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