By Darrell Hofheinz
Daily News Real Estate Writer
Although every new house rises from the ground up, Betsy and Paul Shiverick designed theirs from the outside in.
Painstakingly built for alfresco living, the Northern Italian-style villa on Everglades Island grabbed the spotlight Thursday when its architect, Richard Sammons of Fairfax & Sammons Partners, won the Elizabeth L. and John H. Schuler Award. Bestowed by the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach, the annual award recognizes new architecture that complements and builds upon the historical character of Palm Beach, according to foundation President Alexander C. Ives.
The home’s outdoor focus is immediately apparent to visitors. Hidden behind double doors in the front facade, the home’s focal point — and the inspiration for its name, Il Cortile — is a brick-paved entrance courtyard measuring 24-feet square. It’s bordered on one side by a garden and on the other three by arched loggias, the eastern one capturing lavish views of the Lake Worth Lagoon. The L-shaped house, meanwhile, wraps around the courtyard on the west and north sides. The lush landscape was designed by Jorge Sanchez of SMI Landscape Architecture in Palm Beach.
In their initial conversations, the Shivericks had told Sammons that they wanted their home to maximize the water views. But they also wanted to capture the breezes that flow from the ocean, through the Estate Section and then over the lagoon before arriving at the Shivericks’ poolside back yard on the east side of Everglades Island.
And among the lessons from those conversations? Be careful what you ask for, says Paul Shiverick with a wry smile.
“Being on the water, you get these natural breezes, and that was one of the first things we told Richard: We wanted to build a house where we could be living outside,” Paul recalls, as he and a visitor look down at the courtyard from a second-floor balcony. “And then he took it to this extreme. I said to him: “You’re really telling me the front staircase is outside?’ ”
Yes, Sammons responded, although he did shelter it within an open-air stair hall. He also designed back stairs for inside the house.
The main staircase ascends from a corner of the courtyard to a second-floor, open-air veranda, where two doors lead into guest bedrooms. Because there’s no other way for occupants to access them except by walking outside, the roof has a deep overhang, its limed beams exposed overhead.
The roof, by the way, is among the stucco-clad home’s most striking features — it’s covered in green-glazed barrel tile manufactured by Ludowici, an Ohio family company with deep roots in Italy. The tile perfectly complements the green window shutters.
“I think it might be one of the few green roofs in Palm Beach,” says Betsy Shiverick, who was smitten with it from the get-go.
The roof also is a traditional Italian design — and rare in Palm Beach. Flat tiles interlock with barrel-shaped ones, resulting in a roof that’s completely waterproof.
That the house would have such an authentic roof would come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Sammons’ work. The architect, who was recently elected chairman of the Architectural Commission, is a stickler for authenticity. Houses should not pretend to be other than what they are, he says — and the Shivericks understood that instinctively when they begin the process of deciding what they wanted to build.
“They weren’t thinking of the house as a commodity; they weren’t thinking about resale at all. They were open to any idea,” Sammons recalls. “And when we decided to do an Italian-style house, it was decided that we would do an (authentic) Italian-style house.”
With other homes in Connecticut and Colorado, Betsy recalls a lot of give-and-take with her husband before they settled on the architectural style for their Palm Beach residence. “We could have built anything here, any style. And we didn’t know where to begin,” she says.
Sammons suggested they browse coffee-table architecture books for inspiration, which they did. And they found what they were looking for: a photo of an Italianate house in Montecito, Calif.
“And we both said, ‘Yes, that’s what we like. We want the facade to look like that.’ And then Richard took it forward,” explains Betsy, a former securities trader who today has her own interior design firm. Her husband is in the investments industry.
‘Elegance of scale’
What emerged is a villa of classic Italian design, with 5,300 square feet and stucco-clad exterior walls detailed by limestone quoins. The exterior walls gently flare outward toward the base, “an optical correction,” as Sammons explains it.
Ives, in turn, praises the design for its “elegance of scale, remaining human in proportion while still projecting a feel of architectural grandeur.”
Sammons never wavered from his goal of catching the breeze through cross-ventilation. With the exception of one, each of the five bedrooms has fully operable windows or doors on two sides. The majority of those windows are casement-style and open inward — “the European way,” as Sammons puts it. That allows one to easily reach out and close the exterior shutters, which have been fitted with an inner layer of window screen to filter the air.
“The shutters really get used at night,” says Paul. “We don’t have curtains anywhere in the house.”
In the same way, there are finely crafted screen doors on the guest-bedroom doors that open to the outside. Carefully hinged and weighted, they close slowly and deliberately. “We really worked on that,” says Betsy.
