With its remarkable wood-laminate trusses that evoke the swoop of birds’ wings, architect Victor Lundy’s Herron House continues to inspire 62 years after it became an icon of the midcentury-modern Sarasota School of Architecture.
Lundy designed the Herron House on the island of Venice in 1957 for the late Sam Herron, a real estate developer who created the Warm Mineral Springs resort in North Port. (Herron also commissioned Lundy to design the cool mod Warm Mineral Springs motel, still in use. At the time Lundy told the Florida Association of Architects its flowing shape was inspired by the Fountain of Youth and by “the organic growing shape of a tree.”)
For the Herron House, Lundy employed the architectural principles of what is now known as the Sarasota School: humble materials like plywood and terrazzo, and floor-to-ceiling glass walls that bring the tropical outdoors in.
It is undisputedly the most famous of the five residences Lundy designed in this area. He concentrated most of his architectural career on commercial buildings.
Austrian real estate investors and self-professed “big fans of the Sarasota School of Architecture” Ursula Kohl and Peter Bartos bought the home when it came on the market in 2009. “We walked with our dog, Rudi, quite often past this special house and never dared hope that we could buy it,” says Kohl. “But one day—it was the time when the real estate bubble burst—there was a sale sign and it was affordable.”
As in any restoration, there were challenges. “The house was in sad condition,” says Kohl. “There were carpets covering the terrazzo, thick paint on the ceiling and 1980s bathrooms.” The couple spent two years redesigning the kitchen and baths; cladding walls in period-appropriate mahogany veneer; rebuilding the saltwater pool; landscaping the half-acre-plus property with an abundance of royal palms, birds of paradise and other tropical plants; and—most importantly—restoring those wood-laminate trusses that are a hallmark of the home.
As the owners of the company Vienna & Naples, Kohl and Bartos acquire and renovate rental properties in the south county area. But the Herron House is not for sale. “The house is a work of art; you feel special in it,” says Kohl. “We enjoy the openness and generositay; from almost every place you have a wonderful view. The house is not built for people who like to retreat, but [rather] promotes farsightedness and open-mindedness.”
Plus, she says, “We love Venice, the people and the way of life.”
About Victor Lundy
Lundy didn’t achieve the same fame as his Sarasota School of Architecture compatriot (and Harvard classmate) Paul Rudolph, but in his eight years in Sarasota (1951-1960), he designed some of its most innovative and beautiful buildings. Among them are St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Bahia Vista Street, with its elegantly curvaceous roof, the blue-tiled Pagoda Building on Tamiami Trail (longtime home of the Sarasota Visitors Center and now headquarters for The Bay project) and the glass-walled South Gate Community Center on Phillippi Creek.
He went on to design the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka and the U.S. Tax Court Building in Washington, D.C., which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
A 2013 Smithsonian article on the occasion of his 90th birthday noted that Lundy is “admired as much for his sculptural sense of form as for his innovative use of engineering technology.”