When Jane Bennett and Steve Thompson came to the U.S. from the U.K. five years ago, owning a furniture business was not on their minds. Bennett was here to open an Internet ad agency, while Thompson entered the home design and development business. But now they're joint owners of a new furniture shop, Abode, which is part of Bradenton's Central District revitalization. (They're the first tenants in Central Plaza.) Their simple, architectural-style pieces in hardwood for the home are complemented by their eclectic accessories. 816 Manatee Ave. E., Bradenton (corner of Ninth Street East). (941) 266-2846.
The Late Shift
Three-year-old Bleushift design studio offers a progressive alternative to the traditional local design group. With hard-hitting graphics that can resemble art of the New York underground, Carol King and collaborator Joe Winchester create images both surreal and cerebral. (You may have seen their work for the Sarasota Film Festival, which combined print, video and interactive Web.) Bleu Shift's early work was primarily from firms in New York and Los Angeles, but now the majority comes from Sarasota. 635 S. Orange Ave., Sarasota. (941) 373-9532.
London author and antiques dealer Andrew Weaving started coming to Sarasota in the '90s to pick up mid-century modern furniture for a song and sell it for many pounds sterling in his fashionable shop, Century. He and partner Ian Thomasson also love Florida modern homes and own several, including a "builder-mod" in Sarasota's Kensington Park. Weaving's new Renovated Home and Modern Highrise both feature Sarasota modern architecture and design. He'll be here April 30 for a Sarasota Architectural Foundation's book signing party. Info: SAFinfo@aol.com.
The Prodigal Son
Matias Beltran-Tasley was born in the Andes mountains in Ecuador, but when still very young, he and his mother, Tama, moved to Sarasota after a stint in Taos, N.M., living in a tepee. After completing his MFA at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, he's returned to Sarasota. He's already exhibited his paintings in the Pure/Impure group show in November and has several pieces on exhibit at Saks Fifth Avenue. Now being courted by several local galleries, Beltran-Tasley feels it's time "to move forward in my work, catering only to my aesthetic and continuing the search for the real." You can see his abstract expressionist works at the newly opened H. Poto Gallery of Contemporary Art on Superior Avenue near the Gulf Gate shops. H. Poto Gallery, 6525B Superior Ave., Sarasota. (941) 923-5355.
Two by Two
If you miss Christian Hershman's food at the old Noah on Palm Avenue, take heart. With his partner, California-trained Julie Pepi, he's embarked on a new venture, Ark Catering; and their handmade creations and hand-picked wines have been winning favor at chic art openings, young professional soirees and cool galas. From offices in Bradenton's Village of the Arts, Ark offers private chef services and catering along with wine cellar management and buying. 1012 12th Ave. W. Bradenton. (941) 527-1271.
Key to the City
Key Biscayne is chic again, and there's no better time to visit than during this month's Nasdaq 100 tennis tournament at the Crandall Tennis Center, 10 minutes over the Rickenbacker Causeway from downtown Miami. Area hotel standouts include The Ritz Key Biscayne, one of the few Florida Ritz resorts with island atmosphere and big-city cool just a few miles away. The place du jour downtown for drinks is Brickell Key's Mandarin Oriental Hotel on a Friday night, with all the glitz of South Beach but with the sophistication of the Mandarin. The hotel's Michelle Bronstein's Aqua Restaurant is consistently rated one of the Top 100 in the country. Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, 455 Grand Bay Drive, Key Biscayne, (305) 365-4500; Mandarin Oriental, 500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami, (305) 913-8288.