Modern Love

By staff October 1, 2003

When architect James Bowen and his wife Anastasia moved to Sarasota from California, they had some definite criteria for their new home. They hoped for a modern structure west of the Trail, with a side front entrance and a detached garage. They got their wishes and more in a 2,000-square-foot, two-story residence in Cherokee Park that was built in 1936. James Bowen calls the style an adaptation of Art Moderne. His wife calls it perfect.

The couple rescued the house, which sits on a 100 x 150-foot lot, from an all too common Sarasota fate. "When we bought the house, it came with a blueprint for a total makeover that would have increased its size to 8,000 square feet and altered its appearance to Mediterranean Revival," remembers Anastasia. "We rolled up those plans and got rid of them. We won't enlarge this home or change its character." Instead, they will restore features intrinsic to its design, such as the corner windows, terrazzo floors, and absence of molding or fancy ornamentation. As for size, their Sarasota home seems more than spacious compared to the 700-square-foot bungalow in Venice Beach, California, which was their most recent residence.

The Bowens bought the Cherokee Park home in April of 2002. James, 42, who was then based in Los Angeles, had completed a home for clients on Manasota Key, in the process spending time in Sarasota and succumbing to its appeal. Anastasia, originally from Tampa, had lived in Sarasota when she was a pre-teen and attended Pine View school. "We moved to Sarasota because of the arts, the weather and because we think this is a wonderful place to raise children," she explains. "And I knew which neighborhoods I thought would be right for us. Cherokee Park was one."

Professionally, James appreciates Sarasota's strong connection with innovative design and admires the Sarasota School of Architecture. "What struck me about this1937 house right away were the clean lines," he says. "It reminded me of Le Corbusier, and I liked that the house pre-dated the Sarasota School movement. It showed an early modern spirit." Any changes they make to the house, he says, will be to enhance that clean and simple spirit. "We may take the gutters off the front of the house when we replace the roof, restore the portal windows and just pare everything back," he explains. Originally from Birmingham, Ala., James was educated at Auburn University. Over the years, he has had offices in Telluride, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in Tampa, where the couple met. His current office is located in downtown Sarasota. Anastasia, 28, works there, and since moving to town has become treasurer of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation.

The Bowens, who share their home with two large dogs, Wazee and Elsie, are the fourth owners of their property, but only the third owners to actually live in the dwelling. The original owners occupied the home for 30 years, and so did the second. Over the decades the house has undergone modifications that have altered the inside but left the exterior relatively undisturbed. A second-floor terrace off a bedroom was enclosed to make a walk-in closet, and the porch directly beneath was enclosed for a study. The Bowens will probably leave those spaces alone for now. The small kitchen that overlooks the back yard and detached garage was refitted with cherry cabinets, new appliances and dark granite countertops before the Bowens arrived. And the two upstairs bathrooms have been updated (but not enlarged) more than once. The Bowens are delighted, though, that one still retains its original small black-and-white floor tiles.

The flat-roofed house was constructed of wood, cement and concrete block. KAY, MAYBE JUST CUT THIS INFO? An unusual construction feature is that it is an elevated slab built over a concrete joist and topped with terrazzo. A crawl space underneath the house features vents meant to provide a natural cooling system. The house now enjoys central air conditioning, but the interior walls are the original plaster.

"The outside of the house was painted a coffee color when we first saw it," says Anastasia, "and the inside was carpeted. Before buying, we asked that the house be restored to a white exterior, and we had all the carpeting ripped out and all the interior walls painted white." Currently, the flooring is a combination of terrazzo, tile and wood. The Bowens will remove the tile and hope the underlying terrazzo is redeemable. They also demolished a front wall that had been added in the '90s and replaced windows with those appropriate to the style of the house. They were happy to discover that the original interior doors with all the original Art Deco doorknobs are in place.

The stamped concrete porch and upper terrace just need sandblasting to restore them to pristine condition. The couple spend most of their time on the large, L-shaped front and side porch, enjoying family meals, entertaining friends, or just reading and relaxing with the dogs. The porch is furnished with an eclectic mix of modern aluminum pieces, mostly in yellow.

"You'll find a lot of bright yellow in this house from our four yellow Arne Jacobsen egg chairs to accent tables and plateware," reveals Anastasia. "That's because we purchased a lot of our home furnishings at an estate sale south of Sarasota. The items were owned by a graphic designer who loved modern furniture and was crazy about yellow."

Interior rooms are arranged sparsely, with classic modern pieces such as an Eileen Gray side table, a Marcel Breuer chrome and black laminated coffee table, and a Frank Gehry signed and numbered bent maple club chair, named Power Play by its creator. The V-shaped night tables in one of the bedrooms were designed and crafted by James in steel and glass salvaged from a San Francisco demolition project. Paintings and sculptures throughout the home are works by New York, Chicago and California artists, many of them friends of the couple. Two 3-D constructions by James Rizzi were gifts to Anastasia from her husband. Betty Gold, Janet Henderson, Guy Dill, Syd Dickens and Ted Muehling are also represented; some of those pieces were wedding gifts to the Bowens three years ago. 

"This is where we plan to raise the children we hope to have," says Anastasia. "We'll watch them ride their bikes, play in the back yard and walk to Southside School. One of the great benefits of Cherokee Park is sidewalks. It's an urban environment with enviable public infrastructure. As for the house, we'll replace the roof, work on thefloors, perhaps add a swimming pool as our family grows and just preserveand enjoy what we have. We were so fortunate to find this unique home and we know it."

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