For home builders, the time is now and the place is Sarasota. Soaring home prices, low inventory, high demand and cash-laden buyers abound. The most expensive home in Manatee County was purchased last month in a $16 million cash deal, for example, while out-of-state developers are building luxury condos and properties listed for top dollar.
That’s why it caught our attention when award-winning local custom home builder Josh Wynne—a 47-year-old known for painstaking detail, standout style and sustainabile construction—recently closed his business and relocated to Crystal River, Florida. We caught up with the outspoken builder to find out more about his career and his big move.
How does Florida inspire your design projects?
"There really is a Florida vernacular of architecture, which is the Florida Cracker house. A lot of people think it’s the 1920s Addison Mizner Mediterranean Revival stuff, but it’s not.
"There are lots of important elements that go along with the Cracker house that I put in all my projects, making them naturally energy efficient. The roots of architecture are about creating comfortable environments. Florida Cracker house architecture was a way to live: long eaves, elevated homes for flood protection, passive lighting and cooling by placing windows and doors appropriately with a dog trot or a breezeway between buildings.
Which project are you most proud of?
"All of them, but the one I had the most fun building was Mike's Hammock. I built it on my own property for my dad and it's the least expensive project I’ve built. I was able to appreciate it on a very personal level. That is the most special one to me."
What are clients looking for when they work with you?
"They’re generally someone who demands some level of perfection and has high needs in terms of service. People hired me because I’m hands-on and we executed projects to a high level of precision. The majority were people who had been through some building experiences prior and didn't have good ones, and they weren't trying to cut corners or get a lesser product. They wanted something that would last as a timepiece."
What do you wish you saw more of in Sarasota building and architecture?
"I wish people would embrace where we live. I wish architecture would pick up a stronger sense of place. The uptick in contemporary and modern has been massive. A lot of the architects like to play on it being an extension of the Sarasota School of Architecture, but really it's an international style. As far as a sense of place, there is none. There are architects making an effort to create better architecture, but too few are making an effort to stamp our spot in the state into it.
"There’s too little concern for the types of materials being used. No matter who I was working with, that effort to impart a sense of place is important. There’s nothing more inviting than wood. We've got southern yellow pine and Florida cypress. You'll find both or either in all my work.
"Nothing is more timeless than stone like limestone and coral, which I try to use in any project that requires stone. I also like to use cladding and stucco, or tabby, which is an old-school technique using coquina and mortar. If you look closely at it, you can see shark teeth and shells. It creates a warm textural quality that's rooted, making the house look like it grew from the ground."
With the sudden influx of people moving to Sarasota, and all the success you’ve had here, why did you decide to leave?
"I’m a multigenerational Florida native who was born and raised here. And it’s very different now. I loved the Sarasota I grew up in, and it's gone. I started building the way I did because I refused to build the crap that was polluting the streets of Sarasota and its islands. That placeless stuff–clear-cut lots with big, obtuse, light-blocking homes with exotic plants and over-manicured lawns leeching fertilizer into the waterways.
"I made my effort to stop and slow what was happening. I'm an environmentalist, a fisherman and an outdoorsman. Our waterways are crowded and polluted and access is nearly nonexistent. It used to be Sarasota was [made up of] people who refused to live in Palm Beach and Naples. Now it’s looking more like Fort Lauderdale, and I don’t want any part of it.
"There are too many people. The ideologies have changed. I think the county commissioners have done a terrible job of preserving Sarasota. There are few people who remember it, and even fewer people making sure to maintain what it was.
"It doesn't hurt that this is a difficult time to build, logistically, since there’s a shortage in tradespeople and labor and a million people vying for their time. My work turned into an effort to control mania and it wasn't fun anymore."
What will you do in Crystal River?
"I’ve never built for myself because I've always been too busy. Now I'm going to build myself a responsible home on a beautiful piece of land adjacent to a state park surrounded by preserved land."
What will you miss most about living in Sarasota?
"What it was. I already miss it. They paved paradise."
What will you miss least about living here?
"What it is. The traffic. You couldn't go to the beach on a cloudy day and find parking. There are too many people and it's outgrown itself."
Why do you think mass developments are in such high demand?
"We’re all so busy and don't have much bandwidth. Big, smart developers have created a commodity of homes. Homes used to be personal. The family that commissioned a home with their hands left a print of who they are on it. In Key West, you have balustrades carved with personal touches that made a building more than a building. There are too many people here to have a home that's that personal. Developers have wiped away the personality of a building and still sell it as a home and it's good enough for us and that's disheartening to me."
How do we fix unfettered development?
"I think that there's a bit of integrity left as a place but I think it's in jeopardy. We've been tearing down significant buildings and replacing them with garbage forever. I think we need a stronger effort to preserve Sarasota’s architectural history, whether the commission or the community puts a brake on development without infrastructure. There are hundreds of homes that are already approved. Lakewood Ranch is going to be double its size. Hi Hat and Skye ranches are going to be massive. There’s Winchester and Taylor ranches, too. I don't think the general public has any idea of what's coming. We need to make an effort to hold onto this quaint, quirky town that has a rich cultural history."