Classic style rebuilds popularity
Smaller, more intimate designs are getting an increasing amount of attention, with two 1920s-era homes being used for a designer showcase.
By JUDY STARK
Published January 28, 2006
SARASOTA - It's quite the trend these days to talk about not-so-big houses, human-scale ceiling heights and comfortably sized rooms with exquisite details rather than vast square footage.
But there's nothing new about all that. A visit to a pair of historic designer showcase homes in Sarasota shows that those ideas have been around a long time. These classic, timeless ideas keep returning because they work.
The houses - two 80-year-old Mediterranean Revival homes on St. Armands Key built by John Ringling - are rich with the European influence of the 1920s: arched doors, columns, tile roofs, porticos. This is a design style well represented in the Tampa Bay area whose golden era came long before anyone started talking about the concept of "the outdoor room" or "indoor-outdoor living," as designers and architects love to do today.
The smaller of the two (1,880 square feet), at 76 S Washington Drive, was designed by architect Dwight Baum, who designed Ringling's own magnificent home, Ca d'Zan. It was built in 1926 by Ringling and his partner Owen Burns as a spec house (see? nothing new there either). This house is "small, charming and livable," showhouse chair Pamela Hastings said.
The larger house, across the street at 47 S Washington (4,088 square feet), was designed by Thomas Reed, prominent in Sarasota architectural circles from the 1920s through the 1950s, and built for William J. Burns of the legendary detective agency that bore his name. Later Burns headed the agency that became the FBI. That home is "grander," Hastings said, with its two-story living room, ornately detailed fireplace and grand staircase. Both houses are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The two houses are open daily through Feb. 22 as the 11th annual "Jewels on the Bay" designer showhouses presented by the Florida West Coast chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers. (See box on Page XF for details.)
So what makes these houses comfortable, relaxing, inviting? Partly it's the use of space: open, airy, well-proportioned rooms, neither cramped nor cavernous. Even the two-story living room in Number 47 feels just right.
Partly it's the detail. Look at the original tiles on the staircase wall in that house: lions, a dragon, a rabbit.
And partly it's the way the designers have responded to these spaces, allowing them to be what they are rather than trying to force them into a modern motif. You can hang a flat-screen TV on a wall without slapping a 1920s room in the face. You can remodel a kitchen with all the modern conveniences, but match the original floor tile so perfectly in new space that it's indistinguishable. (Both homes have new kitchens with every imaginable appliance, undoubtedly a vast improvement on the originals. There are some parts of old houses that we don't want to bring back.)
You can freshen a 1920s-look room with contemporary artwork, as Hastings did in the living room of Number 76, so it doesn't look like a period piece in which you should be wearing a costume. You can furnish a master bedroom with sleek monochromatic furnishings and fabrics, as designer Gary Ficht did in the same house, that could fit just as comfortably in a big-city loft. You can install modern sinks, showers and faucets whose lines recall the 1920s.
The contemporary architect Sarah Susanka talks about "away rooms," small spaces where occupants can find separation for either quiet or noisy activities. That's exactly what Number 47 offers in a small office off the kitchen, with a leather chair, bookcases and that plasma TV. Who knew, in 1927!
Here's another "away space": In Number 76, a second-floor room near the master bedroom has been arranged as a morning room, with an easy chair to scan the morning paper, a buffet for the coffee maker, and a small table and chairs. The table is a blue urn ($99) filled with coffee beans, topped with a 30-inch glass round ($60).
The prize for the truly not-so-big space has to go to the powder room just inside the frontdoor at Number 47. It is a minimal 30 by 38 inches, with a toilet and sink.
Some people think it means they're getting old when the styles and furnishings they remember from years gone by come back into fashion. Wrong. It just means that the good things never die.
VISITING THE SHOWHOUSES
What: 11th annual "Jewels on the Bay" designer showcase, sponsored by the local chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers
When: Through Feb. 19. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Two 1920s homes on St. Armands Key, Sarasota. From Interstate 75, take Exit 210 (State Road 780 W/Fruitville Road) west six miles and turn left (south) on U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail). Two-tenths of a mile ahead, turn right on Gulfstream Avenue and travel two miles onto St. Armands Key. One-tenth of a mile later, turn left on S Washington Drive. The homes are at 47 and 76 S Washington Drive.
Tickets: $20 at the door. A ticket tent is set up in front of 76 S Washington Drive.
Information: (941) 926-7794.
[Last modified January 27, 2006, 11:34:03]
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