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The sophisticated, spa-like New American Home

Phil Kean's inventive show home bridges indoor and outdoor living spaces, punctuating them with fire features for a cozy but visually arresting aesthetic.

By Jeffrey Lee

Staff Writer

Entering The New American Home feels like stepping into vacation.

Open the front door and it feels like you're in a four-star resort, with two spiraling fire features lining each side of the entranceway. Take a few steps forward into the central courtyard and you're on a palm-treed putting green; if you need to practice your swing, the simulator's to your right.

Keep going through the great room and you'll think you're in a private pool club, with a bubbling spa surrounded by a serene infinity pool overlooking a scenic lake. Finish your visit with a stop by the master bathroom, where rain showers and body sprays rival the experience of a luxury spa.

If it all sounds a bit indulgent, well, that's the point. The 8,753-square-foot home in Orlando's Lake Nona Golf & Country Club community was designed by the Phil Kean Design Group as a show house, a real-world demonstration of architecture, lifestyle, and product trends to inspire visitors at the International Builders Show.

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Indoor-Outdoor Connections

One of the most evident trends on display is the bridging of indoor and outdoor space. While forging smart connections between these spaces has been a popular trend throughout the country, The New American Home takes it to the extreme.

The outdoor putting green courtyard and swimming pool courtyard serve as centerpieces to a series of pod-style living spaces that surround them. Extensive walls of automated pocketing glass can easily slide away to bring the outdoors in.

Propane-fueled fire pits and indoor and outdoor fireplaces throughout the home serve as both decorative art and comfy gathering spots to punctuate the rooms. "We used fire for both the aesthetic and cozy factor," says Phil Kean, whose design firm is based in Winter Park, Florida. "When you have a big modern house, you need to have some elements that are cozy, and the fireplaces added a sense of coziness to the house."

"When you have a big modern house, you need to have some elements that are cozy, and the fireplaces added a sense of coziness to the house."

One favorite of Kean's, a four-sided linear fireplace in the room separating the courtyards, was "a show-stopper," Kean says. "It was custom designed for the space and it turned out beautiful." The two spiraling flames near the front door put out little heat so they can be kept on even during the Florida summer. "What's cool about that particular product is you can do it horizontal or upside down," he says. "It's really a fun fire feature."

Though the home is only one story, a large roof terrace includes seating areas surrounding fire pits and overlooking views of a golf course, three lakes, and magnificent sunsets. A resort-size bar and Wolf propane grill comprise one of the home's two outdoor kitchens. "I call it the everyday grill and the party grill," Kean says. "The one grill is a bit smaller and close to the kitchen itself. The other one's on the roof, and you could do a whole event up there."

Clean Fuel, Clean Indoor Air

Like many communities in Florida, Lake Nona lacks access to natural gas. For Kean, it was clear from the start that the home would use propane rather than resorting to all-electric. "I pretty much expect that all my clients here in Florida generally like at least some of their products in gas," Kean says. "Very rarely do I have an all-electric house."

For the fireplaces, using gas instead of wood was critical to achieving ambitious indoor air quality goals. The home achieved Emerald status in the National Green Building Standard ICC-700 and was also certified in the indoor-environment-focused Wellness Within Your Walls standard.

"We chose gas [fireplaces] because we would bring in air and expel the exhaust without it ever mixing in with the living spaces."

"We chose gas because we would bring in air and expel the exhaust without it ever mixing in with the living spaces," Kean says. Plus, low-maintenance propane fireplaces are a natural fit for a vacation home, he adds. "It's clean. You turn it off and you're done with it. You don't have to clean up after it. Whereas a wood fireplace would have soot and ash that would float through the space."

An even larger component of the home's Emerald achievement is its energy performance. The home has a HERS Index of 0, or 54 without the 16 kW of solar photovoltaics on the roof, meaning it is 46 percent more efficient than the construction of the average new home. An airtight thermal shell with triple-insulated walls helped reduce energy requirements. And each of the home's "pods" can be turned on or off, depending on who's staying there, boosting efficiency.

Relaxation and Resilience

Water heating was another key energy feature. A synchronized system of nine propane-fueled, 95 percent efficient Bosch tankless water heaters was ideal for a house that might be used as a second or vacation home. "There was no reason to keep water heated," Kean says. "You only heat water when you need it, which is a nice feature."

Body sprays and rainshowers were an essential element in creating the home's spa-like feeling, Kean says, but they also require a lot of hot water. The coordinated tankless units were a better option to meet that demand than electric hybrid storage tanks, says Drew Smith, president of Two Trails, the energy and sustainability consultant for the home.

"We would have had to put four of those tanks in the garage and deal with the water temperature lost throughout the house," Smith says. "It's valuable footprint. We don't like to take up that space where it could potentially be a spot for a workbench or a storage cabinet in the garage." Instead, the team was able to locate the tankless units in exterior locations closer to where the water would be used.

The pool and spa also use propane heating, which provides more control and faster heating than solar water heaters, Kean says. That added control is appealing in a vacation home, where the owners may want to quickly bring the spa up to temperature upon their arrival.

Resilience is a key feature in a region that's subjected to frequent tropical storms and hurricanes that can disrupt the power grid — and especially for a home with a $6 million price tag (furnished). A propane standby generator from Kohler ensures the home's power will remain on in any weather. "It's great to have backup generators," Kean says. "In this particular case, it's expected. People expect not to be inconvenienced."

The security of a resilient home is just one final relaxing touch in a home that's full of glamorous yet tranquil amenities. What more could you expect from stepping into a vacation?


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