In Florida, luxury no longer means silly hotel amenities such as pet-food room-service menus or bath butlers.
The most exciting and exclusive places to spend the night in the Sunshine State right now aren’t even hotels. Several architectural masterpieces in Sarasota, which have never before been open to the general public, are now available for private stays.
These midcentury homes, designed by a group of architects known as “the Sarasota School,” are curated and organized by Architecture Sarasota, a new nonprofit organization. It aims to rebrand this sleepy Gulf Coast town so that it is no longer known primarily as the winter home of the shuttered Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Why can’t Sarasota be the East Coast’s answer to Palm Springs?
From the 40s through the 60s, a talented group of architects including Paul Rudolph and his collaborator Ralph Twitchell, Philip Hiss, Gene Leedy, Carl Abbott, Victor Lundy, and Jack West designed buildings that were both architecturally significant and philosophically prescient. These architects tended to prioritize handsome, low-impact structures that minimized damage to the fragile eco-system of southwestern Florida by adapting to its subtropical climate.
Homes were optimized to allow for natural ventilation and the strategic use of shade and shadow to combat the heat.
Paul Rudolph’s Umbrella House is a prime example of this ethos. Located in Lido Shores, a barrier-island neighborhood with a high concentration of modernist buildings, it was completed in 1953 as a model for a holiday-home development project, not long after Rudolph had permanently relocated to Sarasota from Brooklyn, after a stint in ship construction at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II.
“The house was designed to be a happy, easy-to-use-and-maintain vacation house,” says Anne-Marie Russell, the executive director of Architecture Sarasota. The visit begins with a short tutorial as Russell demonstrates how to work the remote-controlled roller screens and illuminate the swimming pool. She will also supply a key fob to the gate, leading to the powdery white sands of the private beach at Lido Shores.
Umbrella House is a testament to subtle but triumphant beauty. Its personality changes with the day’s light and weather, so spending quiet hours here is fascinating. The house allows guests to study and experience the logic of its design—two separate wings joined by a soaring salon, anchored by a sunken alcove in front of a gray brick fireplace.
It displays a variety of visual references, including Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus and the ancient architecture of North African riads. The witty economy and minimalism of Danish-modern design manifests in built-in credenzas that serve as a chest of drawers in one room and a through-wall side table in the neighboring one.
Painstakingly restored by private owners, the house reverberates with the banal brilliance of everyday American postwar industrial design. Everything from its linoleum patterns to round Yale doorknobs is primed to be Instagrammed.
Even the pale-pink enameled sink, which has survived almost 70 years without a scratch, evokes nostalgia for the pre-Reagan America that still made things, and was fascinated by innovation. Umbrella House feels frozen in time, but after two days, its visitors just might leave transformed.
Alexander Lobrano is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL. His latest book, the gastronomic coming-of-age story My Place at the Table: A Recipe for a Delicious Life in Paris is out now
A two-night stay at the Umbrella House, double or single occupancy only, is $5,000, of which $4,500 counts as a charitable donation. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org