Joey and Devera Losson bring California-cool Modernism to Lakeland

Photography by Philip Pietri

From a particular angle, the long, low, glass and steel home on Lake Hollingsworth morphs in the mind’s eye into an iconic, glamorous, architectural subject of a mid-twentieth century Julius Shulman photograph. A squint of the eyes, a tilt of the head, and the lights of other sleepy homes along the lake become Los Angeles in the distance. e transformation of Joey and Devera Lossons’ house has been so startling and so markedly dierent that cars slow to a crawl as they pass. Ironically, just a few short years ago, the house was hardly noticeable. However, with the 1960s’ home’s great potential and visionary owners, rehabilitation translated it for a new generation and century.
As with many homeowners’ stories, this one begins with a dream. Joey Losson dreamed of someday owning a particular house on Lake Hollingsworth, having long admired its clean, modern lines and large windows.

One day, late in 2000, Joey and his wife, Devera, were driving around the lake discussing modern houses when he decided to reveal his fantasy home. Unfortunately, when the pair passed the house, they discovered that it was the Florida Southern College admissions oce. Laughing o the mistake, Joey couldn’t help but feel markedly disappointed. “I was feeling somewhat dejected,” he remembers, “because for years I had seen the place and always had the pipe dream of it being our perfect modern house.” Continuing their drive, the pair turned up a side street and noticed a “For Sale” sign outside a house that had never previously caught their attention. Dark, with its ugly brown paint color and overgrown landscape, and in visibly poor condition, the house held little curb appeal, but its rectangular shape resonated with Joey’s love of modern architectural forms at just the right time. e couple decided to look into the house further, and aer seeing the home’s overall design and structure, Joey became convinced that this could be their perfect modern home.

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While the Lossons’ rst impression of the ugliness of their 1966 house, custom designed by Lakeland architect Warren H. Smith for the E.A. Dewey family, stemmed mostly from its condition, the appreciation for the modern styles of architecture of the post-World War II era, especially in domestic design, has achieved a wider audience only fairly recently. In many people’s eyes, these houses have little to no aesthetic value. When thinking in terms of “historic” properties, the1960s also seem too recent to t the descriptor, and keeping these buildings from being destroyed altogether has emerged as a challenge for preservationists and fans of modern design.

International Modernism, or the International Style, more popularly known as Mid-Century Modernism due to its height in the middle of the twentieth century, came to the United States from Europe in the 1930s, led by American architects like Philip Johnson and Richard Neutra, and émigrés fleeing from pre-war upheaval such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. These architects carefully studied the way that people lived and worked, and advocated designing buildings that enhanced functionality and efficiency. Breaking away from previous generations’ reliance on ornament, this group pushed for a more purist version of architect Louis Sullivan’s mandate that form must follow function and took noticeable cues from Frank Lloyd Wright, arguing that a building’s basic forms, if executed correctly, could contain more beauty than decorative ornament. Carefully organized lines, strict geometric forms, and modern materials like steel and glass would more fittingly express their increasingly industrialized world. Many young American architects, including Charles and Ray Eames, Pierre Koenig, Eero Saarinen, and Raphael Soriano, embraced the International Style after World War II, hoping to firmly establish a style more appropriate for a country emerging as the world’s political and economic leader. Decidedly minimalist in aesthetic, the homes that epitomize the ideas of the International Style incorporate open floor plans that allow easy movement from one room to the next, an emphasis on line and geometric shapes, industrial materials, particularly steel, and ample glass, usually in order to foster a relationship between indoors and out.

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Unlike the Columbus W. Deen house, which was restored to its appearance in a previous era, the Lossons chose to use the tenets of International Modernism that they saw in the home’s skeleton to create a contemporary home that felt more like the open, glass-filled houses Joey Losson had seen in California. Struggling to find an architect who could capture their ideas within their budget, the Lossons ultimately chose to complete the home’s renovation design themselves, with the help of a draftsman to execute the final plans. They retained most of the house’s original footprint, general exterior wall structure, and roof framework. However, they removed the plywood and batten siding in favor of a more modern combination of corrugated steel and light gray stucco, enclosed the former exposed beamwork with a soffit, created a larger, concrete porch and decking in place of a wooden one, and replaced the shingle roof with metal.

Joey’s major goal centered on opening up the house to more light and views of Lake Hollingsworth, so some of the greatest exterior changes involved the inclusion of more glass window surface. The couple restructured the home’s entrance to expand the windows along the living room’s lakeside elevation, in addition to adding more windows and a folding glass wall to the room’s west side. An original long bank of windows on the bedroom wing’s lake elevation remained, but the couple extended it to reach floor level. Tucked in between the space created by the L of the protruding living room wing and the master bedroom wing, the infinity pool, hot tub, and concrete decking provide the most noticeable exterior change. This renovation has resulted in a brighter, shinier, most definitely more contemporary home, but the 1960s’ skeleton remains visible.

Opening the home’s interior spaces and filling them with light proved no easy task. Systematically removing walls that had previously carved the space into a series of small, dark rooms, the Lossons created one large kitchen and dining room space on an elevated level overlooking the living room, and they transformed three small bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a playroom into an office and a spacious master suite. Conversely, they divided a long family room that once extended from the back side of the kitchen to the bedroom wing, creating a powder room on the kitchen hallway side and their son’s bedroom on the master bedroom side. The guest bedroom at the back of the domicile differs from its 1960s’ version only in the arrangement of the entrance to its en suite bathroom.

DSC_1338The addition of the large banks of windows on the north sides of the home treats occupants in the living room, office, or master bedroom with beautiful views of the lake and plentiful natural light, while small windows throughout the rooms ensure that sunlight reaches every space. Recessed lighting and other forms of artificial light subtly enhance the natural. Removing the plywood and batten on the inside of the house and finishing the walls with smooth, white plaster creates a reflective surface and adds to the home’s sense of volume, and the use of light birch wood flooring in some spaces contrasts nicely with the dark gray stone found in others. In the home’s second life, its beauty can be seen in the interaction with the outdoors and natural light, the composition of lines within the structure, and a general feeling of openness.

Standing in the Lossons’ living room, looking out at the architectural gems at Florida Southern College, the greens of the trees and grasses perfectly juxtaposed with the blues of the lake and sky, you get it. The minimalism of the interior surroundings narrows your focus to the beauty and significance of the scene in front of you while simultaneously allowing the mind to clear to a nearly meditative state. The environment feels clean without being clinical, warm in a very calming way. It’s all too tempting to curl up on a sunny spot on the floor like a cat or enjoy the freedom of movement the space provides. This house, rehabilitated for a new century, represents some of the best continuing ideas from the International Modernism movement. “It was fun,” Joey says of the rehabilitation, adding with a wry grin, “a roller coaster, but fun.”

Plants provided by The Green House Garden Store (www.greenhousegardenstore.com)