Driving up to Longleaf House brings a feeling of calm that is hard to put your finger on, yet a certain sense of place reminiscent of the song “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. As it should; Guthrie penned more than 80 songs while in residence on Beluthahatchee Lake. He was a frequent guest at the late author Stetson Kennedy’s house on this lake, which is a National Literary Landmark today.
From the driveway of Longleaf House, a breezeway frames the lakefront view and leads to an expansive timber-framed porch featuring exposed rafters and a metal roof. Traditional Southern architecture offers simplicity amid the beautiful natural surroundings with broad, welcoming brick steps creating a path to the front door.
When Bob and Monica Esposito first discovered the property, it was so densely wooded that the lake was completely hidden. Careful and responsible clearing revealed a picturesque panorama, which served as a major influence on the placement of the house. Each night, migratory birds come to roost in the Cypress trees above the water. Monica, an Audubon enthusiast, enjoys watching them from Adirondack chairs on the dock or from the dining table during a meal with her children and grandchildren.
Built in a well-established area of St. Johns County, it was important to the Espositos that the design felt “right at home” with the surrounding homes and environment. Bringing the outdoors in was one of the highest priorities for Bob and Monica and was achieved with generously-sized front and rear porches and thoughtful placement of large casement windows.
Additional inspiration for the home came from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ historic cracker-style homestead in Cross Creek, Florida as well as the historical homestead at Alpine Groves Park in the Switzerland area, which features a similar architectural style. Honored with an American Residential Design Award from the American Institute of Building Design, the result is simply stunning.
Prior to starting his own design firm, Bob was a partner in a local architectural firm. In over 30 years in the business, he has garnered a wealth of experience in residential design. In 2012, he started his own studio, Esposito Design, which specializes in custom design services tailored to individuals and homebuilders. Monica acts as the financial and administrative lead for the business and is grateful for the flexibility that working in a family business allows. Bob’s history in the industry and well-matched reputation continue to keep word of mouth clientele knocking on his door.
Bob’s father was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps, and as such, Bob’s childhood was spent moving between various cities along the East Coast. This exposed him to the rich architectural remnants of Colonial America in cities like Beaufort, Williamsburg, and Annapolis. Monica is a proud Jacksonville native and appreciates all the city has to offer. “The interesting thing about Jacksonville,” says Monica, “is that you can feel like you’re in a completely different city just by traveling across town. But there’s still a quaintness here, and the waterways, beaches, and sunny weather make it a truly special place to live.”
The Esposito’s three children also reside in Jacksonville. Their oldest son currently works in the aerospace industry and is married with a young son and a new baby on the way. Their daughter, a professional pianist, lives just around the corner in Aberdeen with her husband and two children. Their youngest son Joel built a 450 square foot studio in St. Johns County, which served as a model of sorts for many of the design elements of Longleaf House. Joel holds a certification in Autodesk Revit software, which offers Esposito Design’s clients an enhanced 3D design experience. His experience in computer art and design enables clients to view their homes in virtual reality before they’re even built. “Time is the one commodity that you never get back, so you have to use it wisely. You can always work more, but time is fleeting,” Monica says, reflecting on the difference in work environments. “When the grandkids come over, we enjoy spending time with them, and if we need to work late into the evening, we have the flexibility to make that decision.”
Bob agrees, “We are very careful about how we structure our workload because it is critical for us to be fully engaged in the design process. Our process is highly collaborative yet efficient, so we can deliver projects that meet or exceed our client’s expectations within the required timeframes. Our goal is to offer our clients beautiful design solutions that enhance their lifestyles.”
Bob has designed hundreds of successful projects over his career, ranging from small cottages to sprawling estates, as well as renovations and remodels of all shapes and sizes. “To us it’s all about understanding the owners, their property, their vision, and how they want to live,” says Bob. “People want a home that feels comfortable and looks good, just like tailored clothing. For most people, a home is a very personal and significant commitment, and we love helping them realize their goals.”
For their own home, everything was purposefully designed. Alongside Brandon Construction and Lauren Leonard Interiors, they sought to ensure the design supported aging-in-place, so everything was created with accessibility in mind. The curbless shower, accommodations for a future chair-lift at the stairs, and undercounter refrigerators all help to facilitate this goal. The Silestone countertops repel coffee and red wine spills with an engineered quartz that mimics marble. An apron front farmhouse sink and custom exhaust hood above the stove lend a traditional appeal. A barn door on the pantry slides back to showcase an upright freezer and open shelving on casters that easily move to accommodate deep cleaning.
The home is a perfect model of mindful minimalism without losing an ounce of Florida charm. From the glass doorknobs and oil-rubbed bronze fixtures down to the claw foot soaking tub, the home exudes the character of a bygone era.
Although the house is only 1,800 square feet, it feels massive – assisted by smart design decisions like high ceilings, minimal hallways, a neutral color palette, and aesthetic touches like shiplap walls and exposed stained Cypress beams on the living room ceiling. A perfect picture of “living large in a small space,” Longleaf House was recently featured in Sheri Koones’ book Downsize, which shares more than 30 beautifully-imagined homes all created with various energy efficient solutions – indoor/outdoor connections, low maintenance building materials, and landscaping, as well as multipurpose rooms, open floor plans, nooks, creative storage, and rolling barn and pocket doors for a streamlined feeling. The idea of the book is to showcase the many beautiful ways that downsizing can benefit your overall lifestyle.
The energy efficient design of Longlead also includes modern air sealing strategies and high quality casement windows, as well as spray foam insulation and a standing seam metal roof. A charming wood burning fireplace and built-in window seats provide coziness while maximizing every square foot of space. Offering an historic look while avoiding the inefficiencies associated with more complex building massing, the house’s simplicity of form is right at home on the shores of Beluthahatchee Lake.
The largest takeaway from the entire experience, perhaps, was the idea that one has the opportunity to visualize and create the environment to best support their lifestyle. The design of Longleaf was largely influenced by the desire to enjoy family time with a multi- generational set, while looking ahead to the later years.
Perhaps the most telling example of this vision was the fact that the backyard is currently housing live oak seedlings – in preparation for planting in the next year or so, bringing more nature into the mix and setting the family’s next generation up with a potential income source – an example of mindfulness and minimalism at its finest.
Photography by Brian Miller