What is Sarasota’s most architecturally significant neighborhood? It’s undoubtedly Lido Shores, that sandbar just north of St. Armands where the Sarasota School of Architecture took root and blossomed during the 1950s. Many of the iconic homes are still there, and architecture aficionados come from all over the world to drive by and marvel.
But the old standbys — the Umbrella House, the Hiss Studio — are getting some competition. In the past several years, a new generation of Lido Shores Modern has appeared, mostly designed by the local heirs to the style. On a casual tour of the area, these newer homes attract just as much attention as the old ones. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
One of the most intriguing is the home that Jonathan Parks recently designed for Janet Minker and Elliott Himelfarb. It embodies all the elements of the Sarasota School style — brilliant light, well-proportioned volumes, clean lines — but with a twist. You can peek inside.
Several discretely placed plate glass windows allow glimpses into the interior, something rare in the original Sarasota style, in which the homes presented a blank (albeit well-designed) façade to the street. The local dog walkers and joggers catch glimpses of an interior totally in sync with the home’s exterior, and the owners catch glimpses of the neighborhood’s famous modern architecture. It’s the perfect house in the perfect place.
Janet Minker and her husband, Elliott Himelfarb, had vacationed in Sarasota for years. (Her cousin, Jay Hunsberger, is the principal tubist for the Sarasota Orchestra.) When they decided to move here in 2008 from Bethesda, Md., they were planning to buy an old house in the Southside Village area and remodel. But after taking a class at Pierian Springs (the local adult-education center), they fell in love with the Sarasota School style. And when the perfect building lot appeared — right in Lido Shores — they began talking to architects.
Jonathan Parks was the best fit. He has had a practice in Sarasota since 2000 and is best known for the spectacular “sailboat” parking garage on downtown’s Palm Avenue.
“I liked the atmosphere at his office,” Himelfarb recalls. “It was a hive of activity.”
The owners-to-be presented Parks with a wish list — lots of light, four bedrooms (including a tucked-away guest room where visitors could come and go), a swimming pool and a great kitchen.
“Elliott’s the cook,” Minker explains. “He likes to grill and makes a good pasta with clam sauce.”
The home Parks designed gave the owners everything for which they asked. Although it appears simple, almost austere, its plan is a little more complicated than it first appears. The main living area is in the north wing — a large living room, a separate dining room, the carefully thought-out kitchen and an office that could be used as a bedroom. An elegant entryway, high ceilinged, with glass on both sides, separates the two wings, with the south wing expanding to three different levels. It contains the garage, three bedrooms and an open den.
Both owners have a background in design, and the home is full of carefully thought-out custom touches. There’s an outdoor shower off the master bath, and the floors in the bedrooms are whitewashed maple, while those in the living area are Travertine limestone.
“Natural light is very important to us,” says Minker, and with 88 pieces of glass — some opening, some not — the home glows with sunlight. Solar shades, operated electrically, diffuse the sun when necessary.
The centrally located swimming pool, which greets visitors at the entrance and separates the two wings, is more than a place to swim. It also functions as a dramatic water feature visible from the living room and the master bedroom. Jets of water leap in the air and push around white beach balls in the strong midday sun.
Off to one side, accessed via the kitchen, is an outdoor area for grilling and entertaining.
Himelfarb made sure the kitchen was exactly what he wanted, with an island facing the living room and a four-color marble backsplash behind the sink. The custom Wolf stove has two gas burners and two induction burners. A pantry/utility space is in a completely enclosed core that provides some separation for the three main rooms.
With both husband and wife working at home, special care was given so that each had a space that suited his or her needs — and was far enough away from the other to offer a feeling of privacy. Minker, a graphic designer (she also writes a blog called lidoliving.blogspot.com) uses a studio/bedroom overlooking a side street, while Himelfarb (who’s involved in several design and construction businesses) works in a secluded space off the living room.
The couple is still furnishing their home. Most pieces are modern classics, although a French Empire daybed, covered with silk pillows, sits in the living room. In the dinning room, Himelfarb designed and built the modernistic dining table, which complements the art on the walls, including pieces by Jenny Holzer and the Starn Twins.
Though Minker and Himelfarb were initially uncertain about living on a barrier island, they have settled comfortably into life in Sarasota’s architectural mecca. All the homes have deeded access to North Lido Beach, and bi-monthly sunset gatherings are held in the neighborhood association beach pavilion, which Siebert and Associates designed. The shops and restaurants of St. Armands Circle are a 10-minute walk, with Shore being their current favorite. After dinner, there’s a stroll back home, past Paul Rudolph’s famous Umbrella House. Their own home looks particularly nice as darkness falls. Light glows from within, and from certain angles, you catch a glimpse of the living room’s focal point — a 10-foot high tapestry by photo-realist Chuck Close of supermodel Kate Moss.
“Her eyes follow you around,” Himelfarb says — a glamorous, slightly notorious image that fits in perfectly with Sarasota’s most stylish neighborhood.
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