At Sanderling Club, Siesta Key, saying yes to the remodel


The Ness House is kind of like an episode of “Say Yes to the Dress,” in which brides-to-be try on wedding dresses until they find the ones they love.

Built in 1959 and remodeled three times since, this house in the Sanderling Club on Siesta Key is listed at $1,995,000 by Ellen Wells of Michael Saunders & Co. Architect Tim Seibert did the first remodel of the John Lambie "Lamolithic" house, in 1971, for owner Phil Ness, and current owners Dagan and Gabrielle McCann did the most recent. (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

Built in 1959 and remodeled three times since, this house in the Sanderling Club on Siesta Key is listed at $1,995,000 by Ellen Wells of Michael Saunders & Co. Architect Tim Seibert did the first remodel of the John Lambie "Lamolithic" house, in 1971, for owner Phil Ness, and current owners Dagan and Gabrielle McCann did the most recent. (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

The house, in the gated and very upscale Sanderling Club on Siesta Key, was built as a rather plain-Jane concrete structure in 1959. By 1971, Mr. and Mrs. Phil Ness wanted a makeover, and architect Tim Seibert gave it to them, dressing up the house with a concrete “grillage” that looks like a lace veil on the western facade.

But that was not the final fitting for this house. It was renovated two more times, most recently by current owners Dagan and Gabriella McCann, who last November said “yes” to listing it for sale through Ellen Wells of Michael Saunders & Co. The price was $2.5 million and recently was reduced to $1,995,000.

The McCanns and their Realtor believe the house fits its location in the exclusive neighborhood, which has some of the finest beachfront homes in the region to go with the architectural pedigree provided by the Paul Rudolph-designed cabanas at its beach club.

Click here to see a Ness House photo gallery

One reason why the house has been remodeled so many times is that it’s not on the beach. Had it been built across the street, facing the beach, it likely would have been torn down years ago and replaced with a near-mansion of 6,000 square feet or more.

But on the Heron Lagoon side of Sanderling Club, the demand for mansion-able homesites has not yet developed, making remodeling a financially suitable scenario.

The simple house on an acre was built in 1959, about 10 years after Elbridge Boyd developed Sanderling, by the elder John Lambie, developer of the “Lamolithic” method of using steel forms to build poured-in-place concrete buildings. Rudolph’s Revere Quality House (1948), on Siesta Key’s Ogden Lane, also is Lamolithic — it’s a concrete slab and a concrete roof held up by steel columns (see the photo gallery).

“It was an old John Lambie house — good old solid concrete,” said Tim Seibert. “They wanted it to look more like a real house. I don’t think it had benefit of architect in the first place.

“So I went out and talked to them for a while and surrounded it. They wanted certain things to happen; they explained it very well and it was very easy to solve their problem. I guess you could say I remodeled it, then.”

Not the last time, as it turned out. A subsequent owner kept the exterior as-is but made the interior traditional, with arches and marble, said Wells, and higher ceilings, before the McCanns went back to modern.

“Their intent was to return it to the original Tim Seibert aesthetic,” said Wells.

But it was more than just another remodel, the owners say. Preservation was the first priority, as the structure was in poor condition.

“Seeing that a Sarasota school of architecture classic was being auctioned off, having been left for dead, and in melancholic disrepair, The Ness House project commenced,” wrote Dagan McCann, a professional writer. “Over the course of 14 months of work . . . The Ness House went from being a decrepit shell of a once-brilliant design to a fully modernized, high-design showpiece.”

The McCanns are not amateurs. Their business is MODesign, which they formed in New York City to preserve and restore vintage Manhattan town houses and apartments. Designer Gabriella McCann has a master’s degree in architecture, focusing on historic renovation, from a university in Palermo, Sicily.

She placed “modern living solutions,” such as Miele appliances, Italian cabinetry, high-end plumbing fixtures, hand-polished concrete floors and counter tops and impact-resistant windows, in the historically designated house (providing a $250,000 property tax exemption over 10 years) while emphasizing its historic elements, such as the grillage.

“I love that wall in the front,” said Wells. “When it is lighted at night, it is just spectacular.”

For his part, Dagan McCann manages the firm’s projects as contractor. He’s known as “Left Brain” in the family. The couple’s goal is to create “brilliant gems from diamonds in the rough.”

“They totally changed the floor plan,” said Wells. “Every wall is new.”

Wells acknowledges the challenges of finding the right buyer for the house, as midcentury moderns appeal to a thin, yet sophisticated, slice of the market.

“It is definitely more challenging,” she said. “But it is so important in a neighborhood like this to have diversity. With the cabanas having been designed by Paul Rudolph, it is important to keep these designs here and not let them go.

“Whether it is a challenge or not, I consider it an honor to be able to show a property like this. It is such a tradition in Sarasota, and we need to hang on to our houses.”

Or at least say yes to saving them.

Seibert looks back

Seibert is all in favor of that. He recalls that the house “was a tear-down when I got there” in 1971, although its concrete construction made it more than sturdy enough for its location close to the sea.

“Atomic war may come, but those houses will stay on,” said Seibert.

Lambie and Rudolph collaborated on a number of Lamolithic houses, including the 1948 Revere Quality House. But the Ness House was not one of them.

“Paul did a bunch of little houses, but they had the ‘Paul touch,’ and that was quite a different thing,” said Seibert.

“The problem with Lamolithic was plywood,” he said. “They were steel forms. You took them to the site and built a steel-form house and poured the concrete, then you took them apart and cleaned them, and put them in the back of a truck. This was highly labor-intensive, and as it turned out, when plywood hit the market, you could throw the plywood forms away and it would still be cheaper.”

Seibert said his remodeling effort in 1971 left the interior of the house “pretty much the way it was. We added some sliding glass and trimmed things up a bit. I think when we got done, you couldn’t tell it wasn’t a real house, and I think it came out well.

“The grillage wall kind of looked like architecture, I think. You can do just about anything with concrete. If you can make the form, you can make the concrete.”

After the McCanns completed their project, the house was opened for an architectural tour and Seibert, a gifted storyteller, spoke.

“It is a great little house to this day, and some of the spaces are very nice. I could live there, but I am not sure they would let me past the guard gate any more.

“Maybe the world has passed me by, but if it did, I am just as happy that way.”


Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: September 28, 2013
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