Florida Living: A Brilliant Mid-Century Makeover Sparkles in Rio Vista

Swell single seat club chairs from Richard Schultz surround one of his Petal tables on the home's poolside terrace. Available through Design Within Reach, Miami Design District.

Florida Living:
A Brilliant Mid-Century Makeover Sparkles in Rio Vista

Text John T. O'Connor       Photos Jeff Herron

There were a handful of exceptional residential architects who called South Florida home after World War II Bill Bigoney, Wahl Snyder, Robert Hanson and a few others stood out from the crowd designing homes for the thousands of new residents eager to own a home in the Sunshine State. Another was Lester Avery, who began his career on Florida's west coast, but became known for his Mid-Century Modern apartments and a series of ranch-style homes with angled, flat roofs and merging wings. Avery was responsible for Jackie Gleason's home in Miami Beach, the Schubert Hotel and Panama Club in Fort Lauderdale. And even though his work often represents some of the best of that post-war era in design, sometimes people who buy an Avery-designed home are not even aware of it, as the original drawings have been lost and records not kept.

Such was not the case when two gentlemen from New York purchased a 1551 square foot fixer-upper in Fort Lauderdale's swank Rio Vista neighborhood. The two-bedroom, two-bath residence was designed for the Filstrup family of St. Joseph, Michigan as a vacation home in 1951, and the couple bought it in a state of partial renovation understanding full well its architectural value as an Avery-designed home. With an open carport supported by MiMo style "bean poles" and a main structure with Avery's signature, angled flat roofs, it featured an open plan and an embrace of the indoor-outdoor lifestyle that was perfect for the couple, who love to entertain when in town. As they rolled up their sleeves and began to think about a serious renovation, these two faced the dilemma many others face when renovating an architectural gem. What do you save, what do you toss, and why? Beyond that, how do you bring a home designed for another era into the 21st century, without a visual disconnect?

For this waterfront pool home, the couple insisted in bringing back the terrazzo floors to their original luster and not disturbing any of Avery's original lines. On the flip side of that coin, they gut-renovated both the master and guest baths to contemporary perfection, opened up the kitchen, and installed an island/breakfast bar which, in turn, opened to the pool deck beyond.

Every exterior door and window was replaced with custom, impact glass windows, and the glass of the front-facing living room windows was sandblasted halfway up to let in 100% of the sunlight, while keeping all of the owners' privacy on the street side of the residence. On the rear of the home, facing the pool, spa, dock and canal beyond, the structure is made completely open by way of glass sliders and French doors. The owners have furnished the outside as carefully and casually as the inside, selecting loungers and chairs from the famed Richard Schultz 1966 collection. A Knoll petal coffee table of weathered grey teak completes the outdoor lounge set-up.

The interior of the home is brilliantly light and breezy, especially in the living room with its original vaulted ceiling and the dining room, crowned with an LED pendant fixture made of multiple crystal orbs from Bocci. Under this is a table the owners created as a sort of hybrid, using a B&B Italia base with a custom statuary marble top. This is surrounded by a set of sculptural chairs purchased through Hive Modern. Color from a piece by artist Chris Cook of Chicago punctuates the space which is sun-drenched by day and aglow with warm light from the Bocci pendant fixture at night. The kitchen is nearby, and was opened up to include a new island/breakfast bar sheathed in statuary marble in a waterfall style. The kitchen-facing side of this island features a copious amount of storage space for glassware and cocktail supplies. Custom cabinetry from Downsview was topped with the same marble as the breakfast bar, and gas was reintroduced for a Jenn-Air professional style range. During the renovation process, crews were able to save just enough space at the back of the kitchen for a full laundry and pantry, separated from the space by a set of sandblasted glass doors.

Envisioned as a stylish, waterfront retreat for the owners and their guests, they went all out in the renovation of these spaces, especially the master and guest baths. Both were finished with frameless glass showers with slab stone shower floors, Duravit fixtures, dual flush toilets and more. Both bedrooms now boast stunning, custom-finished closets with sliding glass doors, and the master suite has bedside light fixtures, which complement the pendant light in the dining room. Needless to say, this suite features a wall of glass that opens onto the pool deck and glimpses boats passing on the canal beyond.

After years of enjoying the fruits of their labor, the owners are ready for their next adventure and have listed the home with Julie Jones of Premier Estate Properties. That buyer will have not only inherited an architectural jewel, but one that has been brought completely up to date for the way we live today.

Dot Matrix by artist Chris Cook hangs on the wall of the dining room where a table crafted from a B&B Italia base with a custom marble top is surrounded by sculptural dining chairs purchased through Hive Modern. Floor is the original terrazzo, refinished. Hanging fixture is by Bocci, available through Luminaire, Miami.

The kitchen is now wide open, facing a breakfast bar splashed with sunlight from the pool deck. Cabinetry is from Downsview, its surfaces covered in polished statuary marble that can be found at Opustone. The artwork is based on artist Roy Lichtenstein's Meat from 1962, but reconfigured on lucite strips by artist Chris Cook.

Designed by Lester Avery at the very beginning of the Mid-Century Modern era, the Rio Vista home had everything a Florida vacation home of the era should have. Open carport, contemporary lines and a waterfront location with room for a 25-foot boat. This compact beauty has been renovated to perfection.


JOHN SPEAR, Associate Publisher

JOHN T. O'CONNOR, Editorial Director At Large

HILARY A. LEWIS, Senior Editor


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