Modernist Finesse Transforms 1970s Longboat Key Gem

An architect’s critical thinking skills are put to the test while tackling the reinvention of a tropical modernist residence on Longboat Key


The finished result might appear largely quadratic, but when it came to reinventing a residence on Longboat Key, the team at Sarasota’s Sweet Sparkman Architecture and Interiors had to think entirely out of the box. The clients, a family from Europe, wanted to add significant new space to their 3,000-square-foot, circa-1970s home on 1.5 acres of land, yet the project came with caveats.

“It’s right on the gulf,” says lead architect Jerry Sparkman, “and the old [part of the] house projects closer to the water than you’re allowed to build. The clients knew that if the whole structure came down, they could never build there again. We had to be very strategic with this renovation.”

The owners wished to keep part of the former house close to a dune and ensure most of the existing Australian pines and native landscape remained in place. After two decades of working in Southwest Florida, Sparkman knew what was ahead. He would also have to contend with issues related to sea level rise and climate change, as well as the red tape that comes with state regulations and zoning laws. But he charged forward.

The solution, Sparkman decided, was to improve the lower, existing house and build a new section that would overlook it. “These ’70s houses are lifted up, and while they’re not quite as high as code-compliant structures are, they’re elevated enough so floodwaters don’t overtake them,” says the architect. “We made some improvements to make it more resilient to storms, but still kept its position with the great vantage points across the sand dunes.”

Over the course of the design phase, the homeowners connected Sparkman with an architect in the Czech Republic who had worked for them before and whose input they wanted. With the help of a translator, the two professionals and the clients discussed the site’s design issues while Sparkman shared the specifics of building on Florida’s unique coastal terrain.

Once the proper permitting was in place, the builders removed about one-third of the existing space. Eventually they added another 3,200 square feet, in part from the addition of the second structure. As laws prevented the buildings from being joined, Sparkman developed a structural connection, incorporating a pool and decking. This new green rooftop has maximized the views straight to the gulf. Now, all members of the family can simply walk across their living room, onto the deck, and down some stairs to get their toes in the sand.

“I had breakfast with the homeowners after it was all done and sat down on the porch and got the sense of what they experience,” says Sparkman. “I could tell how happy they were. No one knew what it would take to transform the old home, but what was gratifying is that everyone on the team realized that we had to be patient. We took our time and we did it properly.”

Story Credits:

Architecture by Jerry Sparkman, Sweet Sparkman Architecture and Interiors, Sarasota, FL

Architecture consultant Sha Safer Hajek Architekts, Prague, Czech Republic

Builder by Michael Walker Construction, Sarasota, FL

Landscape Architecture by John Wheeler Landscape, Sarasota, FL

Text by Riki Altman-Yee

Photography by Ryan Gamma, Sarasota, FL & Steve Cartano, Parrish, FL

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