Home of the Month | March 2017

Home of the Month, March/April 2017
844 27th Ave. N.

A Passion for Design, A Plan for Efficiency

Michael Monahan is an artist at heart, which means that he brings both a deeply felt respect for the visual and a careful consideration of how things link together to virtually everything he does. His newly built home in Crescent Heights is no exception. The painstaking attention that he, and his builder, paid to each step informs every curve, space, nook, and corner of the modern showpiece. Consider, for example, the windows—among the most prominent visual element when looking at the house from 27th Avenue.

Front of house 3-17

Michael enjoys the “visual shock” of the bright Florida sunlight as much as anyone, but he also was determined to make his house super energy efficient. Thus, there are few windows facing south. But upstairs, the bedroom at the front (north) features a large window, to let in plenty of consistent light, or what he calls “perfect artist’s light.” To the east, a bank of glass doors sits below a carefully engineered awning, designed following a detailed analysis of the sun’s angles, so that the sunlight does not hit directly. Instead, Michael had a short, bright white wall constructed; the light reflects off the wall, flooding the living space with bright light, without also filling it with heat.

Livingroom 3-17

Or note the kitchen, with plenty of cabinet space tucked behind flat white doors. The cabinets are designed to hold plates and glasses, as well as kitchen appliances, so the counters never need to be cluttered with gadgets. The carefully constructed space not only makes it easy to keep things clean, but it also fits well with Michael’s preferred minimalist aesthetic and design philosophy.

Kitchen 3-17

Such preferences were a large part of why he ultimately decided to build a new house, rather than find an existing one to buy, when he began the process of looking nearly five years ago. An admitted fanatic for the Sarasota Modern style, Michael sought out available alternatives but quickly realized that nothing for sale would meet his precise and well-defined needs for space, light, and energy efficiency. In particular, working from home as a graphic designer—a career he took on, and took to, after several decades of dedication to being an artist and teacher—he knew he needed a good office space in which he could design but also hold conference calls. As he learned more, he also came to identify some additional, highly pertinent needs, such as avoiding flood issues and, if possible, minimizing the termite risks. Thus Crescent Heights became a viable candidate neighborhood. When an old cottage, in bad shape and primed for demolition, came onto the market, he started in earnest on a project that would take approximately two more years to complete. He already had a builder: Richard McGuiness of Modern Tampa Bay Homes (MTBH). Using plans provided by MTBH, Michael brought his vision to bear, requesting adjustments and changes to ensure the final result fit his needs. Thus for example, the construction used concrete block all the way up, instead of the conventional choice of
joists and beams on the second story, so that he could put termites (mostly) out of mind. Over the course of about seven different renovations to the plans, Michael made the house a few feet wider but insisted on a minimal slope to the roof. That way, he could gain square footage without dominating the wide lot with sloping eaves. Not everything was exactly the way Michael might have preferred it though. In a nod to the potential need for resale appeal, he agreed to have an 18-square- foot closet in the master bedroom, though his clothes take up only a small portion of that. The upstairs laundry room is also large, because the builder noted that most buyers prefer plenty of space in which to fold clothes, rather than having the washing machine tucked into a closet. Ultimately then, the design for the overall space—at 2088 square feet—was somewhat larger than what Michael might need, but it strikes a balance between what he desired and what represented the best-thought- out choice for future contingencies.

Front of house 3-17 angle

With its southern exposure, the lot also enabled the installation of solar panels over the garage, which Michael made sure was large enough that it could support sufficient panels to transform his energy usage to net positive. That is, the home creates and stores more energy than it uses.

Electric Bill

The super energy efficiency also comes from the white membrane roof, hurricane-resistant and energy-efficient windows throughout, and various other design elements, all dedicated to the proposition of achieving energy neutrality. Once these big questions were settled, “everything else just sort of settled in to place.” Although the construction faced several substantial setbacks, including the need to tear down an entire misplaced wall and a rainy season that flooded the first floor during construction, ultimately it was finished for not much more cost than what Michael expected to spend to purchase an existing home. The entire process was, he says, harder and longer than he expected. And yet, having done it once, he feels ready to try again someday, if the need arises. If and when that day comes, it will be motivated by his passion for design. But it will be informed by his careful plan for efficiency.

—Elisabeth Nevins
Photo credits: © Elisabeth Nevins/Michael Monahan

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