California Green

By staff April 1, 2008

Picture this: a house epitomizing California contemporary style that is perfectly at home on a canal overlooking Sarasota Bay. Though the new, 4,000-square-foot home stands unique among its neighbors, it’s surprisingly in synch with the Gulf Coast landscape. An architectural nod to the homeowners’ West Coast roots, it is also slightly Polynesian in influence: low-slung, grounded against storms, yet at the same time light and airy. At first glance it appears to be floating. 

Architect Barron Schimberg says the optical illusion was intentional. “We painted the base of the house a color that blends into the landscape,” says the founder of four-year-old Schimberg Group in Sarasota. But Schimberg, who has taken great pains to integrate the building into its setting, does more than respect nature with his design: He makes every attempt to sustain it. 

Completed last June, the home is a poster child for green residential architecture. After a rigorous review, it received the Florida Green Home Standard Certification issued by the Florida Green Building Coalition, and the Energy Star certification with a 91.7 home energy rating score. 

“Green design in a high-end custom home of this level is unique,” Schimberg explains. While many homeowners have tight budgets that preclude going green, he says that in the luxury home category, clients can choose sustainable design, materials and construction that will eventually inspire more attractive and affordable options for all residential building.

Schimberg’s background in commercial architecture (where sustainability began 15 years ago and is now de rigueur) predisposes him to think green. He managed the construction of Sarasota’s Silver LEED-certified Whole Foods Market (LEED confers recognition by the U.S. Green Building Council for excellence in environmental sustainability), and is architect of record for new Whole Foods stores in Orlando and Naples. “I believe in doing what is right. If sustainability and [energy] efficiency make sense, then it’s the right thing to do,” he says.

For his firm’s first major green residential project, the opportunity to do the right thing presented itself in the form of a photo that Schimberg’s clients had clipped from a magazine. “The image they showed me had a modern Polynesian feel, with a series of pavilions interconnected with hip roofs, canopies and flat roofs,” he recalls. “Since the owners are originally from California, the words ‘California contemporary’ came to mind early in the design process.” Indeed, from the moment you approach the home, a West Coast attitude and reverence for natural materials prevail.

A mailbox sculpted by artist Eric Higgs is a harbinger of the use of basalt stone as a unifying theme throughout the residence. Leading from the mailbox (which is set inside a column of basalt plucked in its original form from the earth’s ocean crust) is a basalt walkway set in a landscaped bed of flowing grasses. Higgs also created a basalt water sculpture outside the front entry, and the home’s defining feature is a sculptural entrance wall finished on both sides with basalt cut into four-inch strips horizontally stacked in the direction of magnificent bay views.

Schimberg positioned the residence so that all main rooms are oriented toward the bay. “And by extending each exterior wall slightly beyond its connecting perpendicular wall,” he explains, “the eye is always directed to the water.”

The layout complete, Schimberg focused on seamlessly merging sustainable construction practices, environmentally conscious materials and energy-efficient mechanical systems into the dramatic home and landscape his clients envisioned. “Ultimately the goal was to create a livable, personal home,” he says. “It is green because we always design that way. Our baseline sketches are as green as possible; whether we get it all ultimately depends on the client’s needs and budget.”

In this case, the former California residents bought into green for the energy cost savings Schimberg projected as well as a commitment to do their part for the environment. The architect used high-gauge metal studs instead of wood (“It saves trees”) in all interior walls, and a highly reflective flat white roof that reflects sunlight to keep the house cooler. Both are more typical of commercial buildings, Schimberg points out. “You don’t see too many single-ply membrane white roofs in upscale homes,” he quips. Also commercial grade is the extremely efficient HVAC (16 SEER) system that can be monitored and altered by the homeowner.

“The level of passive cooling the house provides is unique,” notes Schimberg. In the great room, for example, 45 feet of eight-foot-high double doors line one wall and 16 feet of double doors are on the opposite wall. “When open, these doors will eliminate the need for air conditioning for at least six months of the year,” he estimates. Above all the doors are operable transom windows, again allowing for cross-ventilation and heat exchange, even if the doors are closed.

Though sustainable design features abound, it’s the home’s soft modern lines both inside and out that capture most people’s attention. Schimberg installed dropped soffits, or “clouds,” at different heights above the great room floor to define the spaces below them: living room, dining room, family room and kitchen. The “clouds” are up-lit and appear to float below a beautiful reclaimed cypress wood ceiling.

The organic quality of the clouds is echoed in the home’s furnishings. Interior designer Robert Claussen chose fabrics, furniture and specialty lighting fixtures with subtle curving and free-form organic shapes that complement the architecture.

The kitchen island was designed to step at three different heights, with levels for cooking, eating and office work. The countertops create undulation and an organic quality, and a ceiling “cloud” over the island is illuminated with star lights to give the feel of a starry night.  But the piece de resistance is the staircase with sculptor Higgs’ organic bronze railing, both literally floating out of the basalt feature wall. “That was a challenge,” says Schimberg, who cantilevered the stair treads from the 10-inch-thick poured concrete wall. “But we got it.”

