There was the time he designed a palace for royalty.
And when he was brought aboard to help redesign the Jacksonville Landing.
There are the stories about post-Cold War trips to Russia to develop homes.
John Zona’s career in architecture has taken him around the world, but he calls Jacksonville home.
For the past 33 years, at least, when the New Hampshire native working in Houston received an opportunity to come to Jacksonville to work with The Haskell Co.
He took the job as a senior vice president, working there more than 17 years before deciding to branch off on his own.
The outgoing and enthusiastic Zona, 73, has spent most of his life in architecture and design.
“I like places with character and history of their own,” he said.
And when he designs, he tries to integrate that character and make it true to the history.
Like for royalty in Bahrain in the 1970s, when he helped design a 110,000-square-foot palace that was committed to local culture instead of going modern.
Those Russian buildings had a requirement of the historic facades remaining — no problem for Zona, though.
“I think you have to observe context,” he said. “Anybody can do modern, but it’s not always appropriate.”
After Haskell, he went off on his own and moved to Fernandina to open an office. Yet, he kept finding himself working more in Jacksonville. When Toney Sleiman asked him to help come up with a plan to redevelop the Landing in the mid-2000s, he took the job and the challenge. He sold the Fernandina office, moving it inside the Landing and called Downtown home while living at The Plaza Condominium, formerly Berkman Plaza.
The recession put a damper on those Landing redevelopment plans and he soon moved his offices to Bay Street for several years.
Now, his office is on the Southside closer to home. Much closer, actually.
His 850-square-foot office is steps from the home he built along Belfort Road.
He designed it himself, using curves and natural lighting throughout.
The oval-shaped building has points that face exactly east and west on a compass. The south side has a covered wraparound porch that protects it from sun. The north side didn’t need that. Every minute detail was planned, much like his award-winning projects at the University of Florida and in Live Oak.
Among the projects he and his employees are working on is a series of upscale lodgings in the Cayman Islands.
While he has been in the business for decades, he doesn’t have an end in sight.
“No,” he said. “I’m having too much fun — it’s not work. As long as the creative juices keep flowing.”
Architects, he says, become better each year that passes.