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This Longboat Key home combines the charm of Old Florida living with modern-day comforts

This charming bungalow in Longboat Village is more than picturesque. It has all the prerequisites of an up-to-date vacation home.

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  • | 10:00 a.m. March 28, 2024
The pool and spa are enclosed in a tropical garden. Various seating areas provide flexibility for relaxing and alfresco meals.
The pool and spa are enclosed in a tropical garden. Various seating areas provide flexibility for relaxing and alfresco meals.
Photo by Nobles and Heroes
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Ellie and Evan Hirsch thought they knew Longboat Key. The couple had visited many times, and back in 2020, they decided it was time to buy something. They weren’t sure what. A condo probably or perhaps a single-family home. It was to serve several purposes. First of all, a weekend getaway for the family — three boys and several dogs — that was close to their home in Tampa. They also wanted a place they could possibly rent out and, this being Florida real estate, a property that would make a good investment. But most of all, Ellie says, “we wanted a place to make memories.”

What they found was something they never expected — an historic home that was over 100 years old. It was a piece of local history that also happened to be the perfect beach cottage.

“We walked in and fell in love,” Ellie remembers. “I had never seen anything like it.”

Indeed, the Hirsches’ home is one of the hidden beauties of the key. Tucked away in Longboat Village at the very northern tip of the island, it’s a reminder of what Longboat was like back when it was a barely inhabited barrier island and the glamorous mansions and penthouses of today were a far-off glint in the eye of some yet-to-be-born developer.

It was love at first sight when Ellie and Evan Hirsch discovered their 100-year-old cottage in Longboat Village.
Photo by Nobles and Heroes

Longboat Village was the island’s earliest settlement. The first home — a long-gone wooden shack — dated from the 1880s; by 1913 more substantial homes were being built. A remarkable group of 10 or so are still there. Built of masonry block, thanks to a block-making machine ordered from Sears Roebuck, they have survived over a century of hurricanes, aerial bombardment (during World War II the island was used by the Army Air Corps as a training ground for bomber pilots) and the periodic economic boom and busts that punctuate life in the Sunshine State. Today they offer a rare glimpse of Old Florida, complete with a flock of wild peacocks that still wanders the streets at will. 

The Hirsch family’s vintage cottage is more than picturesque. It has all the prerequisites of an up-to-date vacation home. Its versatility surprised them. There is plenty of room for everyone and it’s full of special touches, including a wood-burning fireplace, an L-shaped screened-in porch complete with old fashioned swing, and the shiplap that adds character to the interiors. 

There is a guest bedroom off the porch, accessed through French doors. It has a shipshape look, with plenty of built-ins and a workspace for Ellie and Evan, both of whom often work at home. (Ellie is a freelance copywriter; Evan is in finance.) The primary bedroom is up a gracious staircase — the second floor was added around 1930 — and contains a surprise. The bath and bedroom form one large space, with an old-fashioned clawfoot tub inviting a deep, relaxing soak. A big plus for Ellie: “I’m a bath person.”

The home’s kitchen is cool and modern, with plenty of cabinetry, a farmhouse sink and a gas cooktop. There’s an adjacent dining area complete with a bay window and built-in seating that overlooks the home’s enclosed courtyard. This is where much of daily life takes place. You’ll find a pool and spa, and plenty of places to hang out with friends and the boys. “We wanted to create different areas,” Ellie explains. A particularly beachy touch is a table made from a surfboard, perfect for an alfresco lunch.

The up-to-date kitchen opens to the garden and includes a farmhouse sink and a gas cooktop.
Photo by Nobles and Heroes

In fact, furnishing the home was a major part of the fun. The style? “I call it ‘funky coastal,’” Ellie says. “Each piece of furniture tells a story. We shopped everywhere — at antique stores, garage sales, even Facebook Marketplace.”

But it’s the guest apartment over the garage that really gives the home its versatility. It features a spacious living area, a separate bedroom and a kitchen, plus several porches and outdoor areas of its own. It can be rented or used for visiting family and friends; these days it’s been taken over as a hangout for the teenagers.

Ellie attributes much of the home’s charm to the village it’s a part of. The northern end of Longboat dates back centuries as a special place. The Calusa Indians would paddle over for seafood feasts, as evidenced by the middens still in existence. 

The interior of the home sports a coastal vibe that’s perfect for holiday weekends.
Photo by Nobles and Heroes

Many old-timers consider the location to be the most beautiful in the area. Mega-realtor Michael Saunders, who grew up there a couple of blocks from the Hirsches’ home, calls it “a wonderful, magical spot.” There are islands everywhere you look — Sister Key and Jewfish Key among them — and the beaches are extraordinary. Sailboats dot the water and the houses are a fascinating and architecturally significant grouping of all sorts of beach cottages from the past century. And best of all? No high-rises. 

These days seafood feasting is done at several well-known restaurants, including Mar Vista, a classic, laidback Florida eatery, and Shore, chic and modern. They are destination restaurants for most people in the area; the Hirsch family just has to walk two blocks. They can also walk to the beach in under five minutes. And the bay is pretty much right behind their house.

In fact, Ellie walks everywhere, including to breakfast and Pilates. “You don’t have to use a car here,” she says. “I love that aspect.”

The home’s old-fashioned charm is evident in the simple, easy-to-maintain bedrooms, both in the main residence and guest house.
Photo by Nobles and Heroes

The Hirsches are moving on, though, and they have put their beloved home on the market. Realtor Cindy Fischer, who found it for them, is now selling it for them. “It’s a paradise of its own, with all the amenities Longboat Village has to offer,” she says. 

Just be sure and drive carefully. The peacocks have right of way.