[Slideshow] A Classic Boca Raton Cottage Goes Green

Posted on: April 24th, 2013 by Katherine Flynn

A drawing by architect Larry Barrow shows the landscaping plans for the finished house. Credit: Larry Barrow
A drawing by architect Larry Barrow shows the landscaping plans for the finished house.

When Christopher Warren decided to restore a cottage in Boca Raton, Fla., built in 1926 and designed by renowned South Florida architect Addison Mizner, his top priority was turning it into a comfortable living space for his five-person family.

It wasn’t until he spoke with architect Larry Barrow that he started to consider the possibility that they could accomplish that goal while also making the former one-story cottage as green as possible.

When Warren and his family first purchased the cottage as a foreclosure, it had been sitting vacant for about three years. Their initial plan was to demolish it -- it wasn’t big enough for the family’s needs, and not in any kind of livable condition. The family’s new neighbors had other ideas, though.

“The neighbors asked us to retain the house, rather than knock it down,” Warren says. “It was too small, and in too bad of shape to keep it the way it was.”

With the help of a Housing and Urban Development loan, Warren and his family were able to start restoring the house and making an addition that would accommodate Warren and his wife, plus three children, two cats, and two dogs. Warren and his wife also made an appearance in front of Boca Raton’s zoning board in the hopes of receiving a historic designation for the property.

“It was actually very easy,” Warren says of the process. “They were delighted. Apparently everyone from South Florida knocks everything down.”

The cottage, which was originally about 800 square feet, is being expanded horizontally to honor Mizner's original one-story design. Energy-efficient updates are also being added, including hurricane glass windows, modern insulation, gas appliances, and a SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) air-conditioning system. Barrow is also upsizing the roof rafters, leaving the Warren family the option of installing a green roof in the future.

As a preservation architect, Barrow faced the challenge of updating, enlarging, and greening the house, while at the same time staying true to the historic nature of the original one-story cottage.

“You go about the basic premise of scale and context for historic architecture, even for modern additions,” Barrow says of staying true to Mizner’s original design. The original facade on the front of the house will look the same, and from the street, the house won't appear greatly changed.

Mizner himself left an indelible mark on South Florida, and by the end of his life he was renowned as a mansion and resort architect. The one-story cottages were the most low-budget of his projects, but Barrow contends that even on a smaller scale, Mizner knew exactly what he was doing.

"He had a design sensitivity and a formula," he says. "The way he used the materials, even with the little bit of money he had [for the cottage project]-- he was a genius."

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Katherine Flynn

Katherine Flynn

Katherine Flynn is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores and uncovering the stories behind historic places. Follow her on Twitter at @kateallthetime.

Green, Slideshows