If the spirits of Ralph and William Zimmerman, luminaries of the Sarasota School of Architecture, were searching for the perfect house to haunt, they'd glide right into an unpretentious bungalow in Lido Shores recently refreshed by Providence, Rhode Island, couple Dr. Lee and Kathryn Edstrom. The couple didn't even know about the Sarasota School of Architecture until two days after they signed the papers for the 1,600-square-foot house, which they thought was simply beautiful even though empty and a little dilapidated.
They soon learned that the pecky cypress and glass beach bungalow was constructed from plans provided by Ralph Zimmerman and his son William in 1952. (Ralph died in 1978 and William in 1981.) The Lido Shores neighborhood, developed by visionary Philip Hiss, has long been a treasure trove of Sarasota School homes and today contains about 30 examples by Paul Rudolph, Tim Seibert, Jack West and the Zimmermans. But the Sarasota School homes were small by today's expansive standards; and in recent years, many small Lido Shores residences have fallen to the wrecking ball so new Mediterranean-style villas can rise on the diminutive lots.
But this little Zimmerman gem had a happier fate. Earlier owners of the Edstrom house added a swimming pool in 1963. Two years later, Bill and Maggie Carman, the founders of Carman's Shoes on St. Armands Circle, bought the home and enjoyed it for 36 years. Their sons, William and Steve, who now own the family business, sold their parents' home two years ago after their father died and their mother moved into a nursing home. A real estate agent purchased the house and then sold it to the Edstroms, who were vacation-house hunting between tennis matches at The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.
"We were definitely not looking for a project," says Kathryn Edstrom, "because our 140-year-old, 19-room home in Rhode Island has been a 20-year effort and we've done two other house salvation jobs, too. We wanted something carefree. But when I saw this little place, I knew we had to have it. Even naked with ugly vertical blinds covering the windows and surfaces that were shabby, we could see the house had clean lines, exceptional terrazzo floors, wonderful original built-in furniture, and the cozy size seemed just right. Our first night here, Lee and I slept on air mattresses on the floor because we wanted to connect with the house right away."
After consulting with an architect and rejecting the idea of reconfiguring any of the original spaces, the Edstroms met Ed Biggs, owner of Home Resource. The designer encouraged them to protect the architectural integrity of the house and just freshen up the rooms with paint and creativity.
The Edstroms also brought Christine and Luis Ortiz of Ortiz Tropical Landscape onto the team to devise a wraparound garden with terra cotta tile patios, drought-resistant plants, and multicolored indigenous vines and flowers. "Everybody kept in mind that the outcome should be simple, sophisticated and yet have a sense of breezy contemporary fun," says Kathryn Edstrom.
Biggs adhered to a cheerful palette established by a collection of watercolor paintings that the Edstroms had gradually acquired in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. There is at least one Tortola painting in every room, and in the living room on either side of the fireplace are a pair of rowboat fishing scenes done by Sheila Erickson.
Working off the strong hues in the paintings, Ed punched up the color in each small room. The green-turquoise living room fireplace wall contrasts with a coppery shag area rug beneath the chrome and glass coffee table. The brick hearth is original to the house. The brown leather sofa and easy chair are custom-piped in turquoise.
The master bedroom is a showcase of coral paint and shell-motif fabrics set against coffee-bean brown furniture. The pool bath is purple and white with a chrome lizard climbing up the tile shower wall.
In the compact kitchen, the owners balanced strong marine blue and crisp white with broad strokes of lime, red and lemon-colors also used in the original mosaic backsplash, Fiesta crockery and the small appliances such as the vivid ruby blender. They installed updated simple stainless steel kitchen appliances and new stainless doorknobs and cabinet pulls. And Biggs suggested resurfacing the countertops and replacing the kitchen wooden cabinet upper doors with sliding glass.
To the left of the entrance, the dining room is furnished with an oval glass table and chairs, made of bent plywood with a cherry veneer, with slender chrome legs. All the seats are of the same palm-tree printed fabric, but each is a different color. The lime-green double front doors are set off by the white crushed shell circle driveway.
"The key to the success of the furnishings for this house lies in the scale," says Biggs. "The home appears spacious and airy, when actually it is little. But we selected furniture in proper proportion to the room sizes and the nine-foot ceiling. And we didn't use very much of anything. Editing and scale made it work. And, of course, all that color didn't hurt a bit."
Biggs adds that he was glad to see that the Edstroms didn't take the interior decor too seriously. "They wanted their sense of fun to be reflected in the furnishings-just the right attitude to take with this modern vacation beach house," he says. "There's no clutter and not much to clean or maintain." For window treatments Biggs used disappearing pleated shades. The generous roof overhangs that the Zimmermans provided mean that the interiors enjoy just the right amount of direct sunlight all during the year.
"This was the most fun Lee and I have ever had doing a house," says Kathryn Edstrom, who confides she found a design "soul mate" in Biggs. "We started with a piece of local history that we loved from the beginning but knew practically nothing about. Now we're learning all we can about the Sarasota School of Architecture and having a great time with the research. We thought we would use the house only occasionally because our lives are so busy in Rhode Island, but we keep finding excuses to fly down here more and more often. We enjoy the cultural energy of Sarasota and we really treasure our little beach house."
And here's a nice surprise for the homeowners. Their Lido Shores neighbor, Martie Lieberman, president of the Fine Arts Society and organizer of the Sarasota School of Architecture Tour and Symposium (Nov. 1-5) says that the Edstrom home is pre-qualified for historic registry status. Somewhere in those chic little rooms, the Zimmermans are whispering "Bravo!"