Island Style

By: Carol Tisch

More than 100 years ago, one Sarasota family’s dream of a water-oriented, outdoor lifestyle on then remote Bay Island was realized by barging in a tiny wood frame bungalow from Tampa. Now a similar dream has led a young Sarasota family to build a grand new home on the property surrounding that historic 1905 cottage. […]


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More than 100 years ago, one Sarasota family’s dream of a water-oriented, outdoor lifestyle on then remote Bay Island was realized by barging in a tiny wood frame bungalow from Tampa. Now a similar dream has led a young Sarasota family to build a grand new home on the property surrounding that historic 1905 cottage.

Bay Island is a sliver of land separated by a canal from northern Siesta Key; today, you drive over the North Bridge to Bay Island and then cross another bridge to Siesta proper. But a century ago, visitors—who included celebrities and U.S. presidents, most friends of John Ringling—arrived by boat at Bay Island’s Hamilton Hotel and then traveled across the bridge by horse and cart to Siesta’s beaches.

“Before the Siesta Drive bridge was built [in 1917], everything had to be ferried over,” says W. Thorning Little, architect of the almost 8,000-square-foot home.

Since those days, progress has altered downtown Sarasota’s skyline, making the view even more spectacular from the property’s 118 feet of coastline. But the allure of waterfront living and the beauty of Sarasota Bay remain as idyllic and compelling as ever. 

Little says the owners were smitten with a specific West Indies style brought to Louisiana by settlers from the French Caribbean. And while they asked for a Creole-colonial home reminiscent of the landmark Pitot House in New Orleans (one of the few surviving examples of the genre that lined Bayou Street during the 1700s), they also wanted a design that respected the design of the cottage and a nearby enclave of wood frame vernacular homes of the same vintage.

“The cottage is a real form of Americana—nicely detailed with copper gutters and cypress siding. Our intent was to keep it, but it became a challenge in respect to developing a home that worked well with it,” Little explains. In the end, a five-bedroom, six-bath new separate structure was built in West Indies island style, and the historic cottage was repurposed as a luxuriously private, comfortable one-bedroom, one-bath guest house. 

A little more French than Spanish, the Creole-colonial theme was reinforced with Anderson windows and French doors custom-designed with transoms featuring a cross-hatch motif repeated in the front door, exterior stair and patio rails, kitchen cabinets and even on custom copper shrouds for the chimneys. A motif found on homes that are hundreds of years old, the cross-hatch was the homeowners’ idea and eventually developed into a clean, consistent organizing tool for the design.

“The [window] top treatment, railings and the pecky cypress shutters throughout the new home are part of the old island French look, as is the openness of the doors off the living level and generous master suite, all opening onto rear verandahs,” Little says.  

Luxurious details abound, from Stark designer carpets in bedrooms to a 600-bottle wine cellar, hidden outdoor rain shower on the master suite terrace and a three-stop elevator. Authenticity is achieved with three fireplaces, exquisite crown moldings, 100-year-old European light fixtures, heart-of-pine herringbone floors and old Florida pecky cypress coffered ceilings and verandah overhangs.

In the family room, nickel-slot paneling looks more unique than wainscoting, and the Christopher Peacock-inspired white-on-white kitchen is the hub of family activity, with family room, office, dining room, laundry and an enviable separate children’s playroom radiating off its axis so the kids are always in Mom’s sight or earshot.

Asked what makes a great coastal home, Little replies that it’s spaciousness, comfort, a sense of casual elegance and orientation to views. “You look at all the rooms and decide how to best situate them to maximize the view,” he explains. “Even guest suites should have a peek-a-boo view—a little taste of what you’ve expended a great deal of energy to create in that waterfront setting.”