What his clients got was innovation and custom design in every room of this three-bedroom, four-bath home with separate study, and an additional 1,900 feet of patios overlooking a 50-foot disappearing-edge pool. Because the house is green certified (see detailed sustainable building specifications at, it is a healthier, more efficient and environmentally friendly incarnation of the homeowners’ dream.

Sustainable guidelines from Barron Schimberg

Site management: Orient the house properly to optimize comfort, views and climate. Use a jobsite management program to minimize waste and maximize efficiency.

Water efficiency: Specify tankless water heaters, low-flow plumbing fixtures. Minimize the need for water in landscaping with drought-tolerant plants to reduce water consumption.

Energy and atmosphere:  Use highly efficient HVAC (16 SEER) system and passive cooling throughout and specify energy-saving fluorescent lighting wherever possible.

IAQ – Indoor air quality: Outside air flows continuously from front to back of home; design systems to filter out allergens and pollutants. No-smoking policy for workers; low VOC paints for safety of workers and homeowners.

Materials and resources: Use recycled products (glass, glass tiles, reclaimed cypress ceiling planks and reclaimed wood furniture) and renewable or environmentally friendly materials. 

Design innovation: Be creative in implementing sustainability—for example, design a non-toxic pest management system or use a commercial white roof to reflect sunlight and conserve energy. 

Design Team

Architect: Barron Schimberg, AIA, The Schimberg Group, (941) 894-6888; Contractor: Tandem Construction, (941) 954-1599;  Interior Design: Robert A. Claussen, ASID, (941) 366-2346; Landscape Design: Grant’s Gardens, (941) 343-9396.

Project Sources

Appliances- Kitchen

Dishwasher- Bosch

Garbage disposal- In-Sinkerator

Hood- Faber

Oven/range- Wolf

Refrigerator/wine storage- Sub-Zero

Appliances- Master bathroom

Warming drawer- GE Profile


Reclaimed cypress wood from Goodwin Heart Pine Company

Gypsum board

Countertops-Kitchen, laundry and guest baths


Countertops- Kitchen island

Granite- Labradorite

Countertops- Master bathroom

Granite-Verde bamboo crosscut


Entry- Signature Door & Window Classics Corp

Interior- Roberts Hardware- Karona Inc Doors

Garage- Over Head Door Company

Hardware- Stone River Bronze

Flood Vents-

Smart Vents

Flooring- Main

Benjamin Gray Limestone

Flooring- Master bathroom

Seagrass Limestone

Flooring- Bedrooms-

The Behr Synder Group Inc- Mahogany Wood Floors

HVAC – Carrier Infinity System


Icynene & Core-Fill Foam Insulation

Lighting- Kitchen

Star Lights- Fiberstar

Pendant-T1158-37” Estiluz

Lighting- Throughout



Gregory Prade





Modern Fan






Elite Woodwork Cabinetry-Custom Cherry/Mahogany/Oak


Benjamin Moore-EcoSpec

Plumbing- Kitchen

Franke- TFN 480 Contemporary Faucet & Vision Sink

Plumbing-Master bathroom


Grohtherm Thermostat Mixer, Tenso Faucet, Atrio Thermostat Trim & Roman Tub Filler, Movario Hand Shower, Rainshower Shower Head, Relaxa Plus SpeedClean Champagne Hand Shower

Villeroy & Bach- Undercounter Washbasin

Mr. Steam-Steam Generator Unit

Bain Ultra- Ellipse Bathtub

Toto- Nexus Two Piece Toilet

Powder Room-

Toto- Nexus Two Piece Toilet

Guest Baths-

Toto- Nexus Widespread Lavatory Faucet and Shower Trim, Two-Piece Toilet, Dantesca

Undercounter Lavatory, Enameled Cast Iron Bathtub

Grohe- Chiara Neu Tub Shower Valves, Relaxa Plus SpeedClean Champagne Hand


Outdoor Bath-

Jalco Shower Specialties- Serena Handshower with Nebulizing Mist


Pentair- Whisper Flo & MiniMax NT


All- Steel Consultants-Modern Metal Copper Roof

Sutter Roofing- Fibertite Single Ply Roofing

Structural Lumber-

Mi-Tek- Roof & Floor Engineering

Universal Timber Structures


IntelliFlo & Intellitouch

Wall Tile- Kitchen

Oceanside Glass Tile

Wall Tile-Master Bathroom

Oceanside Glass Tile

Seagrass Limestone

Wall Tile- Powder Bath

Ann Sacks

Water Heater-

Takagi-Tankless Water Heater


Marvin Windows & Doors- Low E

Interior Furnishings Credits

Living room sofa – Donghia Ogee

Living room fabric – Roger Arlington

Living room chairs – Laura Kirar for McGuire Furniture

Side tables – John Hutton

Draperies – ‘Perennials’ CSee-Sea (UV protected)

Master bed fabric– Jack Lenor Larsen

Many of the pieces are custom made

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