A historical ranch home gets a contemporary renovation with savvy age-in-place features

by ROBIN HOWARD / photography by ZEKE RUELAS

Just south of Jacksonville, Florida, lies the seaside community of Ponte Vedra Beach. Once a winter respite for the wealthy, Ponte Vedra is now a haven for retirees and professional athletes. Homes in this historical community are in high demand, but most need a thorough and thoughtful renovation to suit modern life and modern tastes. That’s the story of the house we’re seeing today.

This is a 3,200-square-foot, three-bedroom ranch home that backs up to a deep-water canal system. The homeowners have grown children and grandchildren and wanted a second home where they could entertain and enjoy extended family visits. As part-time residents in Ponte Vedra, low-maintenance design was essential. The couple prefers a clean, contemporary aesthetic and wanted age-in-place features that would allow them to stay in their home should any health challenges arise down the road. To help them realize their vision, they turned to their longtime interior designer and aging-in-place specialist, Robyn Branch of Robyn Branch Design.

With offices in Charleston and Amelia Island, Branch employs an A-team of specialists that range from a handyman and an artist to a wallpaper expert and a seamstress with a degree in textiles. The team travels anywhere and has recently completed projects in Charleston, Charlotte, Amelia Island and St. Kitts. Interior designer Liz Royal helms the firm in Charleston.

Whether she’s working on a historical property, new construction or a renovation, Branch does her homework when it comes to functionality. Though most people want to stay at home as long as possible as they age or during a period of physical rehabilitation, few homes are designed to be safe and comfortable for people with reduced mobility or ability. Branch designs interiors that can accommodate people of any age or ability while making them stunningly gorgeous along the way.

The designer started the renovation by tearing out walls and replacing the roof, windows, doors, driveway, landscaping and pool. Then she created a contemporary sanctuary for the couple within the newly opened space that easily accommodates houseguests and dinner parties.

As we enter, we can see from the foyer through the open living area to the pool, dock and canal. Branch used the homeowners’ existing Hudson live-edge table and modern ladder-back chairs in the dining area and added four slipcovered dining chairs. A contemporary Hubbardton Forge light fixture adds a solid contemporary element. Waxed English oak floors run throughout the home, as do hand-polished ceilings by artist Tanya Garris.

In the kitchen, Branch used two large pendants instead of several smaller lights to add drama to this streamlined space. Beneath, an elegant white quartzite island with a waterfall edge is home to four McGuire barstools. Bright white custom cabinets run the length of the kitchen, and the white paneled appliances blend into the design. In the living room—one of the couple’s favorite rooms in the house—a glass and wood Hudson coffee table and a custom white walnut console add warmth to the cozy arrangement of Lancaster chairs, sofa and Serge de Troyer Parchment end tables.

To create a conversation area, Branch placed two unique wooden chairs from the Phillips Collection in a grouping with a crisp white chaise lounge. The seating area also has one of several contemporary light fixtures that were custom-made for the home. As in the rest of the house, she used black accents to anchor the light, organic neutrals.

Near the kitchen is a jewel box powder room with green and black textured wallpaper by Arte, custom sconces and a Lacava vanity. A second bathroom that serves as a pool room is adorned in crisp white with black accessories and a pink onyx vanity top.

Down the hall, the homeowners wanted the primary bedroom to be peaceful and relaxing, so Branch used texture and shine to add visual interest to the soft neutral color palette of grays and white. In the guest room, Branch brought together watermelon and aqua accents and paired them with a bold black-and-white striped rug. The guest room is now the client’s favorite bedroom.

The homeowners both have their own spaces in which to work or relax; his is a study, and hers is a feminine, tropical retreat that can serve as an extra sleeping space for the grandkids. This spacious room has an American Leather sofa bed flanked by two custom end tables with pink onyx tops. The versatile coffee table displays treasures and is easy to move when the bed pulls out.

Throughout the house, age-in-place design is present but not noticeable. “Age-in-place features don’t have to stand out,” Branch says. “It’s a matter of adding simple things, such as rocker light switches you can hit with your elbow, leaving plenty of room around furniture and layered lighting for night-lights.”

The designer also advocates curbless showers, wider doors and windows, blocking in for handrails, and using nonslip flooring and rugs with proper padding so they don’t gather.

Though she is a certified aging-in-place specialist, Branch will hire an occupational therapist to consult with her when required. “It takes a team to get a house ready,” she says. “These days people want to open their homes to an elderly relative if needed, so we’re designing multigenerational homes that have additional privacy, sound barriers and multipurpose areas.”

Though this was a massive renovation, the home still feels like it belongs to the historic neighborhood while being part of modern life. “When I finish a house, two things need to happen for me,” Branch says. “Beyond what they want, did I make it better for them, and could I live here? When I walked out of that house, I thought, ‘I could so live here.’” *

Robin Howard is a freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at

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