Photography by Dan Austin
New life has been breathed into a lakefront home on Winter Haven’s beloved Chain of Lakes, reminding us of the good life in lake life.
Lake Life. You may have the sticker on your rear windshield. You may have even used the hashtag a few times. But even if you haven’t, you may have had the dream of living life on the lake. Winter Haven’s Chain of Lakes provides ample amounts of opportunities to dream about what you would rather be doing on the water. Whether you want to catch the first bite of a hungry bass, wakeboard with friends, paddle the canals, grab a lakefront bite to eat, or end the day with LEGOLAND fireworks, the Chain can check off every single box. The biggest dream for most of us is waking up with the lake view every morning.
When one cruises the lake, it is impossible for a house not to catch your eye. You may wonder what life would be like if you lived there. Would you enjoy your daily coffee from the screened-in porch, have friends over every weekend for a cookout, or end your evening with a glass of wine and great conversation on the dock? Not in the mood to grill out? You could just hop on the boat and head over to Harborside or one of the other lakefront stops. The grandkids would love to fish off the dock, and you may even take up paddleboard yoga. Life would most definitely be more relaxing. All of these thoughts and dreams could someday become your reality.
Years after that beautiful lakefront home caught your eye, that home that you haven’t ever been able to stop dreaming about just might come up for sale, and if you’ve played your cards right, you may even be in a position to purchase it. That’s exactly what happened with this Lake Eloise home.
The wood from the exterior was built from an old cypress log that was found on the property.
In the early 1950s, the famous architect Louis Skidmore and his wife, Eloise, decided to retire in Winter Haven. Louis’ architecture firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, became famous for their building of skyscrapers and large housing projects. A few notable projects include the Lever House on Park Avenue, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and, even years after his death, the firm designed the One World Trade Center in New York City. His firm was credited for transforming New York’s Midtown from the traditional brick to the tall glass towers in the early 1950s.
Skidmore’s retirement plan included purchasing income property, and the citrus groves of Winter Haven were the perfect fit. He tasked his firm to design a home that pleased his wife’s demands while accounting for the challenges of Florida’s hot and humid climate. Skidmore did not care for air conditioning but desired comfort year round. After little success with the designs from his own firm, he reached out to the dean of architecture at his alma mater, MIT. Together they designed a square structure, with separated rooms and an open courtyard for maximum airflow. The wood from the exterior was built from an old cypress log that was found on the property.
After the passing of Louis and Eloise, the home was purchased by a couple in the early 1980s. The new owners had the intention of renovating the home but realized that they would indeed need to build a new structure. The original home was then donated and moved to Lake Wales where it still stands today.
A second award-winning architect, Charles Harrison Pawley, was brought in from Miami to design the current home. He is most famously known for designing the $39 million Key Biscayne home that was featured in the movie Miami Vice. He specialized in designing luxury Mediterranean-style Revival homes in South Florida.
Each room features two levels of gray glass windows for maximum natural light and energy efficiency.
The current home designed by Pawley sits on 3.3 acres with nearly 900 feet of lake frontage. The concrete-and-post construction home includes five bedrooms and four bathrooms, with stunning lake views from almost every room. Each room features two levels of gray glass windows for maximum natural light and energy efficiency. Three fossilized keystone fireplaces are located within the house that span the height of the soaring ceilings.
Pawley, his team, and the original owners did not let a single design detail go without thought and precision. The roof was clad in an imported emerald Japanese roofing system, and the front doors were Filipino mahogany with carved lily pads to coordinate with the koi-pond lily pads that are located within the screened-in pool structure. The doorframes were designed in a beautiful diamond shape; and intentionality was placed on the location of additional hallways and storage. The children even had their very own second-floor hideout located above the porte-cochère. A potting shed was built lakefront to assist in the extensive gardening efforts, a tennis court was added, and a dock provides easy access to the chain.
Less than two years ago, a family that had previously lived across the lake from this home had the opportunity to purchase the property. They had boated past the property for years and had dreamt of owning this lakefront home, like many of us have had when we are on the lake. When their dream became a reality, they quickly got to work bringing this home back to life.
The original kitchen was impressive and in wonderful shape, but the features were dated and needed to be brought up to current chef’s standard. The new cabinetry mirrors the home’s current style and complements the home beautifully. Once again, every detail was noted and executed perfectly. It is the ideal spot for your morning cup of coffee while you gaze out at the sunrise on the lake.
A second award-winning architect, Charles Harrison Pawley, was brought in from Miami to design the current home.
The next extensive project was the reconstruction of the pool and pool deck. The now-dark-bottom pool was enlarged with the addition of a hot tub, a beach platform, and even in-water bar stools. Plaster columns were added to match the original, and a 25-foot electric, retractable screen opens to a lakefront fire pit lounge. The roofline was expanded to allow the use of the exterior during a rain shower, with a full kitchen located underneath. The peninsula bar allows for 14 friends to enjoy a cocktail while the family grills out. Additional lounge and dining seating is located across the pool deck. The two original koi ponds are still a wonderful addition to the history of the space.
The yard had been allowed to become overgrown over the years. This impacted the views of the water and the accessibility of the property. After months of clearing overgrowth, bringing in truckloads of dirt and sod, the yard now rivals that of a luxury resort. The wild life is thriving. The sound of the baby birds in their nests is joyful, the cranes have made themselves at home for more than a decade, and there was even a family of ducks that have imprinted on their own corner of the property.
These lakefront homeowners can attest that lake life is a good life. It takes a lot of hard work, but it’s well worth it for the many benefits like enjoying the home and view with family and friends year round.
When you are boating past a lakefront home and see the owners, be sure to wave at them — and they will be sure to wave back. That is the Lake Life, after all.
Special thanks to Cathy “K” Kluytenaar & The K Team Real Estate Services
323 South 1st Street, Winter Haven, FL 33880