This Sarasota Residence Draws on the Bold Style of the Area’s Modernist Heyday

This Sarasota Residence Draws on the Bold Style of the Area’s Modernist Heyday

By Ethan Tucker
A couple looks to the past in order to make a chic, permanent home for themselves and their children in 21st-century Florida.

Many people know of Palm Springs and Miami as hubs of American architectural modernism, but in the postwar era the small Gulf Coast city of Sarasota, Florida gave rise to its own brand of geographically-inspired, modern architecture. Led by the likes of Ralph Twitchell and Paul Rudolph, the Sarasota School of Architecture (also known as Sarasota Modern) thrived during the late 1940s through the early 1960s. Its effects can still be felt in the area today.

The dining room is separated from the living area by a built-in cabinet, both rooms are located under the home's airy vaulted ceiling. 

For Scott and Sonia Schechter, recent transplants to Florida who had lived in a nearby master-planned community for many years, building their own house in the region’s unique architectural style was a way to make the area home. "We had lived in a master-planned community in Sarasota, and we were tired of the homogeneity of the architecture," said Scott. 

A path through the front yard's native plantings leads visitors to the front door. 

The couple partnered with Seibert Architects, a local firm that has been in continuous operation since the 1950s. "We were in our late 30’s and we thought that we should do something as special as we could," Scott explains. 

The home is organized around a central courtyard, an unusual feature for the area, and one which provides an extra touch of greenery to the surrounding rooms. 

The home they ended up with owes several prominent elements of its design to the influence of the past, as well as the unique waterfront site. The barrel-vaulted roof was inspired by a local architectural landmark, Paul Rudolph’s Sanderling Beach Club. On the interior, the roof is clad in clear southern pine, a local renewable timber that Scott thinks gives the house an extra dose of character. 

Clerestory windows bring additional light into the main area of the house. 

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Around the edges of the building the rooms have eight-foot ceilings in order to achieve floor-to-ceiling windows with impact glass, which is required by local building codes due to hurricanes. Under the arched roof, the space opens up, providing the living and dining rooms with clearance up to fifteen-and-a-half feet. 

A pool cage with a retractable awing makes the pool deck feel like a natural extension of the home's interior, while the terraced construction lifts the building up above the level of floods and storm surges. 

Clerestory windows in the arches bathe the home’s interior in sunlight, and heighten the home’s connection to the sun, moon, and sky. "If it's about to rain the energy of the whole house changes, and when there’s a full moon the house is bright at night," says Scott.

Light and greenery are two elements the family's modern-inspired home offers in abundance. 

The threat of storms and high water also required that the house be lifted 13 feet above the high water mark. Instead of placing the house atop a  ground floor like a storage area or garage, the architects opted to raise the home up from the water level via a series of terraces, which also make room for a spacious, waterfront back patio and lap pool. 

The house's elevation was inspired by Paul Rudolph's nearby Sanderling Beach Club.

The plantings surrounding the house take their cues from Florida’s natural environment. Conscious of the fact that the fertilizers and herbicides required to maintain a green grass lawn throughout the year are extremely damaging to marine ecosystems and that runoff from the property would inevitably drain into the ocean behind the house, the family opted to plant their yard with a wide variety of drought-tolerant native species. 

The family's new kitchen.

Though it was a challenge getting the rock swales and drainage patterns just right, the family is more than pleased with the effect. "The beauty of the Beach Sunflower and Blanket Flower is that each year they drop their seeds, and they come back, so you get annuals of their own making year after year after year. Through this, the plantings move around the yard, and the yard really changes as they grow big, die back, and then new things come in," says Scott. 

The courtyard is the first thing a visitor sees upon entering the Schechter family's Sarasota Modern home, highlighting the connection between inside and out that is so important to living in Florida. 

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