Keys Homes
Sunday, August 11, 2013
Knoll-house design

By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen

Architect David Knoll has been upgrading his Craftsman-style bungalow on Sugarloaf Key since he bought it in 2004. Although he didn't build the house from scratch, these days it reflects his focus on every aspect of architectural design, inside out. For instance, a new arched-concrete entry at ground level sensually contrasts curved edges and hard material with the existing cedar siding's parallel lines on the exterior walls.

During that same 2006 makeover, the new staircase leading to the second-floor living space was built, when Knoll removed the illegal first-floor enclosure and shifted the formal entry from the back of the house to the front. Here, "Parallam structural lumber," and cedar-horizontal balusters on the balcony enhance the organic flow of tree branches all around.

Knoll says the wide screened-in balcony-porch, which wraps half the 950-square-foot house, sold him on the property in the Indian Mounds subdivision. And he loves the double lot -- he planted and maintains the garden himself, a wild and "private rainforest," he said.

But Knoll is, after all, an architect, and not enough light filtered through the original windows so he replaced them all with PGK impact windows, almost floor to ceiling at the front of the house, where the great room serves as living-and-office quarters.

The kitchen still needs some tweaking even though Knoll likes the custom-made cabinetry that was built with the house in 1981. Putting the L-shape into the great room, the kitchen carries through the old-cabin feel of the natural pine walls throughout the house -- "tongue-and-groove center match with chamfered edges," he said.

Did I mention Knoll's an architect?

But the blue-tile island trimmed in stainless steel and a galvanized backsplash have to go, he said.

"It's too industrial for me; I want the kitchen to work with the rest of the house's poetic modernism."

Attributed to Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (1898-1976), who perfected the bent-knee technique in furniture design, poetic modernism is based on a building's relationship to its natural surroundings and the feeling evoked by the materials used. The scale is usually low rise, with meticulous detailing and the skillful placement of light sources.

According to one of Aalto's bios, he provided "an alternative to the technology-dominated impersonality of the international style, its structural repetitiveness and visual monotony...his work retained a romantic tone, which acted as a counterweight to the rationalism of the modern movement."

When one of Aalto's Italian architectural assistants, Leonardo Mosso, called Aalto "a poet amongst architects," poetic modernism was born.

Ranking right up there with Le Corbusier, Wright and Gropius, "Aalto is one of the masters of early modernism," said David Knoll, who embraces more than Aalto's contribution to poetic modernism: Knoll subscribes to Aalto's definition of the Western ideal of the architect--one who is more than a designer and the client's trusted partner, but also the director and producer of the entire architectural environment in its broadest sense, from general plans to the details of interior design.

"I'm an old-school architect who wishes to represent the owner to contractor and everyone else involved in the construction of the design," Knoll said.

Equally important, he thinks the Florida Keys is the ideal locale to apply his interest in organic, woody, undulating lines that soften industrialism.

Among his single-family home designs in Key West, 1306 Laird St. "lives happily with contemporary and traditional homes in the neighborhood," said Knoll.

It has the "multi-level sculptural quality" of another sweet Knoll-house design at 1402 Laird. And in his remake of a house on White Street -- Sue Ann and Richard Hatch's home -- a minor touch of poetic modernism can be seen, but Knoll's respect for the more traditional Conch character of Key West structures was built into his 2006 design of a house at the corner of William and Amelia streets.

Knoll's architectural range is wide, easily shifting from Key West's urban-island refinement to the out-island rustic warmth reflected in his Sugarloaf Key home: The woods, the wood beams, the recessed ceiling lighting, a Craftsman-style chair and ottoman standing alone on the screened-in balcony, perchance for contemplating poetry and nature just outside the wall of sliding-glass doors to the guest bedroom?

His own bedroom is a model of simplicity and restrained interior décor: "I like the scale and coziness," the architect said of the single bed and floor lamp that sits in the middle of the room. There is no window treatment to block out Mother Nature--there is no window covering anywhere in the house, in fact -- only a Djembe African drum and abstract painting by Shari Schemmel to add interest to Knoll's personal styling and romance with architecture.

He just has to get rid of that pesky kitchen metal.

Barbara Bowers is a Key West writer and host of a radio talk show about owning and maintaining property in the Florida Keys. To suggest a home to be featured in the Keys Homes section, send an email to barbara@bbowers.com. Homes listed for sale may not be considered.

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