T.J. Nutter challenges former boss


Luxury home builders John Cannon and T.J. Nutter will tell you they respect each other and aren’t really competing with each other.

But it sure seems that way.

The sunken living room in Nutter Custom Construction's Leeward model in the Vineyards section of The Lake Club, Lakewood Ranch. Staff photo / Harold Bubil; 5-26-2015

The sunken living room in Nutter Custom Construction's Leeward model in the Vineyards section of The Lake Club, Lakewood Ranch. Staff photo / Harold Bubil

Only so many people with $1.5 million or so to spend on a house will walk through their models in the new Vineyards section of Lakewood Ranch’s prestigious, gated Lake Club.

So both Cannon and Nutter have to grab their attention and not let go for, in the case of John Cannon Homes’ Akarra III model, 3,600 square feet, and, two doors down at Nutter Custom Construction’s Leeward model, 4,011 square feet. There is a lot to see.

Cannon photo gallery

Nutter photo gallery

Getting ready to step into this scrum for buyers is Todd Johnston, who has been building even longer than Cannon’s 25 years and has a model under construction that should be ready in time for Lakewood Ranch’s Parade of Homes in November. Johnston’s house is going up between the Cannon and Nutter models.

On the other side of Nutter’s model, Derek Nelson of Arthur Rutenberg Homes/Nelson Homes also is building a model for a fall opening. It will give The Lake Club a model row to rival the one nearby at The Concession.

In the meantime, Cannon and Nutter have the summer months all to themselves.

John Cannon Homes' Akarra III model at The Vineyards at The Lake Club in Lakewood Ranch. Staff photo / Harold Bubil; 6-19-2015.

John Cannon Homes' Akarra III model at The Vineyards at The Lake Club in Lakewood Ranch. Staff photo / Harold Bubil; 6-19-2015.

Nutter used to work for John Cannon Homes. After eight years, he left his job as director of operations and started Nutter Custom Construction. That was four years ago, and already, he has achieved a degree of respect that is reflected in his spot on The Lake Club’s roster of builders.

“I have been very blessed and afforded really great opportunities,” Nutter said. “Some opportunities you create yourself by hard work, and other opportunities, people extend to you based on who you are and how you treated people. I am a firm believer that hard work creates opportunities, and if you treat people right, it will eventually get repaid to you in the form of future opportunities.”

Although his operation is smaller than Cannon’s, and he won’t come close to Cannon’s count of about 50 new homes this year, Nutter’s latest model will be a formidable weapon in the fight for market share.

The Leeward, priced at $500 short of $2 million, with furnishings, options, pool and premium lot with one-year builder leaseback, blends modern and West Indies design elements into what Nutter calls a “coastal modern” style.

Eye-grabbing features include polished white terrazzo flooring two steps up from an aged driftwood floor in the sunken living area. The linear fireplace adds a modern touch to the sunken living room — a favorite device of the late architect Paul Rudolph.

In the dining area, one wall is dominated by a cypress wine closet with floor-to-ceiling, aquarium-glass barn doors. It will hold about 275 bottles and can be conditioned to keep the wine at the proper temperature, although this one is not.

The lanai floor has a shell surface, state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen and cascading spa. The pool has a recessed seating area with fire pit. Parents with kids at home might not want to plan any weekends away during the teen years.

The three-bedroom, four-bathroom model features a three-car garage, walk-in closets and a well-appointed kitchen with decorative metal range hood. The freezer and refrigerator — separate units — stand camouflaged by cabinet front panels on either side of an alcove with a small wine rack.

The spa-like master bathroom is outfitted with accordion-glass doors that open to a custom mural — giant water droplets painted on an aluminum sheet — that visually connects the patio with the oversized shower. The artist is Alex Turco, of Miami. “We thought it was a great feature that we hadn’t seen before, and we wanted to do something a little different,” Nutter said. It serves as that “memory point” that sticks in the mind of buyers.

Nutter credited his team with designing “a carefully thought-out” floor plan that is both functional and rich with features. The interiors are by Jill Cotton of Soco Interiors in Orlando.

At Cannon’s Akarra III, entirely designed in-house, the “memory point” also has been placed in the master bathroom. The oversized shower is enclosed by glass — partly frosted for modesty — and that idea is also executed with the water closet, which is on the other side of a bench.

The tub is freestanding on a platform and commands attention as one enters the room.

“We just wanted to try some new ideas,” Cannon said. “I wanted the bathroom to have a more contemporary feel, with clean lines. I wanted to create that spa feeling. It is a private space, but a space where people go to relax; they like that spa atmosphere.

“The tub is on a much larger deck than it needs; making sure you have vanity space and mirrors for ease of getting yourself ready; good lighting; and doing it all with a comfortable feel — that was my intent.”

The Akarra III model is $1.7 million as shown on a premium lot. The base price is $1.1 million, not including homesite, Cannon said; lots are $250,000. “We show everything in a model; most people don’t do everything,” he noted. “Customers pick and choose which level of finishes and what options they want. Most of the Akarra-based houses we build are in the $900,000 range.”

Millennial modernism is dominating new-home building in Sarasota, and its influence is even being felt in Lakewood Ranch with the new Cannon and Nutter models. They certainly are not stark, but the tone is contemporary.

“It does have a more modern feel,” Cannon said of his model. “I was worried that so much of the more contemporary décor I see is very light and very stark. My goal was to provide a contemporary feel, but do it with some colors that are from a richer palette, and create a sense of place by doing that.”

Said Nutter, “The finishes, the livability, lean toward the more contemporary side of architecture. I love to do West Indies and Key West, coastal type of construction. But obviously there are some dated designs and things that don’t work well with today’s climate.

“With newer products that have been introduced to last longer and perform better in certain climates, we are able to take advantage of modernizing that coastal or West Indies type of design.”

Despite the proximity of these models and their common “target market,” Nutter and Cannon do not portray themselves as rivals.

“We don’t compete with him that much,” Nutter said. “John’s business model has been very successful. It is a little different — he has a bigger machine than we do. A lot of employees, and he has been at it a very long time and been very successful at it.

“I just decided to do it a little bit different — not more right or more wrong, but a little different, and not quite as many times a year. I learned a lot from him. He is a good businessman and has been very successful. He has been like a teacher, and I learned things I wanted to do, and things I didn’t want to do.”

“T.J. was with me for eight years, in charge of building,” Cannon said. “He does a nice job. It is a good-looking model, and it is great for the client to see great models in a row like that. There is good competition between builders.

“This fall, when all four are done for the Lakewood Ranch Tour of Homes, it is going to be one of the best model centers you have seen in a long time,” Cannon added. “They are all of that size that people are looking for. They are not that 5,000- or 6,000-square-foot-house. Ours is 3,600, T.J.'s a little bigger. Most of our customers are that two-person household, the active retirees that want to have their own spaces, but don’t want to be burdened with too large a home; 3,500 square feet is a sweet spot for those buyers.”

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: July 4, 2015
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published without permissions. Links are encouraged.