There’s always something beautiful to see here,” says the homeowner from the vantage point of her recently renovated Sarasota, Florida, residence, which showcases stunning views of the Ringling Bridge and scenes of the bay and blue skies. When she and her husband started considering a new home, they imagined they would build a single-family house rather than purchase an apartment. But when they spotted this new condominium building designed by local architect Guy Peterson already under construction, the idea of a perfect waterside location was irresistible. To make the space suit their needs, they convinced the project’s developer they could successfully combine a pair of stacked units into a single, two-story residence. And with that, their search for a home was over–but the hard work to make it their own was just beginning.
With the shell of the house in place, the couple turned to designer Ellen Hanson to marry the two units and turn it into a showcase for their art collection. “Our goal was to create a spacious and elegant residence to complement the energy and animation coming from the art,” Hanson says. The first pivotal addition to achieve the desired atmosphere was a dramatic, curving stainless-steel stairway with ipe-wood handrails and open concrete treads designed by interior architectural designer David Lowe. The nautilus shell-inspired structure, located near the entry and directly off the elevator that serves as the home’s front door, was crafted so that anyone standing on the first floor would have clear sight lines through the stairway to the water beyond. “It provides a dramatic design opportunity,” says Lowe, who, working with general contractor Ron Marcotte, had to reengineer the upper floor, cutting a 16-foot opening in it to make way for the stairs. Marcotte calls the installation of the 7,500-pound element a difficult maneuver with a big payoff. “It had to be cut into five pieces and craned into the unit–and we spent another six weeks welding it back together,” he says. “But it was well worth the effort. It serves as the main focal point– like a giant sculpture.”
That artistic touch is carried throughout the home with colorful paintings, eye-catching sculptures and vintage furniture with unconventional lines. “One painting sets the tone for the rest of the interiors,” Hanson says, referencing a 16-foot-wide artwork by Christopher Le Brun. “It’s a strong and emotional piece, and the more you look at it, the more colors you see–it reminds me of the Gulf waters.” Hanson installed the painting in the living room, which is furnished with a pair of vintage sofas (one with a curving back, the other a more conventional form) and two sets of armchairs. “Almost all the furniture here is from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s,” Hanson says, adding that older furniture upholstered in fresh fabrics comes alive and possesses a vibrant spirit that’s hard to find in newer pieces. “When I look at the sofas and chairs in the living room, it seems like the personality-rich pieces are gathered around the coffee table talking to each other.”
The idea of gatherings large and small drove the design in the kitchen and the dining room in the lower level’s open plan. The wife was accustomed to a traditional, closed-off cooking space. “There was concern about keeping the countertops uncluttered,” notes Hanson. The designer made it a non-issue by creating a 12-foot-long kitchen island with storage on both sides. “There’s room for every tray, plate and appliance,” says the designer. “Keeping it all undercover makes the space serene.” The adjacent dining room is outfitted with two tables that offer flexibility: They can be kept separate or pushed together for a more intimate dining experience.
Outside, the lower level is ringed by a plant-filled terrace that contains a kitchen garden and several citrus trees in large concrete containers. “The garden makes it feel like a freestanding house,” says landscape designer Christopher LaGuardia. “We used the massive containers to bring the planting beds and trees up, so when you’re inside you look out to greenery and when you are outside you are surrounded by it.” The owners, who love to cook, enjoy harvesting fresh herbs and citrus nearly year-round.
Upstairs, the private spaces–a master bedroom, master bath and his-and-hers offices–are focused on relaxation. In the bedroom, a rustic custom bed crafted from sinker walnut (made from fallen trees recovered from a swamp) is positioned to take in the water views and topped with a midcentury modern metal screen Hanson found. “The screen is a bit weathered from being outdoors, and I love its patina,” the designer says. “Likewise, the walnut wood of the bed bears the distress marks of lying in the water for many years, and its wormholes are beautiful.”
The built-in bookshelves at the base of the bed speak to a penchant for reading, a passion that is also evident in the wife’s book-filled office and in the marble-lined master bath, which features a pair of chaise lounges. “What would have been the kitchen is now a large master bathroom,” Hanson says of the top floor. “We had enough room to install the chairs, one facing the bay and the other with its back to the water, which makes for the best reading light.”
The finished residence is everything the clients desired. “It has the views, the space–even the garden– and it’s all within walking distance to downtown and the water,” says Hanson. “The home has a beautiful, relaxed vibe, just like Sarasota itself.”