House with attitude
In the second renovation of this 1950s Vero Beach home, Bill Becker added the porch, tile roofs and new kitchen behind the ivy. Above the kitchen is a private balcony with sweeping golf course and ocean views. ROB DOWNEY PHOTOS
Remodeled beach home radiates Old Florida character
BY GREG GARDNER
After Bill and Lisa Becker moved to Vero Beach in 1996, he would run past a house around the corner, thinking to himself, “what a great place to raise a family.” One day he saw a For Sale sign. He took it as an omen and the couple bought the house.
“I envisioned my children playing in the yard among the trees, riding their bikes and skateboards and walking to school,” Becker says.
The couple’s three children attended St. Edward’s Lower School when it was three houses away in the prestigious Riomar Country Club neighborhood on the beach south of the commercial district.
Built in 1954, the two-story house sits on a bluff with sweeping views of the golf course and the Atlantic Ocean. It is known as the first contemporary home built in Indian River County. After several years of renovations, it has the casual feel of an Old Florida beach house.
It is also one of the rare Vero Beach homes with a basement. Perhaps the most striking feature of the property is the nine 125-year-old oak trees, whose branches sprawl majestically in every direction.
“I had a gut feeling this would be a great house to raise my children,” Becker says. His son’s closet still has the marks and dates on the wall as he grew. The two daughters have graduated from college and the son will soon follow.
Originally from Winter Park, Becker calls himself a true entrepreneur. He has purchased 32 companies, “re-energizing” them to become more profitable. He still owns six of them.
“I bring in people a lot smarter than me so they can help the workers do their thing,” Becker says. While living in Atlanta, he volunteered his time as a consultant for the 1996 Olympic Games.
VERO WAS PERFECT
When thinking about where he should raise a family, a friend suggested Vero Beach, a town he had never heard of. “We rented a hotel on the beach,” Becker says. “And we thought it was so beautiful here. It is so relaxed, no crime, good schools, clean water and friendly people.”
After buying the house, Becker set out to leave his footprints. The goal of the project was to open up the house, including moving the kitchen to create a family setting. The original kitchen is now a guest suite with a kitchenette cleverly hidden behind closet doors.
The tropical vibe continues into the foyer with murals painted by artist Patty Vaughn.
A veranda wraps around the house facing southeast. Above it is a second-story patio that opens off the master bedroom suite. What was a flat roof is now a pitched roof with beautiful, handmade terracotta tiles from Italy. They were installed with foam and stainless steel screws to prevent rust from salt air and clattering, which occurs during a hurricane when tiles rattle loose and break in a chain reaction.
“When we bought the house it was overgrown, so we trimmed it back and planted hedges,” Becker says, adding that the 480-foot sea grape hedge around half of his property is the longest in the county. Walking around the property, you smell the scents of different plants.
“There are flowers blooming all over, different fragrances at different times of the year,” he says. We have bougainvillea, hibiscus, firecracker — and the jasmine really lights up.”
LOTS OF PRIVACY
New pavers surround the pool, leading to the pergola, a trellised seating area. At almost an acre, the property is fenced and heavily landscaped. “It is totally private here and every room has beautiful views. This is an in-town estate home.”
All of the windows were replaced with impact glass in PVC-covered frames, so there is no painting or maintenance. The floors throughout the five-bedroom, 6 1/2-bath home were replaced with reclaimed river bottom heart of pine lumber. In the old days, loggers on the Mississippi River inevitably lost lumber to the river bottom. Reclaimed, this tough wood has a soft look, accenting the Old Florida furniture.
What sets off the Old Florida-style of the living room is the reclaimed river bottom heart of pine wood flooring installed during renovations.
Becker had a carpenter cover the stainless steel refrigerator with wood to match the cabinets in the remodeled kitchen, which now features windows and a breakfast nook.
Built by the largest seawall builder in Florida at the time, the 62-year-old structure is in excellent condition. But the guts of the house needed to be replaced to meet current code. In the past three years, all of the duct work for the three-zone air conditioner, insulation, electrical wiring and plumbing was replaced with complete crawl spaces making the work much easier. “Every square inch on this house has been redone,” Becker says. “We were always doing something, but the house is perfect right now.”
Clem Schaub was the architect for the first renovation of the home and also drew the plans for the Beckers’ makeover.
“This is a major renovation when you are moving rooms and functions around,” Schaub says. “The kitchen was moved to improve the flow. It was buried in the back. A lot of houses were built for the staff to cook for the owners. We made it a family kitchen in the heart of the family flow. It was kind of a total redo and the feel of the house changed. The children started to grow up and move on so it was updated to their current lifestyle.”
LOCATION IS MAGICAL
“The home’s placement in old Riomar is a magical spot, looking south with the view that goes on forever,” Schaub continues. “We moved the windows. You can’t see the road so it feels like you own the golf course. And you are not aware of other houses. It is a great house on a great property for great people.”
Atop the basement sits the 5,000-square-foot home rising from an elevation of almost 20 feet. The entryway is lushly landscaped around the Mexican tile steps that rise up to the front door.
The best views in the house are looking southeast from the master bedroom.
After you easily open the 800-pound door made from Brazilian Ipe wood, the tropical feel lives on through the foyer with murals painted by artist Patty Vaughn.
“I wanted the continuation of that feel from the outside as you come inside the house,” Becker says. “It is a Zen transition. It is just an open house — not formal — for people to come in and relax, welcoming family and friends for football or a barbecue. My kids always brought their friends over. This is a beach house with attitude and a lot of character.”
In the almost empty-nest tradition, the Beckers have decided to downsize. “It is a gut-wrenching decision,” Becker says. We have had beautiful Christmases and great parties here. It will be tough. If I had grandchildren, I might keep it. We love Vero and we wouldn’t live anywhere else.”
The Becker estate is listed for $3.25 million by the French and O’Dare Team at Premier Estate Properties.