Interestingly, the author Walter Isaacson in the biography Steve Jobs writes that the Apple founder was inspired by living in an "Eichler Home" as a boy and it was his main inspiration for developing a modern aesthetic sensibility, which obviously is the design philosophy he built Apple upon. (Recently, researchers at the Eichler Network discovered and confirmed that Jobs' boyhood home was a similarly styled mid-century modern by another competing builder. But regardless, Jobs was definitely influenced by great architecture and design.)

New urban

In some respects, the Eichler Homes were forerunners to the more recent efforts to reshape residential architecture by the "new urbanists." The first of these designed communities was Seaside, Fla., pictured above, the first authentic new town to be successfully built in the United States in more than 50 years. In 1978, Robert Davis inherited 80 acres of "worthless sand and scrub" in the Panhandle. Inspired by idyllic childhood memories of beachfront cottages, he decided to build a community that would mimic this. Miami architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk were hired and after exhaustive studies of Southern towns, they developed the architectural standards and building code for Seaside. Picket fences, galvanized metal roofs, wood clapboard and screen porches are just a few of the code's precise stipulations. The community was also developed to be a walking district, which at the time had become outdated in most suburban areas.

Seaside was so well received, that Duany and Plater-Zyberk have applied these same planning principles to many other communities and urban revitalization projects. Also, other new urbanist developers throughout the country have successfully designed and built communities with similar ideology, yet different architectural styles.

The Florida Panhandle is home to several communities such as Rosemary Beach (whose homes call to mind a fusion of St. Augustine, West Indies, New Orleans and Charleston styles) and Alys Beach (inspired by Bermuda and Antigua Guatemala and whose signature look is beautiful, white stucco walls and roofs). I have tremendously enjoyed spending time in these communities, along with similar ones across the country, including Seabrooke, Wash.

Other styles

Across our country in many cities, there are home tours being orchestrated of all types of architectural styles. For instance last summer, I visited the 2012 Atlanta Modern Home Tour, where we were delighted to see some classic postmodern homes, to state-of-the-art contemporary ones. In most cases, these homes were side by side with other historic homes, but the overall atmosphere of the neighborhoods worked. These structures provided exemplary models of "living modern" through lifestyle, architecture, interior design, and landscaping.

Michelle Jennings Wiebe, Special to the Times

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