On a quiet street in the heart of Anna Maria a rectangular gray house perches on stilts. It's adorned with whimsical chartreuse shutters and offers a back-porch view of dolphins and sea oats and blue-green swells that seem to roll on to the other side of the world.
Four years ago, Sarasota interior designer Judy Graham, ASID, bought a funny old duplex with her sister Jane Hyslop as an island getaway. Built in 1971, the structure was designed as a multi-family complex. The interior had two complete kitchens, four bedrooms and four baths and lots of walls chopping up the living space. The main living rooms were painted dark brown, and the deep sculptured shag carpeting was an incredible olive hue. Bedrooms on one side of the house were done in an Easter-egg motif-pale yellow, blue, pink and green-while those on the other side trumpeted the excitement of the Big Top in bold primary hues.
Furnishings were vinyl and plastic, while artwork was largely crafted of straw and styrofoam. "The Salvation Army filled their truck to the top that day we cleaned house," says Judy. "But beyond all of the ugliness, we could tell that the house really was in good condition. It sits on a double lot with a vast expanse of land between the house and the water. There was even an existing sea wall, buried beneath the sand, and a good-sized back yard. We knew the place could become the quintessential beach house."
First, the sisters knocked down dividing walls between the double kitchens, seating and dining areas to create one large space for living. They turned two kitchens into one but kept the two separate sink areas facing spacious breakfast bars. Now, two cooks can prepare gourmet meals simultaneously for an audience of eight spectators in comfortable bar stools. Gleaming white cabinets, smart appliances and vinyl tile in periwinkle and white give the kitchen a breezy, beachy feeling. Top-of-the-line icemakers and a spacious wine cooler were purchased with entertaining in mind, and Graham says they were the first new items to go in the house.
A weathered buffet finished in Gulf-of-Mexico green is flanked by antique metal sconces that look like coral growing on an ocean reef. An old pine table nestles comfortably behind the sofa. Upholstery, bar stool cushions and pillows are done in fresh shades of blue. A pair of antique chairs were whitewashed for a more casual surround. Two authentic ship's lanterns with green glass globes light up the living room wall. The mixture of wicker, wood, fabric and glass against white wood walls keeps the house airy and inviting.
Visitors often leave thank-you gifts for Graham and Hyslop. Happily, many are accomplished artists, and so the beach house walls are home to, among others, several paintings by D. Gordon Dart, an underwater photograph of a sea turtle by Dick Dickinson, Peggy Stewart's painting of Amish people at the beach and a manatee painted by Faith Keller, resident artist at Mote Marine. Dart also surprised Graham with an unusual housewarming gift-a real stuffed tarpon done in cool turquoise and aqua tones with tiny images of Sarasota landmarks and lifestyle painted everywhere. An oversized painting of a gorgeous pink flamingo by a Key West artist has been dubbed the family "flabingo" after a young nephew mispronounced the bird's name. Hand-painted wineglasses, pottery pieces and delicate ceramic fish add to a collection of art that imbues the little house with sentiment and style.
Simple to secure with metal shutters and easy to clean and care for, the beach house was built for ease of living, with efficiency and simplicity inherent in its design. Still, whimsy is always welcome. Bedrooms are themed, painted in fresh white and decorated in custom-screened fabrics and one-of-a kind printed bed linens and window treatments. Guests can choose from the starfish suite and the South Seas batik bedroom. Jane's room is
Pineapple Place, while Graham did her own room in alligators.
"My idea of a perfect weekend is to drive up on a Friday with the car loaded full," says Graham. "I buy armfuls of fresh flowers at the wholesale flower market off Cortez and then head to Star Fish Market and get the most delicious grouper, highest grade and right off the boat." Also essential: wonderful wine, bread and music. Thus furnished and equipped, the little beach house has been a joyous spot to celebrate holidays and family weekends. Children bring their college buddies. Friends bring other friends. Kick off your shoes. Welcome to the beach house.
Floor covering by Stark Carpet from Designer's Source. Wheat-colored faux sisal in wool and nylon.
Custom-screened upholstery and bed linens by Dektillet.
Buffet refinished by Rick Keys.