Custom architectural design connects elegant surroundings to nature’s charm
BY MARY ANN KOENIG | PHOTOS BY JAMES NORTHEN
Riomar Bay, an elite riverfront neighborhood, is small enough to feel intimate yet graced with some of Vero Beach’s most elegant homes.
At 520 Bay Drive, a special residence deals in the rare currency of equitable indoor and outdoor space, utilizing water as its natural allure. The magnificent home is currently on the market for $3,995,000.
The genesis of the house came from a “tear-down” that was purchased in 2007 by interior designer KC Barkley and her contractor husband, Von, of Barkley International Design Group. A complete rebuild and redesign over 2007-2008 created a 6,800-square-foot masterpiece. Intended to mirror a Hawaiian Islands retreat, they built elements into the house that are enduring touchstones of an idyllic sanctuary of peace and grace.
The Riomar section along the oceanside of Vero Beach has historic roots back to the 1920s. And, beginning in 1950, developer Arthur McKee Semon began creating the Riomar Bay subdivision on the Intracoastal Waterway, promoting it as the latest and greatest Vero Beach enclave.
The home on Bay Drive lives up to Semon’s expectations. The pool and spa area anchor the home and play the most vital role in the connection between indoor and outdoor living. With south facing exposure on a wide canal adjacent to the Intracoastal, “it’s like a resort oasis,” says listing agent Karen Smith of Alex MacWilliam Realty.
Current owners Charles “Chuck” and Jill Townsend purchased the home in 2014 with Smith as their agent. “We looked top of the island all the way down to the bottom,” says Chuck. “We fell in love with Riomar because of the proximity to everything I enjoy,” he says. “We were not really personally familiar with Riomar Bay, but it was just a wonderful find.”
The canal, with direct waterway access, accommodates large or small craft. Kayaks, jet skis, and yachts are quartered on the newly installed 80-foot dock with two separate boat lifts that have 10,000- and 20,000-pound capacity.
“I’m a water person,” says Chuck, “and from the house, I have immediate access to the Indian River, north and south. It’s a very protected docking, and I step out my backdoor, and there’s my boats.”
The two wings of the dramatic house wrap the pool and spa area, which combines two features that put the home’s resort-style swimming pool into a class of its own.
A blend of fireplace and towering waterfall, centered in the pool, was a challenge that the Barkleys brought to life. “The pool company didn’t have a clue how to do it,” says KC. “Von has been a masonry contractor, so he said, ‘I’ll build it.’”
Once the fireplace was constructed, KC asked her husband, “Now can we make water come off the top?” Von accomplished that as well. “We’ve always called it the house of fire and water,” she says.
The pool is enhanced by a “conversation pit,” a type KC had seen at island resorts during some of her travels. Submerged below water level behind the tower, the seating area is suited for late evening cocktails or early morning coffee, as well as to warm up beside the fireplace on a rare, chilly Florida evening.
OUTDOOR AND INDOOR COMFORT
For years, the grand pool held the record as the largest in Indian River County. Its “T” shape is augmented with a side water channel leading to the spa. And two island-like plinths on either side of the fireplace hold stone foo dog statues, keeping an eternal vigil.
A covered lanai is set up for casual dining or seating, and the patio area, with electric shades and awnings on the south, east, and west sides, create outdoor comfort with the touch of a button.
The kitchen and family room, adjacent to the lanai, flow into one expansive entertainment area with exclusive touches.
The kitchen is made for gourmet cooking. Custom cherry cabinetry includes interior lighting. A six-burner range, two paneled refrigerators and wall oven are all by innovative appliance maker Dacor. A separate butler’s pantry off the kitchen can service a casual or catered affair. And this wing includes one of four guest suites.
The family room, which extends from the kitchen, has a traditional aesthetic of a coffered ceiling but with a customized island feel. Hand-tooled by Von, the woven bamboo grass feature is inset into the ceiling’s cypress frames. “Von used a staple gun and nailing,” says KC. “I’d design it, choose the materials, and he’d make it happen.”
A bank of full-retraction glass and wood-framed sliders open the family room to the lanai starring another of Von’s bamboo ceiling touches. A cypress rectangle anchors the center of the ceiling, as volumes of bamboo lattice-work, set into a peaked vault, radiate out from the midpoint.
On the west side of the lanai, KC designed a white, aluminum-railed staircase that leads to a private suite. The stair and balcony railings are “practical but more interesting than what you’d find in a catalogue,” says KC. The spacious upstairs guest suite overlooks the pool and opens onto a grand balcony big enough for a dance floor or yoga classes. The adjacent roof area has a section reserved where solar panels could be installed.
These custom architectural details are what sets the home apart from standard-built residences — and why the Townsends fell in love with the house and maximized their enjoyment of it. “The house is made for outdoor entertaining,” he says. “And we’ve used it to the fullest extent.”
Overall, five bedrooms, five bathrooms, and three powder rooms, set on more than a half-acre lot, making it a perfect large-family home. The west wing contains two additional guest rooms, each with an en-suite bath. There’s also a large office/study which could be turned into a screening room or game room.
Entering the master suite, water again opens a dialogue between two spaces. Double doors lead into the suite to a wall of windows and French doors offering views of the pool and spa, and the dock and canal. The room is bifurcated by a two-sided fireplace above which dual television screens service each side of the room. Both the sitting and the bed areas have individual controls to watch and listen independently.
At the heart of the symmetrical master bath is a luxurious soaking-tub positioned in front of a large picture window overlooking a private Zen garden.
With the dark tropical grained woods, the bamboo effects, and luxurious qualities, the house resembles the finest Aman Resorts hotels of Asia yet available much closer to home.
The fact that the listing agent, Smith, works with Alex MacWilliam Realty adds a bit of serendipity to the story. As an original Vero pioneer, Alex MacWilliam Sr. came to Vero in the 1920s as the landscape architect who built Riomar Golf Course and was the town mayor for more than 20 years. His son, Alex MacWilliam Jr., helped develop Riomar Bay 2, adjacent to the original subdivision.
The 1950s brochure that advertised Riomar Bay promised, “a colony unsurpassed in the distinctive grace of surroundings …” That description is completely applicable to the home at 520 Bay Drive.
The Townsends are searching for their next project. Jill builds custom homes in Rhode Island where the couple spends a few months a year. “She wants to do a renovation in Riomar,” says Chuck, “and to do that successfully you have to give yourself to the project and live in it.”
The home can be viewed online at 520baydrive.com.