The Art of Origami

By Carol Tisch October 1, 2009

asset_upload_file980_28869.jpgThe ancient Japanese art of paper-folding seems an unlikely muse for progressive 21st-century architects. But when tasked with replacing a dark, traditional home with a sunlit contemporary structure on an existing quarter-acre lot, the innovative Sarasota firm Jonathan Parks Architect (JPA) took the principles of origami to a new design dimension.  

Just blocks from the Gulf of Mexico in Venice, the stunning new home heralds the shape of luxury residential architecture to come.  Designers and builders are thinking small these days, and the 2,500-square-foot residence is a perfect (and politically correct) fit for the homeowners—a young couple and their pre-teen daughter. Awaiting final Florida Green Building Coalition certification, the home also sets an example by subtly incorporating state-of-the-art sustainable features: green building materials, solar power, rainwater irrigation, energy-saving appliances and more.  

“The owners were very concerned about respecting the local regional architecture, so we designed the home with a sloped roof for a more conventional silhouette,” explains Jonathan Parks, A.I.A. “Actually, this couple had very few architectural requirements: The home had to look in scale with the neighborhood, and they wanted a front porch so they could wave to neighbors walking by.”

“We also asked for lots of natural light and the ability to access the outside yards from almost every room,” the homeowner adds. As the architects pondered those requests, the idea of an “origami loft house” began to unfold. Then, with the mathematical precision of origami masters, Parks and project manager for architecture Carlos Molnar, A.I.A., maximized the small lot by designing a floor plan that bisects the square-shaped site.

The origami-like layout uses geometric folds to reveal separate rooms that shape an exhilarating open plan. Everyone in the home had a voice in its layout, including the young daughter. “She is a 12-year-old child, but some children are old souls,” Parks quips. “She’s very accomplished; remarkably able to read floor plans and give extremely good critiques.”

Outside the entrance, a custom outdoor eco-fountain recycles rainwater harvested from the roof. The fountain goes on when it rains, triggered by pressure built up as rainwater fills the container.

The requisite front porch is more than an outdoor sitting room; it’s a welcoming entry foyer en plein air, replete with an open chimney designed to let in light and breezes while keeping rain out.  

Situated on a corner lot, the house appears to have only one story when viewed from the main street outside. Indoors, it explodes up to 24 feet, furthering the sense of openness, transparency—and surprise. ”People always wonder how we got this much house in here,” Parks says. But the beauty here is more than skin deep. The interiors are a bold arrangement of natural materials and intersecting forms, while the layout plan elongates the home on the east/west axis, taking advantage of passive solar techniques.

Window placements scoop daylight into the home, creating an infinite play of light and geometric forms. JPA kept walls colorless so they could be “painted” by natural light. The color changes at different times of day and from season to season. When northern light bounces off the walls they take on a blue cast, for example, while light from the west adds a red tone.

Both the husband and wife love games. “They even own a pinball machine just like the one they were playing when they met at college,” explains Punit Patel, JPA’s project manager for interiors for the residence. The interior layout accommodates that beloved machine, as well as a pool table, a small media room and all the games they adore. “They wanted music in every room and furnishings that were casual and comfortable. The home reflects their personalities; their trademarks are all over it,” Patel says.

Interior design elements combine organic simplicity with immense practicality. Visual clutter is kept to a minimum with simple lighting, a few tasteful mid-century modern pieces, and clean-lined, affordable furniture from Gen X retailers like CB2 and IKEA. The Natuzzi leather sofa is easy care; a Flor carpet tile area rug is eco-friendly; white Eames dining chairs wipe up in an instant. A contemporary farm table from Crate and Barrel, wood chairs from Blu Dot in the sitting area and low VOC wood floors (certified by the Forest Stewardship Council) were chosen to warm the modern interior, which is crowned by a dramatic custom floating staircase leading to a second-story loft. The upstairs area hovers in space, with discreetly placed treetop windows providing 180-degree views of the neighborhood.  

Every room opens to the back yard’s solar-heated lap pool. “Our clients’ words drove the pencil around the page,” Parks says of the design. “This isn’t just a custom home; it’s a one-of-a-kind home.”  z

Cool Green

Behind-the-scenes sustainable features.

Site The home is elongated on an east/west axis, taking advantage of passive solar techniques while window placements bring daylight inside.

Energy Solar-powered energy produces 21-26 kilowatt hours a day—

which may achieve net zero energy annually. Insulated, low-E windows; Energy-Star appliances.

Water A 40-gallon passive solar water heating system reduces water heating costs by 70 to 90 percent.

E-wall system Provides a lifetime of consistent energy efficiency and structural performance unmatched by conventional construction materials; withstands winds in excess of 250 mph and impact in excess of 150 mph.

Landscape Certified Florida-friendly, uses Waterwise irrigation techniques, takes advantage of existing solar conditions and wind patterns; native wildflower pasture grass is used for 95 percent of the yard.

Lap pool Heated with solar power that is highly efficient, non-polluting and requires zero operating costs and little to no maintenance.

Eco-friendly materials Trex decking system of recycled plastic; low VOC wood floors, soy-based insulation, recycled interior finishes.


Home Team


Architect: Jonathan Parks, AIA

Project Manager Architecture:

Carlos Molnar, AIA Interior Architecture: Punit Patel JPA Design Team: Sonia Veleva,

George Lam, Aristarco Montiel

Contractor: Jon Schneider Construction,

Jon Schneider Landscape Architect:

Mike Gilkey, Inc., Mike Gilkey Jr. Energy and Solar Consultants: Eco-Smart, Inc., Mike Evans Lighting Design, Lighting Control, Home Automation, Home Theater, and Whole House Audio/Video: Advanced Audio Design Consultants HVAC Consultants: Grande Aire Services

Green Certifier: Two Trails, Inc., Drew Smith


Source List:

Pool: DuWet, Inc. Custom Pools and Spas, Randy Holbrook

Prefabricated Exterior Wall System: Efficient Building Systems, LLC

Wood floor: G Fried Flooring – Hickory (FSC Certified) No VOC, No formaldehyde,

Kitchen, powder room vanity and wood cabinetry throughout: Lube of Sarasota

Plumbing fixtures: Toto, Hansgrohe, Grohe, Villeroy & Boch

Countertops: Silestone Quartz

Porcelain tile: Atlas Concorde, Stone Peak, Florida Tile

Metal: Mullet’s Aluminum

Paint: Sherwin Williams

Window treatments: Hunter Douglas         

Master bedroom bed: CB2

Lighting: Se’Lux, Zumtobel, Rambusch, Belfer, Elliptipar, Cooper Lighting, Hunza,

Lighting fixtures supplied by Light Up Your Life: Foscarini Lighting, Vibia Lighting

Exterior furniture: La-Fete

Area rugs:  Flor

Artwork: Allyn Gallup Gallery, Artists: Cris Metze, Carla Poindexter, Jay Kelly

Furniture: Exit Art, Blu Dot, IKEA, CB2, Crate and Barrel, Natuzzi, Herman Miller

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