Guilty Pleasures

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Come now, you can’t expect me to be above reproach all the time, can you? Truth be told, my stern demeanor conceals a secret love of things that don’t quite make the honor roll in the arts, similar to my illicit love of peanut butter on almost anything (well, not well-ripened Brie, perhaps, but only […]


Come now, you can’t expect me to be above reproach all the time, can you?

Truth be told, my stern demeanor conceals a secret love of things that don’t quite make the honor roll in the arts, similar to my illicit love of peanut butter on almost anything (well, not well-ripened Brie, perhaps, but only because I’ve not yet tried it). Trashy movies at the Parkway are my idea of Playing Hooky Deluxe, not to mention old songs by Donny Osmond.

Confession over, and now I’m ready to state that some buildings give pleasure because they are fun, not because they are "Great Architecture." I’ve said before that I’ve always loved World’s Fair architecture for its loopy excess and defiance of that nasty rule about form following function. For every Seagram’s Building I admire, there’s a seductively splashy Fontainebleu Hotel; for each Riverview High School, a Savon’s Furniture store.

So even though I have long admired the disciplined form of the Plymouth Harbor retirement center, I can’t help smiling when I wander through the enchanting, born-yesterday, central courtyard of a delightful movie-set condominium on South Palm Avenue called Burns Court Villas.

Why? The place is charming, that’s why. The developer, Westwater Construction, has chosen to avoid the pallid, invalid vocabulary of Mediterranean Revival (whatever that means) architecture and has invested in a "real" Spanish village, a group of connected units around a courtyard, complete with fountain, arbors, pool and trees that seem to have been there for years.

The interior I visited is, well, intimate. These are town houses in the real sense, not sprawling villas or enormous apartments. The vertical layout, usually complete with elevator, stacks one or two rooms on a floor, with a handsome, well-lighted staircase, high windows and good finishes. Oddities exist: a laundry room on the third, or "master suite" level, for instance. But the overall effect is high-quality, modern-city living. In Sarasota, no less.

Some of the units are built above the garages, some at ground level. Many are three stories, facing both the street and the interior plaza. All have handsome wrought-iron balconies, French doors and fake chimneys. Colors are vivid, more Spanish than Italian, more European interior than Mediterranean seaside, more amusing than the timid pinkish-beige we see everywhere. The lines are strong and unapologetic.

These are not homes for the shy and retiring; community life will result from the close proximity of everyone to everyone else. What we are seeing here is civic life of a kind small towns used to have, a condition in which everyone knows everyone else, for good or ill.

I love it. Paul Rudolph would have hated it. He didn’t like peanut butter on Brie, either, I imagine.

I also love the remake of a complex in the 2400 block of Bee Ridge Road. Here, a group of gynecological and obstetric physicians have transformed what was essentially a strip mall into a fantasy world. Colors have been applied to the various units as if a Pez dispenser had suddenly dumped its contents on the landscape. The effect makes me laugh out loud. That’s praise, in case you wonder.

More pleasure is provided by the colors applied to a very fine example of the Sarasota School of Architecture, the Light Up Your Life lighting store on North Tamiami Trail. Guy Peterson was asked to expand the original building and has done so with impressive results. The strong horizontals of the original structure have been carried over, and vertical window banks have made the effect both high-tech and welcoming. The snazzy paint job, juxtaposing strong colors not often seen together in polite company, adds to the fun.

Please don’t take this to mean that any of these buildings are trash. Far from it. But they are not what some of our local architectural purists would approve of. Let them sniff all they want, for these are joyful and exuberant structures, happy in themselves and not self-conscious. They revel in what they are: the super movie-set, ideal village look of the Burns Court Villas; the childlike riot of color covering the Bee Ridge medical group; the industrial strength of the clashing tones on the lighting store. They say, “Look at me, I’m having fun here.” We could do with a bit more good, intelligent fun around here, frankly. Now, off to look for some good foie gras to go with my peanut butter.

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