A Jazz-Age Classic in Florida Gets an Ovation-Worthy Revamp

An architect couple restore an Art Deco gem, gently modernizing it for work and family life.
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In the 1920s, Florida real estate was booming and developers were luring out-of-town wealth with images of Mediterranean-style houses: arched columns, tiled roofs, courtyards, and lush, tropical vegetation. One such residence was the Dundee House, featured in an advertising campaign for a new neighborhood on the edge of the mangrove swamps of Tampa. 

Ninety years later, the house was back on the market—and Jody Beck and Ross-Alan Tisdale of Traction Architecture swooped it up. The architect duo, who typically favor clean lines and minimalist design, seemed unlikely purchasers.

Indeed, Ross is so very cutting edge that he has done work for NASA, designing space-safe homes for moon habitation. Nonetheless, they fell for the history, the fine craftsmanship, and the unique style of the house.

Jody imagined the glamorous jazz-age parties that took place in the ballroom, and appreciated the plaster frieze of acanthus leaves that wraps around the top of the home’s walls, imported, she says, from Paris and sent to Tampa by steamer ship in four-foot sections. 

The couple began designing the house for their family, marrying the deco-era exuberance with a bright, clean, modern feel. The two styles work surprisingly well together—the newly open interior spaces with their white-painted walls serve as the perfect backdrop to the drama of the mullioned windows, original tile, and extensive moldings.

Jody and Ross preserved all the artistry that made the house special, and subtly updated certain details. Rather than refacing the dingy exterior of the deco masterpiece, the team scrubbed the brick back to its original gleaming golden hue. Removing the 1950s-era aluminum awnings revealed pretty mullion patterns in the windows. And in the ballroom, they replaced brass sconces with subtle LED strips above the crown molding to let the ceiling medallion really shine.

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The Dundee House’s H-shape allows for seamless indoor/outdoor access through French doors, garden walkways, porches, and patios.

Jody and Ross embraced this accessibility of the lush, tropical gardens, and the living room, once an outdoor patio, epitomizes this connection. It features indoor/outdoor cement tile, a cypress wood ceiling, large, arched windows, and potted palms.

While many of the walls are newly white, Jody and Ross highlighted certain spaces with bold colors: deep jungle green for the bathroom, dark yellow-gold for the foyer, and bright French blue to emphasize an interior view corridor.

It was partway through construction that the pair began to see the space as their studio as well as their home. The ballroom, with its vaulted ceiling and set of arched glass doors to the side garden, became their work space. "It was a hands-on training ground," says Jody. "Our young architecture staff would take breaks from computer work to jackhammer concrete, or trace ductwork through the attic spaces, or lay joists with our carpenter."

The layout of the house, with rooms radiating out from the ballroom, was easily divided into a "public zone" combining the ballroom and entry foyer, and a "private zone," which includes the kitchen, a living space, and bedrooms. Though during the pandemic, they’ve breached the separation to share office space with their boys’ Zoom classes.

The house recently won an Honor Award of Excellence for Renovations and Additions from the Florida Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Related Reading:

An Angular Modern Beach House in Florida

10 Sarasota Modern Homes That Embrace Balmy Shores 

Project Credits: 

Architect of Record: Jody Beck, Traction Architecture / @tractionarchitecture

Builder/General Contractor: Jody Beck, Traction Construction 

Cabinetry Design/Installation: Lisa Day, Space Theory by Henrybuilt

Interior Design: Jody Beck, Traction Architecture


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