When Lora Kennedy was growing up in Orlando in the 1960s and 1970s, she and her family spent weekends and long stretches of summer vacation at her great-grandparents’ cottage in Bradenton Beach.
Built in 1915 and barged down to the small Anna Maria Island community from north Manatee County in the 1930s like many of its neighboring beach cottages, it was tiny—850 square feet—with white clapboard siding and jalousie windows that stretched across the front to welcome Gulf breezes. Two-lane Gulf Drive and a narrow beachside parking strip were all that separated it from the Gulf of Mexico; to the east, Sarasota Bay was just a block away.
Kennedy has lived amid the glitz and glamour of Hollywood for 19 years as executive vice president for casting at Warner Brothers. (The smash hits Wonder Woman and Argo are among her recent films). But her heart remains in the Bradenton Beach of her youth. She remembers it as a mecca for adventure, a place to explore, “to be free and run around like crazy,” she says, amid the happy chaos of her large extended family. That included great-aunt Frances Colwell, a big band singer in the 1940s to whom the cottage belonged after her great-grandparents passed away.
“We would go down in August and I remember being completely sunburnt with Noxzema all over me,” Kennedy says. “We didn’t have air-conditioning, and I remember the sound of the fans. They have a soporific effect on me even today; I go right to sleep.”
When Aunt Frances died in 2015 at the age of 97, Kennedy stepped in to acquire the cottage. The old house could not be saved; it had mold and asbestos, there was no insulation and no one had really touched the foundation for 60 years, Kennedy says. She and her architect, Jody Beck of Tampa-based Traction Architecture, brainstormed her vision for the vacation home that would replace it, returning again and again to guideposts like “simple beach cottage,” “metal roof,” “the sound of slamming screen doors,” “awesome outdoor shower,” “storm resilient” and—most importantly—“stay true to the character of the [original] house.”
Beck says they looked at lots of beach bungalows and Florida Cracker cottages for inspiration. In the end, she replicated the original cottage’s exact same floor plan, down to the placement of windows so that Kennedy could look out to the very same views of her youth. She simply elevated the new home, made it code compliant with hurricane windows and other 21st-century building requirements, added a second-story sleeping loft for Kennedy’s teenage son and his pals (bringing the total size up to 1,200 square feet), and installed air-conditioning, of course. And she built that awesome outdoor shower out the back door.
Beck calls the new home a modern interpretation of an elevated beach bungalow—modern for the metal railings in the outdoor stairs and the exposed concrete pilings, beachy for its board and batten siding, metal roof and palest green exterior paint color (“Sea Salt” by Sherwin Williams). “It feels like old Florida still,” she says, “but it’s safe and protected. We created a container for memories.”
Since Kennedy is carrying on the tradition of inviting extended family for holiday vacations, every nook and cranny has built-in storage. Shiplap walls and galvanized steel cleats for drawer and cabinet pulls give it a shipshape feel. Paint-splotched bedroom doors from the original home were salvaged and reused, and some of the original pieces of beadboard with their pink, green and white paint were used to create the walls in the new bathroom. Kennedy picked a bright orange Bluestar stove for the kitchen’s focal point and a bright orange porch swing downstairs; the remaining interior furnishings are the pale oranges, blues and pale greens of the sunsets she enjoys off her porch.
Kennedy is ecstatic. “It’s modern enough but it still looks like a cottage, and it still looks of the beach,” she says. “This is the way Bradenton Beach should look. A lot of people were watching the house [during construction] to see how it was going to go, because they wanted to do the same.” Indeed, Beck is already in conversation with a neighbor about building a replacement cottage for her.
And some things never change. “The first thing we do when we get there is take our shoes off and run to the beach to say hello to the ocean,” says Kennedy. “And then, before we leave, we have to say goodbye.”