Architect Dale Parks, a downtown renter for a dozen years, needed a home of his own when his apartment at the Carlton Arms was slated to become a pricey condo. Determined to remain a Sarasota urbanite, Parks transformed a 1,500-square-foot duplex in the Laurel Park neighborhood, taking it from sad to sassy while maintaining his lifestyle. That means he can still walk his dog around the block and say "hi" to the neighbors each morning and then stroll down to Sarasota News & Books for coffee and the newspaper before starting his day at Seibert Architects.
Parks and his project partners (plucky parents) bought the dilapidated 1925 Spanish Revival dwelling at a foreclosure auction on the courthouse steps for what Parks describes as a very good deal. Then, as so often happens, he far exceeded the purchase price with the renovation.
The project seemed daunting at the outset, even for the experienced architect, who several years ago turned the old Selby Public Library building into the dazzling G.WIZ children's science center. (He won a state award for that one.) But the Laurel Park house, which was once rented to spring training baseball players who could walk to games at Payne Park, didn't seem like winning material when Parks began to tackle the ugly realities.
"The oak and heart pine floors had been destroyed by leaks and couldn't be salvaged, even though I took them up plank by plank just hoping," remembers Parks. "The house was termite-infested, the back wooden porch was falling away, walls destroyed, the whole plumbing and electrical systems had to be redone. And I had to convert a duplex arrangement into a single-family home."
Parks' new bedroom is where one of the kitchens was originally located, and his spacious bath was once that decrepit back porch. "When we pulled off the porch and part of the attached wall, we found a huge hive of bees inside the wall cavity," remembers the homeowner. "I had to call a beekeeper to come and get everything. A few weeks later he surprised me by showing up with jars of honey."
The house has two personalities. The mustard-colored stucco exterior presents a vintage Mediterranean face, with casement windows that are in agreement with the other period residences on the street. Inside is open and modern, with contemporary black leather and metal furniture. Parks describes his residence as a brand-new house within a very old shell.
Red oak floors set off dramatic wall and trim colors in deep olive, intense blue, dark purple (the guest bath), yellow, black and white. As an accent in the kitchen, master bath and as an exterior focal point, Parks used small glass mosaic tiles flecked with shimmering gold leaf. The many colors in the tiles are replicated throughout in the art, bed linens, counters, area rugs and walls. The chimney space evolved into a skylight; and, to compromise the bowling alley aspect of the central hallway, the architect angled the walls and added a frosted porthole window to his bedroom door at the end of the hall. When the door is closed, the eye is stopped by his clever artistic treatment.
Central to the home's design scheme is Parks' impressive collection of Chris Skura's three-dimensional works, which the artist calls assemblages. A Ringling School of Art and Design alumnus, Skura met Parks when the former was a recent graduate. Among the wall-mounted and freestanding constructions of wood and metal that Parks displays are two special ones the architect commissioned from the artist. One is a memorial to his father, Rupert Fowler Parks, whose career was in the space industry.
The other commissioned assemblage is a memento of a year when Parks supplied the architectural plans for a home in Bradenton and then decided to work on the construction with the contractor. The centerpiece of this assemblage is Parks' plumb bob (a tool to determine a straight line), bits of the construction site and parts of his blueprint for the dwelling. A chip of metal at the back of the assemblage box bears the number 34, which was Parks' age when he undertook the design/construction adventure.
Other paintings, photographs and memorabilia refer to Parks' years in Hawaii, where he studied and subsequently worked. His old surfboard leans against the wall in his home office. Photos dating from the 1920s depict hula dancers and views of Diamond Head. He found some of the photographs on eBay and framed them in black to match the tester bed in his room.
A detached garage had long since disappeared by the time Parks moved in. Instead he fashioned a motor court that consumes the postage-stamp back yard; and he framed the area with tropical flowers, ferns, palms and two frangipani trees, one started from a cutting that came from his parents. He calls the trees "plumaria," as they are named in Hawaii. Parks' pet boxer dog is named Makana, which means "gift" in Hawaiian.
With the major work on his house completed, the architect is concentrating on a big endeavor for Seibert Architects scheduled to be finished in February. Parks is the firm's manager for the new Lemon Avenue bus station, a city project that Parks tactfully concedes "is not without controversy."
But there's no controversy in the tight-knit Laurel Park neighborhood about Dale Parks' homestead. His compact home fits right in with the surrounding rental duplexes, older single-family homes and a development bloom of new cottages that are spacious but designed in a period mode to blend with the existing structures. Pleasant "old shells" survive and beckon to energetic new owners with imaginative schemes and sensitivity to an urban sense of place.
Parks' Design Primer
Here are Dale Parks' tips for renovating an older home in Sarasota's vintage neighborhoods.
Avoid over-improving. Look around at what's already in the immediate area. Bring the exterior up to a certain standard and make it as attractive as possible without having it stick out as the most expensive place on the block.
Think creatively with paint and change the colors as often as it suits you.
Save money with laminates. Parks used high-style laminates that look like wood in the kitchen and is totally pleased with the result.
Check out yard sales and second-hand shops for appropriate furniture. Parks found an original George Nelson bench at a Whitfield Estates garage sale.
Realize that when you're all done, you'll see things you would have done differently. It happens to professionals, too. Parks regrets his black stove top; and, in retrospect, would have given himself more kitchen counter space.
If you have a pet you love, understand that the pet really owns the house; you just live there.