For the young couple who recently moved into their new Manatee Riverfront estate, their greatest compliment is when someone asks, “When did you start the renovation?”
That’s because the elegant antebellum-style residence, named Old Grove for its setting within a seven-acre grove of mossy oaks along the north shore of the Manatee River, looks like it’s been here more than a hundred years.
At 5,000 square feet, the three-story home is white with shutters so deep green they’re almost black, and has a metal roof, balconies and traditional lattice panels around the ground level. Brick-lined stairs lead to a broad columned front porch. “It’s a very old Florida feeling,” says builder Ryan Perrone of Nautilus Homes, who last summer entered Old Grove in the Southeast Building Conference’s Aurora Awards contest—competing against residential projects in 12 states and the Eastern Caribbean—and won a Grand Aurora.
The homeowners found the riverfront property more than a decade ago and mulled over design ideas for years until they hired award-winning Atlanta architectural designer William B. Litchfield to work with them. At Litchfield’s suggestion, they and Perrone traveled to Drayton Hall in Charleston and to the antebellum town of Beaufort, South Carolina, to gather inspiration and study building techniques. It shows. Old Grove is meticulously detailed, from its crown moldings, coffered ceilings and custom built-in cabinetry to the transoms above doors both outdoors and in that let light flood in.
The design process was so detailed that it took almost two years to build, says Perrone. “Every inch of the house is so considered, the integration of the cabinetry into the trim and millwork, for example,” he says. “Every line in the house is important.”
The effect is a feeling of solidity and permanence, but it’s anything but stuffy. Inside, it’s light and bright. There are four bedrooms, a 2,500-square-foot attic space that’s a playroom for the children, and a beautiful light-filled office/music room overlooking the river. (The husband is a Grammy Award-winning performing artist.) The white oak floors in the kitchen pantry and children’s art studio were painted in checkerboards and stripes, books are everywhere, and there’s even a secret door in a wall in the den that conceals a game closet.
Originally part of the Gamble sugar plantation (whose Gamble Mansion is now a state historical park), the property was taken over in the early 1900s by the Kimball C. Atwood grapefruit grove, home of the very first pink grapefruit. In homage to that bit of history, the owners plan to plant their own fruit trees.
Much attention was paid to siting Old Grove on the seven-acre property. “We had two months of meetings taking photos on lifts and staking the house in different locations,” says Perrone. In the end, only one oak out of dozens had to be removed. “As the 500-foot driveway winds through a stand of oaks, the house starts to reveal itself little by little through the tops of the trees,” Perrone adds. “It’s really magical.”
About 50 percent of the property is now coastal habitat, bisected beyond the house by a long shell walkway that leads to the river. At low tide, the couple gather their young children and sand buckets and head to a small beach that becomes exposed. Lots of wildlife inhabits the property; the family spots lots of birds, of course, and also foxes, coyotes and a bobcat.
“Even though it’s new, it feels like it’s always been here, and it feels like we’ve lived here forever,” says the wife. “It’s our hope that it will be here long past us. That’s the wonderful thing about this new old house.”