For the first time ever, the public will get a chance to explore some of the most beautiful homes in our beach communities at the Beaches Tour of Homes this month. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and some homeowners cherish heritage while others celebrate the contemporary. But regardless of a house’s style, what makes a home is the love that fills it.

Daryl and Karin Grubbs, Neptune Beach

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Above photos: Daryl and Karin Grubbs built a home that is both beautiful and sustainable, and the investment pays off every day in energy savings. Their power bill this April was zero.

Sitting along the Intracoastal Waterway in lush woods punctuated by the trill of woodpeckers, Daryl and Karin Grubbs’ Mediterranean-style house is a marvel of green technology and design.  Achieving a zero electric bill is no small feat for a 6,400-square-foot home with 16-foot ceilings, a pool and a large garage with charging stations for two Teslas.

“We could go completely off grid if we wanted to,” says Daryl, a Neptune Beach general contractor and net-zero energy fanatic.

By relying on solar, geothermal and other renewable resources, homes like the Grubbs’ typically generate more electricity in a year than they use. The practice reflects Daryl’s near obsession with building, testing and refining energy efficient construction materials, tools and techniques.

A pilot with a degree in mechanical engineering, Daryl is a pioneer in green building practices on the First Coast, constructing Jacksonville’s first geothermal energy homes in the 1970s.

“This took all that knowledge to a higher level,” he says. “We worked hard for 40 years to do this.”

A model of custom home design, the Grubbs’ house has travertine floors, three fireplaces, a dry sauna in the wellness room, indoor and outdoor bars and a television hidden in the master bathroom vanity mirror.

Lighting is almost unnecessary during the day. Eight skylights, transom windows and retractable 10-foot high glass walls bring the outdoors indoors. With its well-designed floor plan, the couple can watch sunsets on the Intracoastal Waterway from their pool, living rooms, kitchen and master bedroom.

While they both grew up in Jacksonville, and attended the same schools, Daryl and Karin didn’t meet until 1982. Together, they’ve enjoyed decades of skiing, scuba diving and trekking around the world.

A photo collection of cast iron manhole covers, images Karin shot when the couple traveled to China, Hong Kong, Spain and France, adorn a huge living room wall as a reminder of their travels and her knack for finding beauty in mundane objects.

Now, the Grubbs prefer to stay close to home. They’ve grown to love Neptune Beach’s tight knit community and enjoy entertaining family and friends and indulging their shih-poo, Dexter.

The couple moved to the community two decades ago to care for Daryl’s aging parents, who bought the property on Nightfall Drive in 1973. Despite their intentions to renovate the house, which was built in 1961 and featured in Architectural Digest, it wouldn’t work with the vision they had for their home.

Over Daryl’s home office hangs a wooden sign that says, “Just Another Day in Paradise.”

He proudly reports that April’s electric bill dropped to zero. The house operates with two four-ton geothermal units, heat pump water heater, rooftop photovoltaic solar system, Energy Star appliances, and a control system that allows the couple to adjust lights, thermostats and security cameras from anywhere in the house.

Karin also attributes energy savings to the construction of the home’s walls. Known as ICF, or insulated concrete forms, the bricks made of plastic forms filled with concrete provide thermal insulation.

“It’s built like a cooler,” Karin quips. But she’s not complaining: “Life is spectacular.”


Don and Karen Wolfson, Atlantic Beach

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Above photos: Don and Karen Wolfson purchased their oceanfront home in 1981, after falling in love with its historic charm and layout that captures the beauty and breeze of the ocean.

Don and Karen Wolfson believe destiny led them to their cedar shingle house on the oceanfront in Atlantic Beach. Competition for the charming, historic home was so stiff when it went on the market in 1981, they nearly lost their chance.

Don was driving around Atlantic Beach one Sunday morning when he spotted the for sale sign at the house on Beach Avenue. The Wolfsons, who had married two years earlier and now had a young daughter, were in the market for a house. But this was beyond Don’s wildest dreams.

The Jacksonville native had longed for a house just like this since his childhood, when he stayed at summer beach cottages with his family.

“I loved to sleep to the sound of the ocean,” says the former Atlantic Beach mayor.

Don could hardly contain himself as he drove to share the news with his wife. By noon they had called the listing agent and were on their way to tour the house. The sign had gone up that morning and people were flocking to the house like flies to apple pie.

Just as they walked up the driveway a giddy real estate agent told them they were too late. Her client had just signed a “full-price” contract.

That didn’t deter the Wolfsons, who used the information to their advantage. Don turned to Karen and asked, “Do you love this house as much as I do?”

“It needed quite a bit of work,” Karen says. “But we didn’t care that it wasn’t perfect.”

So much so, they agreed to raise the ante. With the owner out of town, and cell phones not yet available, they waited roughly a week for a response to their bid.

Built in 1938, the four-bedroom house still retains much of its original character and warmth with pine floors, tongue and groove walls and built-in bookshelves.

Most of the renovations were done in 1968 by architects David and Mary-Lou Boyer, commissioned by the then owner Ed and Evelyn Danciger. The innovative redesign helped the house take advantage of its ocean views and breezes. The house’s cube-like appearance was transformed with the construction of multiple fin walls, vertical walls that project out at a 90-degree angle, to support the second-floor balconies and add depth and visual interest.

Fin walls also protect glass from the wind, a benefit since the architects added a large picture window in the living room and more sliding glass doors to brighten the home and expand its ocean view.

The Dancigers also added a large playroom with a shed roof that visually connects the house to the land, and redesigned the kitchen, master bedroom and guest bathroom, in addition to reorienting the front entrance.

The Wolfsons love the house just as much today as that fateful day in 1981.

“It was meant to be,” Karen says. “We love it for its oldness.”

Want to visit these homes in person? Check out the Beaches Tour of Homes presented by the Beaches Town Center on September 17. For tickets and more information visit