Crooked Lake

In each issue of WH, we feature homes that portray an idea of shelter — large homes, newly renovated, colorful and inspiring interior designs, and the occasional historic home in Winter Haven. If we had to boil down the essence of shelter, what would it really mean? Pushing the question even further, if we had the opportunity to build our own shelter in the simplest form, what would it look like and how would it function?

I met up with Creative Director and Co-Founder of Florida Modernism + Design, Johnny Laderer, to learn more about a house that he personally designed in a quest for a simple and economical form of shelter.

Photography by Daniel Barceló

The Calusa pavilion, owned by Ed and Amy Laderer is located on Crooked Lake. Johnny and his father, Ed, schemed to build an enclosed boathouse over the water. Code would not allow for a structure of this nature, so they quickly modified their plans. They decided to build a dock and a separate simple structure as close to the water as possible to facilitate activity at the dock. The brainstorming began in 2012, and the pavilion was completed in 2014. The location of the structure was chosen to be at the crux of a steep hill just above the 100-year flood line, the high water mark for the century.

The plan was to enclose a tin-roofed pole barn with partial walls and mosquito screening. As with the boathouse idea, certain needs for comfort necessitated further code compliance. Amenities such as air conditioning and a washer and dryer were not included in the original plans for the pavilion. Because Ed and Amy only live about 30 minutes from Crooked Lake, the pavilion wasn’t intended to be a full functioning house.

Lina Hargrett: The Calusa pavilion is quite far from what you would call a pole barn and more of a midcentury tiny-home lake house. When did you decide to upgrade?

Johnny Laderer: We never intended to upgrade. I spent time growing up in a Florida cracker style home on the lake. My parents wanted to downsize. We also wanted to relocate to a part of the lake where the water dropped off deeper. The catalyst for the “upgrades” was construction code. It went something like this: if you build an enclosed structure, then you are required to have air conditioning, and once you have air conditioning you need to have insulation. We wanted to maximize that sound of rain on a tin roof, but having a tin roof directly mounted to the beams inside became out of the question. So we ended up installing a wall-unit air conditioner, and insulation between the exposed beams inside.

We did the minimum really, but it was still more than we intended. The total inside square footage is something like 864 square feet and the exterior covered deck is 764, so the experience of that Southern sound still resonates loudly in the space. We worked the washer and dry into a utility closet accessed from the outside deck. We use it to store the water skis, barbecue grill, gasoline, bocce ball, horseshoes, etc.

LH: Even though the Calusa pavilion was finished in 2014, it has a clear mid-century look to it. What were some of the inspirations for the final design?

JL: The French designer Jean Prouvé was a strong influence in the final design for the Calusa pavilion. Prouvé has a series of prefabricated kit houses or demountable steel-frame pavilions, one of them from 1948 called the Ferembal Demountable House was intended to contribute to the Post-War Housing Crisis in France. This design particularly resonated with me. There was something about the wood siding and green metal that felt like a Central Florida cabin. It has an open entryway and was both rustic yet modern.

Prouvé’s use of light green posts was translated directly to the Calusa pavilion. This light palm-green color was used throughout the construction and decor of the guest house.

Prouvé’s work was a way to introduce modernist design to my parents and in theory would be low-cost to construct. We translated the wood siding by using rough sawn pine siding. The demountables are also elevated platforms. The Calusa pavilion cantilevers off the hill to emphasize the visual projection. We knew we wanted the house to be elevated to protect it from water and to help catch the lake breeze. Effectively the pavilion is a hybrid between a Florida cracker style house and mid-century project house.

LH: What was the inspiration for interiors?

JL: The interior was to be as cost effective as possible. The materials are plywood for the floors and wall. The ceiling is rough-sawn wood panel between the beams. The rear wall is clad in mirror.

LH: Where did the idea for a mirrored wall come from?

JL: The idea came from wanting to maximize the lake views. The mirror is used as a backsplash in the kitchen and runs the length of the wall, into the bedroom. It also runs the height of the ceiling. There are pros and cons to using mirror as a wall cover. The installation was a bit complicated as it required a lot of custom cuts to get the mirror between each beam. The light reflection is amazing, and it’s nice to see the view while you are cooking or washing the dishes and as you walk into the space from the lake. No matter which way you enter the pavilion you are greeted by the lake.

LH: The single interior built-in piece is the kitchen island. Tell me about its construction.

JL: The island in the kitchen is the heart of the pavilion. The supports are made out of the same green steel poles used to support the soaring veranda. Power was run up through the poles for under-counter electricity. The island serves multiple functions, not only for dining, but also becomes an office area and, of course, a bar area for entertaining.

LH: The pavilion has a midcentury modern aesthetic to it, as does the furniture you have selected.

JL: Yes, we tried to keep with the midcentury vibe using furniture with tapered legs and clean lines throughout. The globe ceiling lights help to portray this look. The stools at the kitchen island are Emeco Navy stools in counter height. These were designed in 1944 and are chairs that were designed to be noncorrosive and long lasting.

LH: The main artwork in the pavilion was made by you, no?

JL: Yes, it is a 35mm photograph printed on PVC substrate with acrylic, the same green used for all architectural accents on the pavilion. The piece is titled Juice. It was part of a series of works I made in 2014, around the same time the pavilion was completed. This piece was exhibited at the Hollywood Arts & Culture Center in a solo show titled Fast Fade. The photograph is of an old ’60s-style tourist stand sign: a giant fiberglass pineapple with an osprey nest perched at the top. It was taken on Highway 27, the original highway that runs the length of the state. I take Highway 27 every time I travel north to Crooked Lake. It takes just a bit longer, but the old Florida sights pay me back in inspiration.

LH: Besides the artwork, the color palette in the pavilion is quite minimal. A real pop of color is a decorative blanket on the sofa. It looks Native American.

JL: Yes besides the “palm green” homage to Prouvé, the blanket is the only real use of color. The blanket is a Pendleton Tamiami Trail design. It was designed by the Seminole population in Florida. The history of the blanket is another homage to old Florida and its early roadways. The Tamiami Trail runs east to west in the state of Florida, which goes through the Everglades.

LH: Among the few furniture pieces, you have a motorboat on a pedestal. It looks historic. Is this piece also tied to Florida?

JL: The motor is an outboard motor that was my Grandfather Laderer’s, a 1946 Johnson Seahorse TD-20 5 HP. I like that my grandfather sees it when he comes to visit. It is originally from the lake where he and my dad grew up called Conneaut Lake in Pennsylvania. My dad and I got it fixed and made a stand for it. It’s a sort of Laderer family-style heirloom.

The little corner chair is also a historic piece. It was from the Oakland Beach Hotel on Conneaut. The chairs were part of the maritime decor on a deck of a faux ship cantilevered over the road and lake. When the hotel was demolished, a number of these chairs were acquired. Several family members now own one of these chairs.

I like pieces that are tied in with location, family, and history. The name of the pavilion, Calusa, is also an homage to where the structure is located. The pavilion is on Crooked Lake as it is popularly known today, but its original name is Lake Calusa, named after the native tribe of Calusa who lived in the region.

LH: From your experience of building a small structure, what recommendations could you provide for readers who might be interested in diving into the adventure?

JL: First, spend time with the land. Learn how it works and design with it. A benefit of a small place is it forces you to tailor it carefully. Spend time on the details before you get started.

Familiarize yourself with the local building code to anticipate limitations and push your boundaries.

Don’t underestimate your costs and budget for the unknown. As a one-off, custom structure, you are figuring out your building costs as you go.