Classic seaside lifestyle comes alive in “Dream Houses”

“Dream Houses: Historic Beach Homes and Cottages of Naples,” text by Joie Wilson and photographs by Penny Taylor. University Press of Florida. 224 pages. $45.00.

Interior design professional Joie Wilson did not set out to write a book, but rather to alert public officials and private citizens about the lifestyle treasure that existed in seaside Old Naples and how economic factors and notions of progress were jeopardizing its future. In the end, sharing her passionate insights through a book seemed to be the best way to make her case about what was important and appealing – and so much worth saving – about this community.  Partnering with Naples photographer Penny Taylor (who served for a decade on the Naples City Council), Ms. Wilson plunged in. Her informed enthusiasm, along with Ms. Taylor’s fine photographs, has resulted in a gem of a publication.

Avoiding academic jargon, Joie Wilson clearly sets forth the architectural features and history of each home, from its initial owners through the renovations reflecting the needs and aspirations of successive owners. Many of these renovations are adaptations to changing uses of the buildings, changing times, and especially changing technologies. However, what is amazing in Ms. Wilson’s discussion of these splendid specimens of the 34102 zip code is their stylistic integrity to the idea of Naples as a simple, yet comfortable, beachside community. In the processes of renovation and adaptation,  original structural elements have been maintained or duplicated. Original building materials have been salvaged for reuse.

Readers will learn a lot about the functional significance of the roof overhangs, the pitch of ceilings, and the size and placement of windows.

 Many of the people who built or purchased these houses were affluent enough to live anywhere they chose. They were capable of owning huge mansions in any design or style, but they chose these relatively modest examples of a Florida vernacular architecture because they admired its practical elegance. 2,000 square feet well designed for the subtropical climate, fashioned of readily available materials, and balanced against one another into a gently planned community suited their tastes.

 Though these buildings share architectural features and a Crayola palette that announces a community of recognizable stylistic character, each maintains its independence and originality. Each expresses, in ornamentation, decoration, and tasteful adaptations of a formative vision, the personalities who have flourished and who continue to flourish there. “Colorful personalities,” remarks Ms. Wilson, “tend to gravitate to colorful houses.”

Joie Wilson

 The author makes it clear that these houses are first of all homes. This book is not a mausoleum or shrine, but a representation of places with lives going on inside of them and around them. Most of the homes are from half a century to a full century old. The hold and continue to inspire personal experiences and personal stories that Joie Wilson retells with fervor, economy, and grace.

 Progress and economic stresses have so far not demolished this community, though it has been severely wounded. Similar houses have been leveled or remodeled beyond recognition.

To see this review in its entirety, as it appears in the June 1, 2011 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 2 issue of the Naples edition (with additional photos), click here: Florida Weekly – Dream Houses pdf

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