Thoroughly Modern Mediterranean

By staff October 1, 2002

Who says a perfect Florida Mediterranean home has to follow 16th-century architectural principles of Palladian symmetry or display the flamboyant flourishes of Mizner's Palm Beach? A great Mediterranean home can arise in any era, so long as it's a gracious dwelling of airy, well-proportioned rooms that responds to sunlight, water, and indigenous building materials. Take the Sarasota home of Les and Lois Fishman. Although their residence could easily be at home in Italy or on a Greek island on a cliff overlooking the Aegean, it perches quite comfortably at the end of Westway Drive on Lido Shores, with views through mature mangroves to Pansy Bayou.

The Fishmans had lived the high-rise life in Chicago and then on Longboat Key when they came to Sarasota in 1990 as snowbirds. Married 14 years ago, they enjoy the company of nine children and eight grandchildren between them; so they quickly realized they required more room than their condo provided. Lois was charged with finding the perfect house. "When I walked up the stairs to this house, I fell in love with it," says Lois. "The architecture, the light and the geometry were all exactly right."

Known locally as the "pink house," the structure was designed in 1983 by the late architect Don Chappell, who lived in it while he was a bachelor. He chose pink for the inside and outside to harmonize with the gentle light at a certain time of day.

With a compact geometric kitchen composed of receding and advancing boxes painted in a range of ice-cream colors, the house was just the right size for a single creative owner, but a bit too cozy for the Fishmans. After they moved in, the couple collaborated with Chapell and with cabinetmaker Dale Rieke to expand the kitchen and other parts of the home.

They also convinced Chapell to sell them the empty lot next door, giving them a buffer against further development and room to expand the house in the future. They intended to have Chapell extend the decking of the two-story house and add a wing someday, but when he died three years ago, they turned to architect Guy Peterson, who shared the late architect's admiration for the Sarasota School of Architecture, particularly the work of Paul Rudolph. Interior designer Wilson Stiles was the designer, and Kevin Marshall, Inc. of Venice was the builder.

Before adding a new wing, Peterson suggested taking something away. He removed an interior wall at the end of the living room, providing a linear visual sweep through the public areas and opening more of the house to the water and wildlife. Although the Fishmans were initially reluctant to make the change, they now admit it's one of the most significant improvements to their living space. The maple and cherry modern furniture in that living room/dining room, direct and sculptural, was conceived by Lois' son Dr. William Mostow of Phoenix, whose hobby is furniture design and whose creative influence is Frank Lloyd Wright. These two merging rooms, as well as the new family room, showcase the couple's collections of contemporary paintings, baskets, African artifacts, Central and Eastern European pottery and vintage art glass.

The Fishmans kept the gray Mexican concrete tile flooring that Chapell had selected, and they used the shade to influence other choices, including a floating concrete shelf that holds the television in the new family room. Lois says the shelf was inspired by a similar design she and Les saw when they stayed in a college dormitory on an Elderhostel vacation.

The design team then faced an emotional issue-that color pink, which covered both the exterior and many of the interior rooms, walls and ceilings. "It worked for a small house. But when we took Don's little home from 2,800 to 5,000 square feet, so much pink was just overwhelming; and the shade limited what we could do with furniture, art and floor treatments for the new rooms," explains Lois. "During the first renovation, Don convinced me to keep the pink color. But when it came to the big addition, the four of us knew the pink should go. Still, it was a wrenching decision."

But it was the right one, they realized, once they changed the pink to a slightly taupe soft white. The change freed the owners to place their own imprimatur on the rooms that would evolve. The new wing includes a spacious family room, two guest bedrooms and a bath. Stiles designed the built-in bedroom laminate furniture as white functional sculpture and dressed the beds in white, making textures from sleek and shiny to nubbly the dominant element. For accent, he added polished chrome and brushed aluminum lamps from Spain.

Water views and disappearing walls of glass establish the Mediterrenean flavor of the expanded house. In addition, the carpeting in one guest bedroom is Aegean blue; in the other the shade is what Stiles calls baby mangrove green. The carpets are velvet-cut, commercial-grade nylon and completely kid-resistant, essential to these grandparents of toddlers. Tiny Italian mosaic tiles and a blue glass wall in the bathroom add to the Mediterranean flavor and play off the contemporary Philippe Starck metal hardware.

The red-violet bougainvillea vine outside the new family room, a classic hallmark of the Mediterranean, matches the modern polyester womb chairs inside. Stiles kept all the furniture in this space sparse and bold, from the Frank Gehry Power Play maple chair with its three-position ottoman to four white leather Mies van der Rohe chairs around the Saarinen table. The custom Pfister sofa is a warm charcoal gray; Stiles repeated the gray on the back wall of the bookcase for definition and depth.

"Lois likes to constantly rearrange the pieces in this room, so we chose furniture that is durable and that looks good in any configuration," says the designer. "The room works for family relaxation and for entertaining. And the sliding wall of glass doors vanishes at will, making the treetop deck an extension of the room."

Landscape architect David Young drew upon colors of the home in choosing flowering plants, ornamental shrubs and grasses, making house, water, and nature an inseparable trio. He also installed seven royal palms in a grid pattern at the front of the residence to balance the height of the house. Then, at the Fishmans' request, Young added an eighth palm in the original courtyard. Les and Lois had a small bronze plaque placed at the base of the palm in memory of Don Chapell.

Lois says the house is easy to maintain and endlessly adaptable. She likes the fluid nature of the whole and the precise geometry of its rooms. And she says the custom built-in furniture helps create its personality of relaxed luxury. Her husband articulates his preferences another way. "We have bright vistas from room to room and every room has a view," says Les. "I guess that's what I like best about our house."

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