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  Press Room:    Article 6  
Orlando Sentinel
Blending Old World elegance with contemporary style breaths new life into home
April — 2008
Jean Patteson
Roberto Gonzales & Everett & Soulé Inc.

This single-story, cinder-block house was transformed into a two-story, Spanish Revival mansion by Jim and Jennifer Ross. (EVERETT & SOULÉ INC. / March 22, 2008)

HOTO: Front of the oak-shaded Ross home in Windermere, renovated in Spanish Revival style with cap-and-pan roof tiles, stucco walls, wood shutters and wrought-iron gates. (EVERETT & SOULÉ INC. / October 22, 2007)

The dark wood floor and barrel ceiling and aqua-tinted faux-finished walls create a restful ambience in the master bedroom, which is separated from the bathroom by a double-sided, gas fireplace faced with Venetian plaster and tiles. (EVERETT & SOULÉ INC. / March 18, 2008)


Jim Ross is deeply rooted in the sandy soil of southwest Orange County -- and so is the new Ross home.

A sixth-generation Floridian, Jim comes from citrus-growing stock. He grew up on the western shores of Lake Butler, once a place of clay roads, orange groves and fish camps. His father, Jack Ross, still owns groves in the area -- although the McMansions of Windermere are squeezing out the orange trees.

"Citrus is rapidly becoming extinct in Central Florida," says Jim, 40. "My passion has always been residential design."

After a few semesters studying architecture at the University of Florida, and a few jobs in construction, he founded the Ross Design Group. During the past two decades, his company has developed into an award-winning home-design and renovation business with offices in downtown Orlando.

Jim still lives on the far side of Lake Butler, however, with his wife, Jennifer, 32, and their daughter, Delanie, 3, and 10-week-old twins Brayden and Ansley. Their home is just down the road from the house he built for his parents -- and next door to the old fish camp he remodeled to look like a Key West cottage.

The home is also "technically a renovation," he says, although it also involved extensive new construction.

Essentially, he took a small, flat-roofed, cinder-block house and during a period of 17 months transformed it into a graceful, two-story, Spanish Revival home. The 4,650-square-foot dwelling includes four bedrooms, five baths, an enormous open kitchen/family room, a formal dining room, a study, a game room, two laundry rooms and garages for three cars. The family moved in on Christmas Eve 2006.

The biggest challenge was designing a functional plan around the five mature oak trees that shade the property, says Jim, who is the great-great-great-grandson of Judge James Gamble Speer -- the Orange County pioneer who is credited with naming Orlando when it became the county seat in 1856.

The other challenge was reconciling the interior with the exterior of the house.

"We wanted a contemporary interior," explains Jim. "But from the outside, we wanted a Spanish Revival house that fits into the surroundings and looks as if it's been here for 100 years."

To that end, they used clean lines and modern materials indoors -- stained concrete countertops, recycled aluminum tiles, bamboo and cork flooring. But on the outside, the house has authentic cap-and-pan roof tiles, white-stuccoed walls, wood shutters and wrought-iron gates.

The interior is illuminated with track lighting and sleek glass chandeliers. Outside, ornate black lanterns lend an air of Old World authenticity.

Making it happen

Jim drew the plans for the renovation. Contractors and suppliers included Sorensen Construction of Winter Garden, as well as Tile Market and Price Concrete Studio, both in Orlando. The faux finishes on the walls throughout the home were done by Garay Artisans of Orlando.

We owned the property for a couple of years before we started the renovation," says Jennifer. "We spent that time going through show homes, looking through magazines, collecting ideas.

"Jim likes contemporary interiors. My taste is more eclectic. But we both wanted it clean and simple. Our old house had so much stuff, so many knickknacks sitting around. We wanted the new house to be more minimalist."

The couple bounced their ideas off several interior designers, says Jennifer. "But basically we picked out all the finishes and fixtures." Especially unusual is their use of faux finishes and tiles throughout the house. "We went with interesting texture but subtle colors," explains Jennifer.

The creamy Venetian plaster on the fireplaces has hints of green and blue, for example. And the light purple plaster in the breakfast nook is delicately streaked with silver and gold for a waterfall effect.

The tiles come in an array of sizes, colors, textures and finishes -- some matte, some iridescent. "Contemporary interiors can be kind of cold. All the texture adds warmth," says Jennifer.

Unlike most two-story houses, the Ross home was remodeled with most of the bedrooms downstairs and the living areas upstairs.

"Because the lake views are better from the second level," Jim explains.

Two of the original bedrooms became Delanie's watermelon-pink room and the twins' nursery, decorated with an animal-print fabric. A third small bedroom is now a laundry room, and the former master bedroom has become a handsome guest suite with lake views.

The former living room, kitchen and carport were demolished to make room for a pool, a breezeway with a spa, a game room and a two-car garage.

Because the pool sits where the living room once stood, "we were able to dig the hole for the pool without disturbing any tree roots," says Jim.

The breezeway is his favorite place. "It allows you to walk through from the front yard to the pool and out to the lake. You don't have to traipse through the house to get to the pool. It's very unique. It's great for entertaining."

Rooms with a view

The spacious upstairs living area, where living room, kitchen and dining nook blend seamlessly under a beamed cathedral ceiling, is Jennifer's favorite part of the house.

The family spends "about 90 percent of our time" there, she says. And it is also ideal for entertaining.

In the living room, three tall, arched windows frame spectacular lake views. The sleek fireplace is faced with recycled aluminum tiles. The furnishings are bold but simple. And in one corner, Delanie's three-story dollhouse and extensive Barbie collection take pride of place.

The kitchen is dominated by a pie-shaped, stained-concrete island with a six-burner cooktop. The blond maple cabinets are inlaid with burled ash. The walls are covered with small, iridescent tiles. The sinks and appliances are stainless steel.

On one side of the kitchen, the dining nook opens onto a secluded balcony. On the other side, double doors lead to a covered terrace overlooking the pool. When the bugs are bothersome, retractable Reel Screens can be rolled down at the touch of a button, and an insect-repelling "air curtain" -- a kind of horizontal fan -- can be activated above a door to the outside staircase. The $400 air-curtain fan "really keeps the bugs out," Jim says.

High, arched passages link the living space to the adjacent formal dining room and study, and to the master suite at the opposite end of the house.

In the master bedroom, huge windows give treetop views of the pool and the lake. A two-sided fireplace separates the bedroom from the bathroom, which features a white, resin soaking tub and a stained-glass window.

"I rescued the window when the church I grew up in, Oakland Presbyterian, was torn down in the 1970s," says Jim.

Like all the upstairs rooms, even the shower has a vaulted ceiling with wood detailing.

The Rosses spend a lot of time outdoors enjoying the patios, pool, beach and lake. But even when they are indoors, says Jim, the open design, high ceilings and the big windows with views of trees and water connect them to the great outdoors.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.
©Copyright 2008 by Orlando Sentinel

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