The ultimate beach retreat? It just may be Villa Bel Tramonto—the House of Beautiful Sunsets—an opulent vacation compound built on four Gulf-to-bay lots on quiet Manasota Key, with a 12,000-square-foot beachfront main residence, a 4,000-square-foot guest house that can sleep 20, a poolside cabana, and a boathouse and tennis courts on Lemon Bay.
Interior designer Bonnie Lancaster spent five years working with the homeowners, a couple from the New York City area with three young adult children, who gather together at the beach compound for holidays and weekend family get-togethers. They fly in and out of the Venice airport on their private jet, which Lancaster also furnished. (She is working on the husband’s Manhattan office, too, and on another family vacation home in a private equestrian community in South Carolina Low Country.)
The aim here was timeless elegance with a strong Italian influence that’s a nod to the husband’s Italian heritage, says the interior designer, who incorporated limestone flooring, designer silk fabrics and yards and yards of custom mosaic tile in intricate patterns that she created. A shopping trip to Italy with her daughter and fellow designer, Keffie Lancaster of the Sarasota Design Group, yielded gorgeous glass chandeliers and decanters, mirrors, and even dishes and flatware.
Bonnie Lancaster (a finalist in 2018 for the prestigious international iDOGI Award for her work on the 624 Palm penthouse on South Palm Avenue) also took the wife to the Atlanta Gift Mart and the High Point furniture market for furniture, light fixtures and custom rugs.
“It was very much a collaboration,” says the homeowner, who brought Lancaster into the project mid-construction of the first residence on the property, the guest house. “She’s got a real gift for listening to my likes and dislikes. You’re just chatting with her and all of a sudden she has a palette picked.” That palette leans heavily toward the wife’s favorite colors, lavender and purple. The master suite, for example, is painted Benjamin Moore’s “Stormy Monday,” a deep purple with gray undertones; the designer silk window treatments and mosaic tile bathroom floors are also in purple hues. The guest house is more informally decorated in beachy blues and greens.
A loggia with outdoor kitchen and comfortable seating is a favorite spot. “We love to spend our evenings there, have a fire in the firepit, watch television if we choose to, hear the pool, the Gulf and enjoy the sunsets,” says the homeowner. Downstairs, too, are an entertainment room with pool table for the children, the husband’s workout room, a dog washing room with a shower big enough to fit their Labrador retrievers, and a wine room that holds 1,200 bottles and that’s entered through glass doors upon which are etched the family coat of arms.
And the two-story house with the tall antenna that can be seen directly across Lemon Bay? “That’s the Wi-Fi House,” Lancaster says, built by the couple to ensure they’d be able to get fast, reliable Internet connection.
The couple live a life of faith and philanthropy, giving generously to the rebuilding of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and to Catholic institutions of higher learning, among other causes. Inside their vacation home is a prayer room with stained-glass windows modeled after ones found in the Vatican.
Manasota Key has played a central role in the wife’s life; she started visiting her snowbird grandparents here when she was 10 years old. When she and her husband started looking for a quiet retreat from their fast-paced lives in the Northeast, they naturally turned to the key. They were enamored of the one-lane sand and shell road on Manasota Key’s north end, and its beautiful tree canopy.
“We fell in love with the quaintness of Englewood; the old-Florida feel of the key was something we craved,” she says. “This is a dream come true for us. We took our time finding the right team, and they have all been wonderful. We call it our little slice of paradise.”
The original home on the property, by the way, had a famous pedigree. Until 1993 it was owned by Samuel and Lydia Auchincloss, related by marriage to former First Lady Jackie Kennedy, and it’s rumored that Jackie had vacationed here.
Bonnie Lancaster, Interior Designer
Island Building Company, Contractor
Mark Beebe, AIA, Architect