Now & Then

By staff November 1, 2007

Zeb Portanova wanted a new house, turnkey, move-in-ready, no fuss. His wife, Barbara, wanted a classic, traditional home, a nod to her Florida roots. The young newlyweds compromised by remodeling a historically designated Mediterranean Revival icon of the late 1920s—and adding on a new 2,200-square-foot east wing that afforded them every modern amenity.

Architect William Thorning Little, known for historically accurate Med Rev designs, seamlessly integrated old and new in the expanded 6,650-square-foot Hudson Bayou home, winning the approval of his clients as well as Sarasota’s Historic Preservation Board. In the new east wing, he added a master suite, nursery and laundry room above a sprawling main floor family room, wine cellar and fully equipped bar.

From the start, the Portanovas, who met while attending the University of Florida less than 10 years ago, immersed themselves in the house. “They could have torn down the house and built four waterfront estates on that property,” their architect says. Instead, the Portanovas created a vibrant family home that could inspire more young couples to preserve Sarasota’s architectural heritage.

“Old houses need young families,” Barbara Portanova declares, and there’s no mistaking her conviction. She enumerates myriad reasons, the same arguments that eventually won Zeb over to the historic home camp. The architectural details are timeless, imbued with character that’s impossible to replicate today. A magical sense of déjà vu pervades the home, yet the décor coaxes you back to the present—alluringly comfortable and alive.

“We wanted a forever-estate quality, but with a fresh bump to the antique look,” says the Portanovas’ interior designer, Kurt Lucas, of JKL Design. It’s a style Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn have perfected, he says, explaining that the stores are masters at using historic designs and colors in young, dynamic ways. Here, the look is Lucas’ custom creation, tailored specifically to his dynamic young clients: Barbara is a former TV news anchor, and Zeb a partner in the Proscenium development project in downtown Sarasota.

Lucas painted the living room walls a historic pale blue and mirrored the tone in vintage modern Barbara Barry-style corner chairs. He chose cotton sateen for draperies because it is soft and flowing. “It’s like young skin, always supple and fresh,” he explains. “The rods used for the window treatments give them history, but the fabric gives them youth.” Wrought iron is repeated in lighting fixtures everywhere, recalling the Med Rev theme, and vintage rugs include a silk Persian that once graced Zeb’s mother’s home.

Antique architectural elements are at once stylish and brimming with character. The 19th-century Egyptian doors that lead from the entry hall to the new family room wing were found at Sarasota Architectural Salvage. A powder-room sink has been crafted from an old Roman marble slab bearing a Latin inscription, which translates to “in ruins, the antiques live on,” Barbara explains. Upstairs, a fanciful Moroccan door from Just Morocco in Dunedin leads to a room someday earmarked as a children’s playroom.

Barbara purchased antique encaustic tiles for the entry hall’s staircase from L’Antiquario of Miami (she found them online). The tile pattern, in blue, brown, cream and white, determined the home’s color scheme. There’s a sophisticated mix of brown, blue and cream cabinetry in the kitchen, along with cream-toned marble and tile in every bath, while billowy beige curtains frame dark-stained windows covering three walls of the soft-blue master bedroom.

“The color scheme is very important,” says Lucas. “Everything blends across the whole floor plan and magnetizes you. When you stand in one room, color should pull you to another.” It does. But the interior design is meant to enhance, never overpower, the home’s incredible architecture, both original and new. “Thorning gave us a great structure to work with,” Lucas says.

After more than 15 years of studying Mediterranean architecture, Little says he’s still on a learning curve compared to any fourth-generation Italian craftsman. “People in Europe have been working in the vernacular for thousands of years,” he explains. “I’ve done a great deal of research trying to be authentic and not breakfast-table contrived.”

His research included a trip to Granada, where a bed and breakfast’s dining room ceiling inspired an adaptation in the Portanovas’ kitchen. The brick barrel-vaulted ceiling is not just decorative, Little says: “It’s doing a job, actually creating a support for the home.” The Portanovas also wanted a groin added somewhere in the house, and Little complied with one in the breakfast nook. “There’s a wonderful mathematics to groin vaults; you have two barrel vaults intersecting to create a cross,” he explains.

His design for the kitchen, executed by the project’s contractor, Murray Homes, blends old and new harmoniously. Recessed star lights sparkle from the ceiling; a Sub-Zero fridge, six-burner Viking range with grill and double oven, and Fischer Peykel dishwasher are state of the art.

But the Portanovas were intent on preserving the home’s original treasures, among them the living room’s wood-framed French doors, a carved limestone fireplace and four limestone columns with unusual carvings of grapes and vines. “Artisans of the 1930s brought a modernistic approach to historic periods,” Little says about the columns. “Though the motif harkens back to early Rome, the Sarasota artists embellished them, not wanting to simply emulate history.”

The house is rich in history nonetheless. Originally known as the Bacheller-Brewer Model Home, it was built with no holds barred to promote sales of waterfront lots in what was then called Avondale, a development Irving Bacheller and Edward Brewer created just prior to the Florida land bust. The economic climate at the time was such that, despite glowing reviews in the Sarasota Herald, the model remained unsold for three years after its completion in 1926.

The house was designed by Martin and Hosmer Studios, one of the most influential architectural firms in Sarasota during the first half of the 20th century. The original specifications, books and detailed drawings, signed by locally renowned architect Thomas Reed Martin, are intact.

“The house is an absolute gemstone,” Little explains. “It has a huge harmony of elements of composition that wonderfully embraces the Mediterranean Revival style.” Little’s opinion was obviously shared by the Sarasota Herald in an article dated Dec. 3, 1926:

“Picture, if you can, this beautiful Spanish-type residence, situated on an ideal plot of ground, facing on Hudson Bayou, in Avondale, one of the city’s most exclusive sections.

“Driving up a winding driveway to the most unusually beautiful porte-cochere, typically Spanish, one enters a remarkable stair hall with tile floor, stone walls and many arches, leading off to a great living room.”

Because of one young couple’s vision, the restored, expanded, and almost completely renovated house impresses today’s visitors just the same way.

Hip and Historic

Tips from Kurt Lucas to keep an old house young

Historic palette: Every paint company has a historic palette that will provide the backdrop for youthful fabrics and furniture.

Add shimmer: Lucas says every room needs a bit of crystal; he likes the jewel quality of the living room’s modern vintage crystal lamps

Family pieces: Integrate family pieces to provide a sense of history, and intersperse them throughout the home.

Don’t do trendy: Stick to classics. Trendy and poor-quality furnishings don’t belong in historic properties.

Research and study: Learn about the period of architecture used in your home. There are great resource books that depict how homes looked in the 1920s.

Opposites attract: In interior design, old estate pieces and new furniture with classic lines balance each other.

Soft draperies: Go for cotton sateen and billowy sheers that are soft and flowing.

Home Team


Wm. Thorning Little, Wm. Thorning Little Architect, PA, Sarasota (941) 365-9284

Interior designer: Kurt Lucas, ASID, JKL Design Group, Sarasota (941) 362-4994

Builder/contractor: Murray Homes, Sarasota (941) 906-7000

Custom cabinetry: J & M Builders, Sarasota (941) 365-1923

Tile installation: Manny Turcotte, Ravenna Distinctive Home Finishes, Sarasota (941) 342-0108

Master closet: Contemporary Cabinetry & Closet Concepts, Sarasota (941) 951-6400

Sarasota Architectural Salvage, 1093 Central Ave., Sarasota (941) 362-0803

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