Time Capsule

A 1970s Bird Key Home Defines Vintage Glamour

Just look at that wallpaper.

By Rober Plunket December 29, 2016 Published in the January 2017 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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This magnificently dated Bird Key home is having a moment. It’s been written up in the Herald-Tribune and every decorator in town wants to come over and take a look. Photographers beg to document it for posterity.

And everybody’s scheming to get the doorknobs.

Its importance? This house marks the moment Sarasota became glamorous. Before then, most homes here were simple and beachy, or copies of suburban architecture from up North. But soon after Bird Key was created by dredging and filling, we took our design cues from Palm Beach and Beverly Hills. Everything was new, well-manicured, bright and tropical, with palm trees and yachts in the background.

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The home on Spoonbill has been in the same family since it was built back in 1974. The family is Swiss and has used the place as a multi-generation vacation retreat. Yes, they’ve considered updating many times but always decided they love it the way it is.

The result is a time capsule of vintage elegance. Most striking is the wallpaper. Every room has some, and every room’s is different. The living room has a wild Persian bird motif on a foil background, the kitchen has Pop Art flowers, and each bedroom has it own color and pattern. The designs are large, vivid and, by today’s standard’s, very brightly colored.

The home was designed by Ruth Richmond, the pioneer builder whose specialty was suburban homes for middle-class retirees. Here, with a big budget and choice piece of land, she delivers what may well be her masterpiece. It’s not innovative and it’s not architecturally grand, but it is supremely comfortable, a perfect family home with lots of room and an enormous gabled lanai and pool.

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Her beautiful custom bathrooms are all still intact, with their mosaic work and the then-ultra-chic marbled Formica countertops. And yes, her famous doorknobs and drawer pulls are here, in enormous numbers.

But much credit must go to decorator Jim Archibald, who took the Richmond design and went delightfully crazy with the place. Totally missing is the discreet modernism of the Sarasota School of Architecture. Archibald gives us patterns, embellishments and ornamentation. It’s highly artificial—but then so is Versailles.

In the Herald-Tribune, Marsha Fottler suggested a tour of the place would be a treat for the Sarasota design community. I heartily agree. As far as decorating goes, it’s a local landmark. And it looks like it won’t be around forever. The family is putting it on the market. The extraordinary price of $4,395,000 is not due to the wallpaper, alas. It happens to sit on one of the best lots on Bird Key, with over half an acre of land and 233 feet of seawall.

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As our theoretical tour is winding down, you will be shown the garage, in which sits, in solitary splendor, a wonderful surprise—a pristine circa 1980 white Cadillac. It’s the perfect car for this Bird Key beauty, a moment frozen in time and a precursor of what Sarasota was to become.

For more information about 554 S. Spoonbill Drive, call Lynne Koy of Coldwell Banker at (941) 544-5117.

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