Boxes and Beauty

By staff October 1, 2003

House and site are one in an ingenious Lido Shores home that stands like a modernist beacon in a neighborhood that was once the flagship of the Sarasota School of Architecture. Guy Peterson, FAIA, designed the 4,800-square-foot residence for a 60-something Oregon couple.

As devoted to imaginative design as they are to privacy, the couple wanted a house that would maximize views of New Pass and offer lots of functional space on a second floor for visiting children and grandchildren. A swimming pool and an open floor plan suitable for large parties and intimate gatherings were also must-haves. Finally, they wanted the home to yield nothing to the street in terms of identity or activity. The concrete exterior is cloaked in a putty shade of paint and a meandering eight-foot wall system surrounds most of the property and is an integral part of the architectural scheme for fashioning hidden interior courtyards and secluded terraces. Bruce Saba was the contractor.

Peterson acknowledges the site was both the challenge and the inspiration for the home. He describes the horizontal structure as three boxes unified by glass and Brazilian paulope wood. The use of wood as a structural component, he says, recalls the modern wood pavilions characteristic of the Sarasota School homes of the '50s and '60s. Peterson grew up in Sarasota and remembers artist Syd Solomon's beach house (now gone) as one of the buildings that made him want to be an architect.

"The site [an 80-foot-wide by 180-foot deep lot] for this house is tight," he notes. "The house is literally carved out of the lot. We sculpted interior courtyards, gardens and terraces so that the house opens onto itself. The five major living areas have expansive water views-an accomplishment considering the narrowness of the lot." Site planning, he says, was critical because the careful articulation of the relationship between indoor and outdoor spaces in essence created the rooms. "Even the line of the rear of the house mirrors the angles and sharp turns of the seawall," he points out.

Peterson gives much of the credit for the home's success to David Lowe, an architect in his office who as project manager took the architectural drawings from computer screen to finished dwelling.

One enters the home through mahogany doors, which lead to a 90-foot-long gallery that ends with a vista of New Pass. This dramatic corridor is lined with 20 eight-foot-tall windows. The second story consists of two guest bedrooms and baths, a central gathering room and a 924-square-foot roof garden that's partly exposed to the sky. The front-facing swimming pool with a waterfall is visible from several areas of the home, but not at all from the street.

The homeowners' affection for wood led them to choose clear cypress ceilings and walnut-stained maple for the kitchen cabinets. Interior designer Lori Fountain, a principal with FT Design, has known the homeowners for many years and furnished a condominium for them at Tangerine Bay about a decade ago. She was called in even before the architect.

"My clients spelled out what they wanted in a four-page letter," she remembers. "They wanted a look that said refined Florida contemporary and everything had to be low maintenance. They have a very fine collection of paintings, sculpture and art glass that became part of the scheme, so we kept the color palette quiet and earthy- taupes with russet accents-nothing to compete with the art. Here and there are splashes of aqua and watery blues and greens to reference the site and the art collection, but texture was as important as color in this project."

Fountain chose all new furniture for the home except for a Virginia Hoffman-designed glass and metal console that the couple wished to keep. "We incorporated many built-ins for a clean look and we focused on leather and natural fibers for easy care," she says. "We even put extra coats of finish on the sapelli wood elliptical coffee table so that it would be child-friendly. And because these people really appreciate fine and exotic woods we did the custom dining table in stained anagre wood with a macassar ebony detail. It's finished to a high gloss."

Garden designer Richard Anderson came to the project when Saba's construction was well underway. The clients stressed the need for low-maintenance plants that would provide a variety of color and texture. They wanted a modern garden plan but not straight lines. Privacy was also a concern.

"Working with native plants, I designed a carefree group of gardens for the pool area, interior courtyards and terraces," explains Anderson. "We used buttonwood and black ironwood trees, muhlygrass, giant bromeliads, wart fern and red magenta bougainvillea that I planted on the inside of the street wall that faces south. In just one more growing season, this colorful, hardy vine will reach for the sun by stretching up the inside of the wall and cascading over the outside. It will be beautiful from the street."

Anderson positioned stands of weaver's bamboo near the swimming pool so that the slightest breeze throws shifting shadows across the water. "The various garden areas all assert an interplay of texture and color and they can be allowed to become quite lush or be restrained, whatever the homeowners wish," he says. "We all agreed that for low maintenance we'd eliminate sod from the scheme in favor of crushed shell."

Although reminiscent of the Sarasota School heritage, this is definitely a home of the 21st century because of technological advances. "This dwelling has the advantage of wind impact-resistant glass that's UV treated to minimize sun damage to artworks," says Peterson. "The Sarasota School homes didn't have central air conditioning. Today, we want complete interior climate control as well as much improved insulation materials. In this house we've also used anti-corrosive materials, so important when you build near water. Even the paulope wood is a modern innovation. This dark and beautiful Brazilian hardwood is cultivated for the construction trade. It's a renewable resource and doesn't harm the rain forest."

Designer Fountain sums up the project. "The clients are enjoying a wonderfully livable home. It has modernist beauty, comfort, convenience, originality and privacy. And that's precisely what they had in mind."

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