Days of Heaven

Home Tour: A Dream Retreat on Jewfish Key

A dream retreat on Jewfish Key provides blissful family weekends.

By Ilene Denton December 27, 2017 Published in the January 2018 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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“This house was built for play,” says builder Steve Ellis about the Davis family retreat on Jewfish Key.

Mickey and Ned Davis have the area’s coolest commute: a three-minute boat ride from the Mar Vista Restaurant dock on north Longboat Key to their brand-new weekend getaway on tiny Jewfish Key.

Theirs is just the sixth home built on the 38-acre private island plopped in the middle of the Intracoastal Waterway across from Longboat Pass since development began there in the late 1980s.

Fifteen of those acres are devoted to a conservation easement, ensuring that they’ll stay in their natural jungle-like state forever, and seven acre-plus-size lots are still undeveloped. (At press time, two of those vacant lots were listed by Kim Freiwald of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty for $1.2 million and $1.275 million.) The only “road” is La Lenaire Drive, a grassy 50-foot-wide footpath that runs the length of the island.

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The great room features practical, indoor-outdoor fabrics perfect for an active family and lots of storage for books and board games

Jewfish Key, officially part of the town of Longboat Key, lost 150 Australian pines when Hurricane Irma blew through in September, but the island’s wildlife didn’t seem to be affected. Residents enjoy a daily parade of water birds, great horned owls and screech owls, gopher tortoises, raccoons and rabbits, and they see manatees and dolphins swimming in the Intracoastal every day.

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At sunset, the swimming pool area sparkles

Mickey Davis had her eye on a family getaway home on Jewfish Key ever since she visited the home that Steve Ellis of MGB Fine Custom Homes built for his family there in 2010. Davis, who spent summers at a friend’s lake house while growing up in upstate New York, understood the many simple pleasures of such family compounds.

She tasked Ellis with designing a home big and casual enough to accommodate the couple and their two teenage sons, as well as her husband’s grown children and two young grandchildren. At the same time, the home had to be able to handle the fund-raising parties the Davises host for the Gulf Coast Conservation Foundation and Forty Carrots Family Center. “I see it as an investment in our family and our community,” she says.

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The serene master bedroom is in its own pod

Mission accomplished: The handsome, three-story, cypress-clad home and adjacent guesthouse have five refrigerators and freezers and can sleep 18. Outdoor showers and a half basketball court, plus plenty of room to store kayaks and fishing rods, make it fun for the youngsters. A closet is filled with family board games. And—in a feat of engineering that took a year—it boasts the only swimming pool on Jewfish Key. (How do you barge a concrete mixer across the Intracoastal Waterway? Very carefully, they found out.)

Ellis designed the Davis home with a similar footprint to his own home next door, only bigger. The main second-story living space is an open combination kitchen and living room with 24 feet of sliding glass walls on either side that completely retract to provide access to two big screened-in porches—and the island breezes that are a staple of Jewfish Key. A separate master suite pod is on the north side, and guest bedrooms are on the south. The existing home on the property was stripped to its studs and rebuilt as a guesthouse with a nifty six-bunk bedroom—the ultimate base for sleepovers.

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The open kitchen/dining area

Davis worked with a Bradenton furniture design company, 390 Design, which created most of the home’s furnishings out of reclaimed wood. And she chose washable indoor-outdoor fabrics for ease of maintenance.

According to its homeowners’ association, Jewfish Key was formed out of two existing islands off Longboat Pass—Pickett Key and Fisherman’s Key—when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began dredging local waters to create the Intracoastal Waterway in the late 1930s. The island was named by local fishermen for the Goliath grouper, formerly called jewfish, which they caught in abundance for many years in a 20-foot-deep hole off the south end of the island. Joan Bergstrom, sister of real estate company founder Michael Saunders, was the original developer in the late 1980s. Local lore has it that Spanish explorers buried treasure on the key in the 1500s.

The homeowner’s association’s web page makes it clear that the island lifestyle isn’t for everyone. It states, “Jewfish Key does not intend to meet the needs of all; therein lies our unique character. We invite you to visit us with faith that you will appreciate the simple, basic values we hold so dear.”

But for Mickey Davis, it’s a dream come true. She says a friend recently paid her the ultimate compliment: “She told me the house looks like it just sprang up out of the woods,” she says. “We all feel like we have our own piece of heaven.” 

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The home complements its natural surroundings.

Image: Everett Dennison 

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