One of the greatest pioneers of Sarasota architecture and design is also one of the most unrecognized. First of all, she’s a woman: Ruth Richmond. And though she was working at the same time as prestigious architects like Paul Rudolph and Tim Seibert, her aesthetic dominated the look of the town during the 1960s. Her genius was to perfect the commonplace ranch home, glamorize it just enough, and along the way create some sensational doorknobs.
Yes, doorknobs. Ruth Richmond’s are now officially acknowledged Mad Men-era classics. They can be found for sale on eBay and other sites, including the ultra-posh 1stdibs. And they’re not cheap. You can easily spend $100 for a pair in mint condition.
But the doorknobs, significant as they are, are just a small part of this remarkable woman’s legacy. Richmond was born in Brooklyn and had already enjoyed a successful career in fashion when she and her husband Larry moved to Florida in the mid-’50s. They started Richmond Homes and by 1978 had built more than 12,000 homes in the area. Larry took care of the business side while Ruth did most of the designing.
She turned out to have quite a knack. Among her innovations: sliding glass doors that disappeared behind walls, a “lanai” instead of a screened porch, and dual-sink bathroom vanities tiled with mosaics. She gave a gloss of sophistication to what would have been just another concrete block two-bedroom suburban home.
The doorknobs themselves are classic examples of 1960s elegance. Circular in shape with dark brass mounts, they come in a variety of colors. Some are milky, with bubbly inclusions; others are solid all the way through. Most prized are the lucite doorknobs with gold infusions, perfect for a midcentury modern jolt of glamour. (Also sought after are the matching kitchen and bathroom drawer and cabinet pulls.)
Ruth was the first woman in Florida to obtain a class A contractor’s license, and the novelty of a female at the top of what was considered a man’s profession earned her much admiring publicity. She served on various boards and committees, and was featured in many national magazines, including People and Newsweek. Jackie Kennedy invited her to the White House for some tips on redecorating the place. She died at age 94 in 2007.
A decade after her death, Ruth continues to get respect. Her homes can be found all over town, and when they come on the market they are often advertised as Ruth Richmond originals. In many neighborhoods the Ruth Richmond look is still the look of Sarasota: solid, comfortable and stylish, with great attention to detail—and the best doorknobs in town.