Building a house can be a daunting task – no question. What begins as excitement for all the possibilities of creating a custom home can quickly become an overwhelming deluge of never-ending choices. From floorplans to fixtures to finishes, making the right decisions requires a clear vision. “Not everyone enjoys the process of building a home,” says local real estate agent Tara Presser. “You have to be decisive enough to make quick choices so you can get exactly what you want.”
Tara, a St. Augustine native, speaks from extensive experience – not only professionally, but personally as well. In just eight years of marriage, she and her husband, John, have endured the home building process twice. The couple, who met after both appeared in separate seasons of the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise, enjoyed the first house they built together on a 4.25 acre lot in an equestrian neighborhood. But once they had children, they discovered it no longer fit their needs. John, a national account director for a pharmaceutical company, often found himself spending his spare time maintaining their vast acreage instead of enjoying some outdoor playtime with his family.
For their second adventure in home building, the couple approached things with some experiential knowledge and industry insight. First, they focused on the location where they wanted to raise their family. Palencia was a top choice for its neighborhood school and family atmosphere perfectly suited for their six year-old son, Warner, and four year-old daughter, Ellery. Even better, the Pressers were able to find a lot in the Palencia subdivision that gave them the best of both worlds – an acre of land with plenty of space for the kids to enjoy but with lower maintenance requirements than their previous home.
When it came to choosing a floorplan, Tara’s eye for design and experience in the real estate world gave her a good vision of her family’s ideal layout. “I knew I didn’t want a massive seven-bedroom house with nine bathrooms that no one ever uses,” says Tara. “I wanted everything on one story, with space for entertaining, but not so much space that it felt empty and sprawling.”
With the help of local architect Karen Cowart, Tara and John were able to create a 3800 square foot, four-bedroom, four-bath layout that fit their family’s dreams. Ryan Cornelison of Corner Construction, a classmate of Tara’s at St. Augustine High School, helped bring the plan to life.
On the east side of the house, Warner and Ellery each have their own room with a shared bath. Down the hall is a laundry room and small mudroom that connects the house with an attached garage. A guest room with en-suite bathroom is tucked into a quiet back corner with beautiful views of the outdoor kitchen and pool.
At the center of the house, Tara carefully orchestrated an open-concept entertaining space that incorporates the living room, kitchen, and recessed dining area – which is perfect for hosting big family gatherings. With deep local roots, Tara has a large contingent of lifelong friends she loves to invite over for annual “Friendsgiving” while John, an Indiana native, loves to have the extra space when his family comes down for a Florida vacation.
Tucked behind the family’s immaculate kitchen is Tara’s best kept secret – a butler’s pantry. “We had one in our last house and it just helps so much to have the extra storage,” says Tara. “I don’t like clutter, so this is the perfect space to keep all of our countertop appliances and other things hidden away.”
Off the living room, a sliding barn door opens to a cozy playroom for the kids. And around the corner sits another guest bath and one of John’s two requests for the new house – a home office. Broken into two separate spaces, John’s office features a traditional workspace with a desk and bookcases, as well as an alcove made just for his home gym equipment. Down the hall, John and Tara’s large master suite includes a view of the sprawling backyard along with a spacious walk-in closet and master bath with a dual-head shower and separate tub.
John’s other request is a little harder to see. The house is outfitted with smart home technology, which allows him to control everything from the garage doors to the lights and even the air conditioning unit through a simple app on his smartphone. This added feature isn’t just for fun but also to boost security and help the family conserve energy where possible.
When it came to selecting the home’s finishes, Tara knew just what she wanted. “Working in real estate, I always get to see the ‘latest and greatest’ in design,” she says. “I knew I wanted European White Oak for the floors, and from there I worked with Smith Kitchens in Palatka to find the perfect gray stain for our custom cabinets.”
In both the kitchen and the built-in entertainment center in the living room, the warm gray cabinets provide the perfect contrast for the lighter-hued oak floors. Tara also selected the wood beams that span the vaulted ceilings in the living space, one of her favorite details in the house.
Beyond a three-pane glass sliding door, the Pressers’ backyard is the perfect extension of their home with a fireplace and seating area, outdoor kitchen, and custom pool. Out front, a second, detached garage provides additional storage for the family golf cart and the children’s bicycles, which they love to ride up and down the long, cobblestone driveway.
While the Pressers are still enjoying their new house, Tara is also working on a few other outlets for her home building creativity. In addition to building and selling spec homes in the area, she and John have also invested in a Gatlinburg, Tennessee, vacation rental and are currently building a 2100 square foot beach house in Summer Haven, which they plan to rent as well.
Photography by Brian Miller