When contractor Mitchell McDaniel, owner of McDaniel Contractors in Jacksonville, Fla., was searching for a home to feature on Today's Classic Homes, the television show he hosts, he proposed to remodel a Mediterranean Revival. More accurately, it was the ghost of one.

Unsympathetic remodels -- one as recently as two years ago -- added to the sense of vanished glamour. The question the clients posed was whether to tear it down and start again, or renovate?

Lans Stout

The house was structurally sound and occupied a much-coveted location on the St. Johns River. "It had unique stone work," McDaniel says, "with cast stone ornament on the facade. It also had a basement, which is unusual for Florida. It wasn't that large a home and I thought it could be changed in a way that would be an asset to both the place and its location, without altering its appearance." Contractor and clients agreed that a renovation would take longer than tearing it down and starting over, but it would be the better investment.

After a year's worth of planning, McDaniel proposed renovating the three-bedroom, 3,700-square-foot building into a fully landscaped 10,000-square-foot compound that would include the house, restored as much as possible to its original condition, with an addition atop a porte cochere (a roofed entrance over the driveway) and a detached three-car garage. Behind the house McDaniel would build a courtyard with a cabana and new swimming pool. The project would take a year. Neither the cost nor the client has been disclosed.

Careful cosmetics

McDaniel's idea was to make the exterior of the house look as much like it did when it was first built as possible, without the exacting and expensive work of complete restoration. He'd keep what was intact and replicate items such as columns, arches, and stonework. "The structure's here," he says. "You're covering it with a new fabric. We reupholster, to give the house a new look."

Raise the roof. The roof posed a typical dilemma. Tile is a hallmark of the Mediterranean Revival style and the house still sported the original green, glazed clay tiles made by Ludowici Roof Tile of New Lexington, Ohio. The tiles were in remarkably good shape, but the roof structure and felt membrane beneath were not. The tiles could easily be removed to make repairs, but a decision had to be made whether to put the tiles back on.

The addition of a porte cochere -- a roofed entrance over the driveway -- jazzed up the front facade of this Mediterranean Revival home without altering its essential appearance.
Lans Stout The addition of a porte cochere -- a roofed entrance over the driveway -- jazzed up the front facade of this Mediterranean Revival home without altering its essential appearance.

The problem wasn't availability. (The tiles are still made.) The problem was expense. Putting the tiles back on meant committing to use clay tiles on the soon-to-be-built addition and cabana. Material-only cost for glazed clay tiles is $400 per square, compared with concrete tiles at $60 per square. In the end, the decision was made to roof the house, addition, and cabana in green tile. It was "one of the unique characteristics we wanted to maintain," says McDaniel. "It lasted 75 years and it'll last another 75 years."

Interior distinction. From the outside, with its fresh stucco and restored stonework, the house looks much as it did when it was built. Inside is something else. There, the idea was to give every room its own distinction. From the master bedroom, with its television built in to the wall and concealed by a paneled painting, to the sunroom opening onto the pool courtyard out back, the overall sense is of richness and taste.

The living room, a showpiece, was stripped of the flooring, walls, ceiling trim, and fireplace, all added by the previous owner. The room has been re-created as a space more in keeping with the original spirit of the house. The ceiling is a combination of walnut beams and inlaid coffered plaster. Both beams and plaster have been hand-rubbed and aged to take on an old patina. On the room's walls, a walnut-base chair rail made by White River Hardwoods divides yellow-tinted stucco walls from the lincrusta beneath it, which is finished to resemble tooled leather. A cast stone fireplace surround completes the sense of sumptuousness.