Dr. Malouf and Therese Abraham—art collectors, history enthusiasts, world travelers and bona fide bon vivants who split their time between Sarasota and their tiny hometown of Canadian, Texas—took one look at the Taylor-Whitfield residence at the corner of Indian Beach Drive and Bay Shore Road in 2014 and fell hard.
One of Sarasota’s grandest old houses from the 1920s, the two-story Spanish Revival residence was named for its builder, J.G. Whitfield, whose brother had developed Whitfield Estates, and for realtor Pat Taylor and her late husband, John, who’d purchased the home in 1978 and lovingly maintained it for 36 years before Pat sold it to the Abrahams. Set behind a wall on a half-acre of live oak-studded property across from Sarasota Bay, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places, has starred on home tours, and was hailed as “Sarasota’s prettiest 1920s house” by Sarasota Magazine’s own Real Estate Junkie, Bob Plunket.
After they embarked on a six-month restoration that has brought exuberant elegance back to the historic home, the Abrahams have rechristened it Splendida because—well, it just is.
The couple—he is a retired allergist of Lebanese ancestry whose father made his fortune in the oil and natural gas industry, and she is “my long-suffering wife,” he says with a twinkle in his eye—are no strangers to historic preservation. In 1977 they purchased a 10,000-square-foot church built in 1910 in Canadian and transformed it into The Citadelle. It was their family home for 30 years, and they subsequently donated it, along with their extensive art collection, formal gardens and the nine neighboring houses they’d also purchased to The Citadelle Art Foundation as a public museum. The museum website, TheCitadelle.org, shows a black-and-white photo of the Abrahams and their young children posing in front of the pre-renovated church with a hand-made sign that reads, “We think you’re crazy, too.”
At more than 4,500 square feet and 90 years old, Splendida “isour smallest and youngest redo,” says Malouf. “We love old houses, trees and beautiful neighborhoods, and we have always loved Bay Shore Road; it’s the prettiest street in town.” They were not lookingto leave their Ritz-Carlton apartment, he says, but then a realtor acquaintance invited them to take a look at the Taylor-Whitfield residence. “We could not resist it,” says Therese.
Vision is one thing the Abrahams have aplenty. “It was beautiful when Pat Taylor had it, but I like goal-oriented projects and could see what we needed to do,” says Malouf. “We thought, well, we can have fun with it.”
They installed new plumbing and wiring and an elevator for easy access to the second-floor bedrooms, refinished the old oak floors, redid most of the lighting fixtures, drywalled the basement (yes, there is a small one), reconfigured closets and baths, and opened up the kitchen to an informal dining area. “It was closed off like most old kitchens, and the [adjacent] back wing had been maid’s quarters with a small bedroom and bath because they had live-in help; that’s just how people lived 90 years ago,” says Malouf. That wing now houses laundry and utility rooms and a catering kitchen, along with a gorgeous antique cabinet they bought in Paris years ago.
Architect William Thorning Little advised the Abrahams on flood zone and National Register regulations, says Therese, and Erik Kent of Parker Robinson Interiors sourced key elements that embellish the home’s architectural interest, such as the living room’s gold silk pleated window coverings and three-dimensional hand-woven silk and wool rug and the hand-painted songbirds that decorate the guest bathroom walls. “We didn’t do a classic, traditional Ringling-type house,” says Kent. Instead, “We made it light and bright and not old-fashioned.”
Malouf realized his most ambitious vision on the exterior. “Old houses speak to us if we get quiet and listen to them,” he says, “and this house told us to clear back the shrubbery to reveal its symmetry.” He heightened the existing chimney by several feet, painted the cast-stone panels above each window on the front façade chocolate brown to match the home’s many columns, and outlined them with new, deep brown stone arches, “like eyebrows,” he says. The copper-roofed screened porch now has a sky-blue ceiling; they left the wooden beams weathered but had an artist redo the original stenciling à la Ca d’Zan.
Then he chose a bold yellow exterior paint color, added grand lanterns to flank the front door, refabricated the wrought-iron Juliet balconies in a pattern that “I’d designed for my parents decades ago,” he says, painting them marine blue, and redid the window awnings in a strong blue-and-white stripe. “It’s a happy look,” he says.
“Every window we look out, upstairs and down, it’s just magic, and every view is different; it’s like a kaleidoscope,” Malouf says of the finished project. Therese chimes in: “I’m watching sailboats out there right now,” she says. “Oh, my word.”