Living Small

Tour a 680-Square-Foot Home in Southside Village

It's like something out of a storybook.

By Robert Plunket January 2, 2020 Published in the January 2020 issue of Sarasota Magazine

The postage stamp-sized yard.

Image: Gene Pollux

Susan McLeod’s Southside Village home is so chic and comfortable that it’s hard to believe it contains barely 680 square feet. In its three rooms, plus loft, the realtor/artist/grandmother has created a world that suits her needs perfectly yet offers a lifestyle that’s as elegant and stylish as any home in town.

It certainly wasn’t elegant when Susan discovered it back in 1997. One of a group of cottages built by circus families back around 1940—the Wallenda compound is a block or two away—it was shabby and worn.  The interior was completely paneled in pecky cypress, the material of choice for many local homes of the period. (Termites hate it.)

The pecky cypress-paneled living room, with an elegant fireplace surround.

Image: Gene Pollux

But the home had considerable storybook charm and possessed one spectacular feature: a 24-foot-by-15-foot living room, vaulted, with a massive stone fireplace. Other aspects weren’t quite so appealing. There was exactly one closet, eight inches deep, and the paneled interior was much too dark.

“Paint it white,” everyone told her, but with the help of her friend, the late decorator Matt Overstreet, she was able to keep the paneling its original color. Windows were enlarged and skylights added, trim was painted white and the furniture chosen was small in scale and light in color. The overpowering fireplace was tamed by overlaying a white fireplace surround originally built for one of fashion designer Adrienne Vittadini’s famous Palladian villas in Lido Shores.

A view into the screened porch

Image: Gene Pollux

The layout works quite well for a single person. The home’s one bedroom has been turned into a den, and Susan sleeps in the loft, even though the one bathroom is downstairs. The storage issues have been solved in a number of ingenious ways. A chest in the living room has become a linen closet, and the space under the staircase is now cabinets. Some unused attic space off the loft is now a walk-in closet. Everywhere are shelves and cupboards original to the cottage, now housing Susan’s various collections and treasures she’s acquired over the years. She has many fond memories of accompanying Overstreet to Paris on buying trips for his clients and always bringing back a little something for herself.

The well-planned kitchen.

Image: Gene Pollux

It’s the kitchen where the most careful and crucial planning took place. “Everything is measured down to the inch,” Susan says. The centerpiece is a full-scale Art Deco sideboard that takes up one wall. It holds the stemware and serving dishes, with part of it repurposed as a pantry.

Having people over for dinner is always an issue in a small house. Here it’s no problem. Dinner parties for eight can be easily accommodated. There’s a covered dining terrace off the kitchen, with a complete outdoor kitchen tucked away in a corner, everything overlooking a European-style garden with low brick walls and towering bamboo.

In 2002, Susan decided to add a guest house in the back yard. In size and style, it mimics the main house. But it contains only two rooms—Susan’s office/studio and a very pretty bedroom where, sadly, Matt Overstreet spent his final days. His friendly ghost still hovers over the unique little jewel box of a home.

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