Other doors deliver their own visual impact. The double front doors, for instance, were custom-designed after Italian originals and fitted with a combination of antique hardware and custom-made replicas. The main door into the house, meanwhile, is glass with a metalwork grille. One even can watch the gear-mechanisms of the door handle and lock operate from inside the foyer.
For the living room, Sammons designed substantial sets of broadly arched glass doors with bronze frames. They open on one side to the courtyard and on the other to a private garden.
“We have a lot of these windows and doors open all the time,” Betsy says. “When we have parties, all of them are open to the courtyard. We can open up the entire room.”
Those same arched doors are found on the waterfront side of the eastern loggia. But they weren’t included in Sammons’ original plans.
“We would come over here practically every day (during construction), and it was pretty breezy. And we thought: How can we have dinner out here? So we thought we could these doors there,” Paul explains.
Sammons acquiesced, and today the loggia is a favorite gathering spot for the Shivericks and their guests, who gather at the dining table or relax in front of the outdoor fireplace.
“We really live in this room. We love it,” says Betsy.
‘So many details’
The loggia bridges a downstairs, pecky-cypress-clad sitting room and Paul’s office-and-library, which has rare curly-pine paneling and a beamed ceiling.
Betsy handled the interior decorating and added to the couple’s existing collection of antiques and furniture with furnishings and accessories she found on West Palm Beach’s Antique Row. Among the items from Italy were the bedrooms’ sleek 1920s-era wooden ceiling fans that resemble old-fashioned aircraft propellers.
“There are so many details in this house,” says Paul.
The couple still marvels at the craftsmanship found in the wrought-iron metalwork found on the stairway banisters, balcony railings, window grilles and even the flag-pole holder on the front of the house. All were custom designed and executed by North Carolina craftsman Eric Velleca of Velleca Metal Design, Inc.
Betsy worked closely with Sammons and architect Anne Fairfax, his wife and business partner, in selecting materials and finishes.
Stone and tile also play a key role in the look of the house. Floors in the loggias are covered in Portuguese terra-cotta tiles, while those in the kitchen and library feature imported limestone originally from 14th century French farmhouses.
“I was in Burgundy a year and a half ago, tasting wine, and I was visiting one of these old farmhouses. And the floors were exactly like these,” Paul recalls.
In the inside foyer, the floor is covered in reclaimed gray and white marble squares from Italy. Upstairs, two small anterooms have floors with a parquet pattern copied from Versailles but fashioned by builder Tim Givens out of the same dark-stained Texas longleaf pine found in most of the second-floor rooms.
Lots of tile
The loggias, pool and courtyard fountain — one of three on the property — also feature different patterns of tile.
“I really hadn’t worked with a lot of tile before, and so when we were picking tile with Anne, she said, ‘We should do this pattern here and this pattern here and another over here. And I said, ‘Anne, I think this is too much tile.’ At the time, it seemed crazy. But now I wish we had done more; we could have put tile on the risers of the stairs, for example. The house definitely could have taken it,” said Betsy, who was recently elected as an alternate member of the Architectural Commission.
Several of the bathrooms feature 17th-and 18th-century antique tile from France and Belgium, imported by a Miami company. With a matte finish, muted colors and intricate patterns, the tiles resemble wallpaper, thanks to the way they were installed — flush with the plaster walls that surround them.
“The challenge was that we had to bring our plans and make sure that each pattern fit each room and that the borders matched. And then the even greater challenge was to get it installed properly. Our tile people did a brilliant job,” Betsy says. “Everyone did.”
ABOUT THE WINNER
* Il Cortile, 670 Island Drive
* Homeowners: Paul and Betsy Shiverick
* Architecture: Fairfax & Sammons Partners; Richard Sammons, design architect; Jaime Torres and Kimberly Clemente, project architects
* General contractor:Tim Givens Building and Remodeling, Tim Givens, principal
* Structural engineer:Shaffer Group Inc., Fred Shaffer, principal
* Civil engineer:Gruber Consulting Engineers Inc.; Chad Gruber, principal
* Landscape architecture:SMI Landscape Architecture Inc.; Jorge Sanchez, landscape designer
* Interior design: Betsy Shiverick Interiors, Ltd.; Betsy Shiverick, designer
ABOUT THE SCHULER AWARD
The Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach’s Elizabeth L. and John H. Schuler Award was established in 2005 by the Schulers to recognize new architecture that is designed and built “in keeping with the traditional styles of Palm Beach architecture,” according to the foundation’s website.
The award complements the foundation’s Robert I. Ballinger Award, which honors historically sensitive renovations of large estates; the Polly Earl Award, which honors similar renovations of small-scale properties; and the Lesly S. Smith Landscape Award, which honors a notable landscape project.