Like many boys growing up in the Midwest in the 1950s and 1960s, Jerry Collins loved cars. He was 16 when he bought his first, a ’56 Pontiac. The price? $100.
These days, he’s still car crazy, but the stakes have been raised considerably. His latest pride and joy is a Rolls-Royce drophead convertible, a special 100th anniversary edition, one of only two in the entire world. The price this time? $550,000.
Collins — no relation to the local family that owns the Sarasota Kennel Club — is able to indulge his passion for everything automotive due to his position as one of the pioneers of the satellite TV industry. In the early 1980s, he foresaw the potential those dishes had to revolutionize the way America — particularly rural America — watched TV. He and his company, CVS Systems, prospered as the telecommunications industry exploded into what it has become today.
Collins and his wife, Rita, still have a place in Indiana where they started out, but these days their life centers around their showplace home on Casey Key. It’s a big (more than 10,000 square feet) rambling, Mediterranean-style home, originally designed by Sarasota architect Clifford Scholz. There’s plenty of room for all the passions of their life — Jerry’s cars, Rita’s love of decorating and design, their Australian labradoodle, Theo, and, most of all, eight lively grandchildren.
The home is the Collinses’ fifth on Casey Key. They first discovered the skinny, 8-mile-long barrier island while on vacation 21 years ago and immediately fell in love with the place.
Thus began their odyssey of finding a beautiful home, perfecting it, then selling it and finding another.
“Rita is the mastermind,” Jerry is quick to acknowledge. “The only thing she lets me choose is the color of the grass.”
The present Collins home was built in 1987 and was so well designed that the space needed only minor tweaking. The big transformation came in the interior spaces, where dark mahogany furniture was replaced with a much lighter “coastal” look — carefully chosen beachy colors and decorative objects, with special attention given to finding the perfect piece of granite and the limestone flooring that suggests gently drifting sand. Rita describes it as “formal, but with a barefoot feel.”
She gives much credit to faux-finish artist Hampton Crimi, a Ringling College graduate who transformed the walls and balustrades into a subtle blend of textures and surfaces. The sunset pink dining room is a particularly successful example — the walls have a crackled finish, with hand-painted decorative accents and matching coral-inspired chandeliers. The massive dark-wood table that came with the house is now a pale off-white that matches the sand just a few yards away. (The home has more than 150 feet of beachfront.) Also noteworthy is the tasting room adjacent to the wine cellar. Here, patches of exposed brick peek out from the Venetian plaster, finished in glowing tones and satiny to the touch.
But, perhaps the home’s most important feature is the way it serves as the perfect headquarters for visiting grandchildren. Sometimes the boys get exclusive use of the two-bedroom guesthouse; on other stays it’s the girls’ turn. Much time is spent in the outdoor living area surrounding the pool. It’s tucked away on the south end of the house and features a waterfall, fountain and spa.
“The kids split their time between the pool and the beach,” Rita says.
And, as for rainy days, the lower level of the home provides a wealth of activities. There’s a billiard/TV room, a home theater seating 12 in motorized leather recliners and even a video arcade with old-fashioned pinball machines in addition to more up-to-date electronic games. A whimsical figure named Maxine the Movie Queen sits in a glass-enclosed ticket booth, overlooking the fun and games.
Rita and Jerry have their own private space, the master suite on the top floor. There you’ll find a sitting area that can be closed off if one of them wants to watch late-night TV. A spiral staircase leads up to a widow’s walk with a spectacular view of the Gulf in one direction and the bay and mainland in the other. Rita also has an intimate den of her own off the kitchen, perfect for reading and a cup of coffee, and Jerry has his office, a classic wood-paneled library, where he conducts business — though the day-to-day operations of the company are now in the hands of his son, John, back in Indiana.
Still, the office is secondary in Jerry’s affections to — you guessed it — the garage. Actually, it’s a split garage, with one side containing the trophy Rolls and a rare Mercedes McLaren. Its counterpart is home to a Bentley convertible and a 1956 T-bird, a recent Christmas present from Jerry to Rita. Through a happy coincidence, the T-bird’s turquoise color matches the awnings and furniture in the nearby pool area. (Jerry’s other cars, 10 at the moment, are housed elsewhere.)
The Collinses are gearing up to look for their sixth house on the Key and have put 1143 Casey Key Road on the market, completely furnished. The prospect of renovating and decorating another large home, so daunting to most of us, only energizes and excites them. The new place will probably be a little smaller and — who knows — it might even be another boat. For five years, their base of operations was a 120-foot-long luxury yacht, the Lady Rita, with a full-time crew of five. Then a particularly rough two-day passage from the Turks and Caicos to St. Thomas changed Rita’s mind about boating. She’s beginning to mellow a little, though, Jerry reports. Whatever they chose next, either on land or sea, will doubtless be bright, sunny and — most of all — family oriented.
1143 Casey Key Road is priced at $9.45 million. For more information, call Albert Annette Ayers of Coldwell Banker at 223-2343.