On the southwest Florida island of Bird Key, general contractor Edward Goldfarb and his wife, Elizabeth, found an idyllic spot to build their new house. The breezy lot, situated on Sarasota Bay, would afford enough space for a pool and boat dock without disturbing the water views. Remarkably, it also fulfilled a special desire on their wish list: southwesterly exposure, which would allow the couple to witness Sarasota’s captivating sunsets right from home.
For Goldfarb—who typically oversees the construction of his personal residences—and Elizabeth, this was an opportunity to pursue something edgier than their previous homes. “We wanted a warm feel but with a modern look,” he describes. Without hesitation, they turned to a frequent collaborator, architect Steffani Drass, and stipulated only a few conditions for their next project together: The house should have four bedrooms with en suite bathrooms and be no larger than 5,000 square feet. Beyond that, she had carte blanche to interpret the modern, tropical resort style the pair desired. “We trusted her so much,” Goldfarb says. “It’s important to let the architect execute their trade, because that’s how you get a great result.”
Like her clients, Drass considers the outdoors her “happy place”—a notion reflected in her projects, which are finely attuned to their landscapes. “It’s important to blur the lines between the built environment and nature,” she says. “People feel most comfortable when they’re connected to those things.” In this case, working with residential designer Jose Suarez and builder Sam Cosentino, the architect fostered this connection in an unexpected way: She raised the structure 12 feet off the ground. “We over-elevated the house to accommodate garages beneath,” she explains, “but it also provided a more dramatic view of the bay.” Furthermore, the lift grants direct access from the street entrance to the water—without needing to enter the residence—via a pathway that leads to an open-air courtyard underneath the house. There, landscape designer Tim Borden installed foliage including Macarthur palms, variegated peperomia and aechmea bromeliads. Surrounding plants on the property, such as coconut and Montgomery palms and an existing mature tabebuia tree, ensure the dwelling does not feel detached from the land despite its height. “We wanted to use elements that would ground the home and the architecture,” Borden says, “so we began with heavy, tall plantings and then added in more delicate ones.”
Inside, to draw in as much natural light as possible—at least two façades in every room— Drass’ team conducted sun studies on the property. “We do them to understand where the sun rises and sets and how deep we need to make projections off the house to block direct glare,” she explains. The findings helped to ensure optimal positioning of rooms, including opening the main living space to all four directions. They also prompted one of the residence’s most prominent features: seven terraces, including one for each bedroom, practically doubling the living space. Cantilevered overhangs help moderate temperatures when enjoying the outdoor areas. But it’s the views of the water, easy to see from anywhere in the house, that might be the abode’s greatest asset. “When you’re inside, you feel like you’re outside, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling glass,” the architect says, pointing to the spans in the main living area. The dwelling’s flat roof also offers a unique perspective, serving as a high viewpoint from which to experience those desirable sunsets.
Like the home’s architecture, its streamlined material palette is closely related to its environment. “Everything is meant to look like it came straight out of nature,” Drass notes. Fossilized shellstone limestone clads chimneys and terrace floors, while board-formed concrete— which gives the impression of wood—covers parts of the exterior. Then there is grooved Cypress, extending from the exterior soffits into the interior ceilings, particularly noticeable in the living area. “All the materials you see on the outside are used inside for seamless continuity so the line becomes blurred,” the architect says. Even the interior design—a medley of wood finishes, clean-lined furnishings and a neutral color palette with hints of black—which was orchestrated by Drass and Elizabeth, was kept purposely minimal to not only blend in with the outdoors but also accentuate it. “The art is the landscape, sky and sea,” the architect muses. “When you keep everything subtle, the surrounding place becomes much more vibrant.”