On a suburban street in Winter Haven, Florida, two things stand out: its newest resident, Christopher "Flore" Florentino, and his rather old house.
Florentino, a contemporary fine artist and interior designer from Brooklyn, doesn’t exactly blend in with his new town. "It's like a very quiet town, you know," he says. "When I leave my house, people look at me like I'm crazy. I'm this tall guy, covered in tattoos."
The house he bought this summer is also the strange kid on the block. "It looks like a spaceship," he says. "In the whole neighborhood, it’s the only one that is this original midcentury modern house."
Built by Gene Leedy, a founding member of the Sarasota School of Architecture, the concrete-and-glass ranch is nestled between typical, Floridian, peach stucco homes and located one block from a Baptist church. It’s one of 25 homes in the sleepy city designed by the celebrated architect, who lived and worked here for many years.
For Florentino, a midcentury devotee since middle school, being in this town—and particularly in this house—is the culmination of a lifelong dream. His work as a painter is a quest to merge art with life, to blur the boundaries between paint and personality. In this 1960s home he bought off an Instagram post and filled with his personal collection of midcentury modern furniture, Florentino is living in a museum while creating art for the modern world.
It’s easy to believe that Leedy, who once said, "Architecture is a religion. It is an art...My architecture is a celebration of life," would agree. We sat down with Florentino to talk about just this—art, architecture, and life.
Why are you so passionate about midcentury design?
I'm just in love with the furniture. It makes me feel good. I like the function of it. I like something that's functional, that's comfortable and nice, but also is so aesthetically pleasing. I think that combination is great.
To me, the idea of living in a beautiful house is great. But living in a beautiful piece of architecture—a piece of artwork that somebody actually sat down and thought of it more than "Oh, this is just a roof over my head."
How have you incorporated your own art into the house?
I don't hang my own art. I have my art here, I have a studio here, but everything I’ve hung is by artists I admire and that went with the decor. Some of it is much newer than midcentury modern, but they're just such amazing work that they go. I have a huge Basquiat head in the living room, but the piece is timeless. I also have a Picasso Guernica that's obviously not midcentury modern. But it's, you know, it's close enough.
My art has been inspired by this house, though. I’ve done a lot of work; I’ve done maybe 25 paintings in the three months since I moved in. I converted the garage into my art studio, mounted a bunch of lighting in there, and put four wall-mounted easels up, and that’s where I’ve been painting.
I paint during the early morning or if it’s raining, and it rains a lot. I’ve learned the house is the most magical when it rains—it’s super inspiring. There are these funnels that create waterfalls when they drain off the roof; it sounds like a fountain.
Have you done any entertaining yet?
This house is for family—it's a family place to come and relax. I flew my mom, dad, and sister here for my mother’s birthday—and she loved it here. She made me little cactus gardens in two, 40-inch bowls that are in the bathroom courtyard. They came over, we barbecued, and jumped in the pool.
I only had five DCM Eames chairs around my kitchen table, but my brother just got engaged, so I bought a sixth so she could come be a part of the family. My very first DCM chair, I bought seven years ago for $100. This last one I bought was $600. I was like, "Are you kidding me?" But I did the research, and that's what they're going for now.
Is there anything not midcentury modern in the house?
The only thing that's really a modern convenience is the Internet, and I have one of those cool, curved 70-inch televisions in the living room. I like the lines in them—they kind of mix in with the architecture. I just don't really live a modern life. I don't watch TV. I watch movies and documentaries and such, but I don't have cable. That stuff poisons me.
I’m studying right now. I’m a young artist and have only been painting professionally for six years; it’s still new to me. I’ve been studying the masters: Warhol, Liechtenstein. I have books all over the living room, trying to surround myself with things that inspire me, sitting on a vintage couch with all the old furniture—it’s a place to get inspired. It’s a place I love. I love everything about it.
I’m getting an education from the house and being inspired by the house.
What is your favorite feature of the house?
The sliding doors. I love that everything is completely open to the back yard. There are 12 doors along the two living rooms and kitchen, then two similar doors off the bathroom. They’re 12 feet high, and eight feet long, and they all open out to a seven-foot roof overhang, so the rooms extend seven feet into the garden.
I really love the kitchen too; the kitchen is exactly what a kitchen should be. It’s the center of the house, and you can reach the kitchen from every room. It reminds me of my mom and my grandma; this whole house has a very family vibe to it. If a family lived here, there would be a lot of interaction. Everything is open, and everything has access to the outside, to nature. This type of indoor/outdoor living is awesome. It forces you to live differently than you would.
What are your favorite things to cook in that vintage oven?
I use the 1960s Custom Imperial oven every day. I don't even have a microwave. I think the oven really adds to the house, and it makes me want to cook. It lights up like a jukebox, with that noise, that florescent-neon-light noise. It's cool.
I pull out the James Bond-like burners and make scrambled eggs in the morning like a normal person. But since my family are super-Italian, crazy people, I’ve also been making pizza since I was six years old. The way the oven opens up, it’s like a vertical pizza oven, so every Sunday I make a big pizza pie. It’s like being in the pizzeria again.
How do you like living outside of the city?
I live in New York, and also in Miami, which is basically New York with palm trees. Out here, it’s not like that. It’s a lot of adjustment for me; I couldn’t live here all year round. I had to escape back for a bit because I was going crazy. It’s peaceful, but the lifestyle is different. I wish I could pick up this house and put it in the East Village, but I appreciate it for where it is.
Everything that’s around this house is beautiful: the neighborhood is beautiful, the people are very sweet. It is serving its purpose, and I’m learning a lot from it.
What is the biggest change you made to the house?
I installed some wood paneling and replaced the carpet in one of the living rooms with huge marble tiles with marble veins in them. During the midcentury modern period, they had these wood-paneled, slatted walls. I see them in the Case Study houses, and I wanted there to be a little more wood here.
Believe it or not, I found a shaman yoga instructor here who is also a woodworker. He put up the walls for me, using Angélique wood, a type they would have used then. I want it to look like it came with the house. I don't want to alter the integrity of the home, but I think adding things to the home where someone looks at it and goes, "Oh that must be original..." It's just kind of cool to trick people a little bit.
How do you find yourself using the house?
My bedroom has these sliding doors, and I’ve been getting up early— because there’s nothing to do here—and I’ve really been noticing the nature here. I’ve never noticed it in Miami or New Jersey. I’m noticing lizards, butterflies, it’s nice. I sit outside a lot more, sit on my bench, look at books outside—I’m using this house as a place to study. I’m studying the architecture, studying the living; I’m getting an education from the house and being inspired by the house.
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