Object of envy: Fame has flip side at this Casey Key guest cottage


A little guest cottage on Casey Key has proven to be one of the most widely published houses in the region’s architectural history.

Maybe only Paul Rudolph’s Umbrella House and Dwight James Baum’s Cá d’Zan have gotten more ink that the wooden house with the curved roof overlooking Little Sarasota Bay.

Besides being written about in several local magazines, the “Casey Key Bay House,” designed about six years ago by Jerry Sparkman of Sweet Sparkman Architects in Sarasota, has received worldwide recognition from such prestigious shelter media outlets as the Arch Daily website and Dwell magazine. It has generated a dozen printed articles and more than two dozen online stories.


It also also won several design awards, the latest from Marvin Windows and Doors’ Architect’s Challenge, making the house something of a career-maker for Sparkman, 45.

But all that publicity comes with a drawback. It seems that people fall in love with the cozy, creative house and want Sparkman to build them one just like it. He won’t.

The house, known for its curved roof that looks like a surfer’s dream wave on the north shore of Oahu, is a one-off solution for one specific family on one specific site, he said. Out of loyalty to them, and his own reputation, he wants it to stay that way. After all, this is not House of the Week Plan No. 555.

But some wannabe clients — some of them don’t understand that their own needs could call for a completely different house — won’t take “no” for answer. When Sparkman refused to sell him the plans, one man even went so far as to call a subcontractor to obtain his set.

Sweet Sparkman — not the contractor, not the subcontractors, not the owners — owns the copyright to the design. Reproducing this house without its permission would be theft of intellectual property.

“People will steal anything if they can find it on the Internet,” said Sparkman. “So while publicity was good at one level, it was contributing other things we had no experience with.”

Such is the price of success. Sparkman will just have to live with it.

“On the flip side, it has attracted some clients who appreciate it, want to know something about it, and then they want to see how design can make their living spaces work,” said Sparkman. “One client in the Panhandle saw this house in Dwell. He got inspired. We took ideas from this and made it work for what his family’s needs are.

“It is amazing what one or two nice projects can help people envision.”

Besides the Panhandle project, Sparkman is working with another client on a progressive house design on Little Gasparilla Island. He said the experience has underscored the importance of having courageous and enlightened clients.

“This fellow has pushed me farther than I have ever been pushed,” he said. “Really good owners have a level of integrity that you can tap if you learn how far they will go, what kind of risks they will take.”

The Casey Key Bay House is part of a compound that has a large modernist main house with a tower for views of bay and Gulf. The compound is completed on the west, along North Casey Key Road, by another award-winner, Sparkman’s Casey Key Beach House.

The Bay House is situated close to a house next door, so the “wave” curls to the south, permitting views of the landscape and bay while shielding it from the neighboring structure.

“You think you are all by yourself,” said Sparkman. “You don’t even know the other house is there.”

The wave is made of curving wooden beams known as “glulam,” or glued and laminated beams. As they are curved, the posts of the wall become the beams of the roof. In a sense, the walls and roof are one.

Downstairs is a main room with kitchenette and bathroom. Upstairs is a sleeping loft with three beds that looks down on the main room. A porch is sheltered by the big curving overhang.

Views are provided by low-emissivity, impact-resistant windows and doors from Marvin, hence the company’s interest in the project. Low-e windows reflect sunlight and emit little radiant heat to the interior of the building.

Some of the window edges curve with the roof. They were difficult to make, said Sparkman. Once the structure was erected, craftsmen had to measure the openings and make full-sized paper templates to take to the factory for fabrication.

Two windows are in the north-facing wall. Sparkman likes architect Guy Peterson’s use of vertical windows, but because of the curve of the wall, the flat windows would not fit without creating significant gaps.

“An intern in our office came up with the simple solution,” said Sparkman. “Set them horizontally.” That way, the windows would fit, leak-free, within the thickness of the wall.

Such creative thinking was also exhibited by Sparkman’s clients.

“When you think about the people who built this compound, he is all about risk,” said Sparkman, referring to the owner, a financial executive from Minnesota. “This is probably low-risk for him. He asked if we could articulate his family goals on a piece of property they knew nothing about.

“I was more conservative than I could have been. It was an epiphany of sorts to learn that if you can find an open-minded person, they will probably go further than you think they will.”

Architect’s Challenge

The Marvin Windows and Doors Architect’s Challenge named 10 winners of the fifth-annual contest.

“Entries are judged on solution-driven design, classical beauty, sustainability and innovative use of windows,” said a statement from the manufacturer.

The winners:
• Folly Farm, Boulder, Colo.: Dale Hubbard (Surround Architecture, Boulder, Colo.)
• Casey Key Bay House, Casey Key: Jerry Sparkman (Sweet Sparkman Architects, Sarasota)
• Highland View Residence, Mill Spring, N.C.: Rob Carlton (Carlton Architecture, Asheville, N.C.)
• Marquette Park Pavilion Restoration, Gary, Ind.: Bill Latoza (BauerLatoza Studio, Burns Harbor, Ind.)
• The LenFest Management and Preserve Center at ChesLen Preserve, Coatesville, Pa.: Daniel Russoniello (Archer & Buchanan Architecture, Ltd., West Chester, Pa.)
• Batts Hall, Warwickshire, United Kingdom: Simon Janes (Janes Architectural, Sutton Coldfield, United Kingdom), Hugh Petters, (Adam Architecture, Winchester, Hampshire, United Kingdom)
• Santa Rita Cottage, Palo Alto, Calif.: Heather Young (Fergus Garber Young Architects, Palo Alto, Calif.)
• Bragg Hill, West Chester, Pa.: Matthew Moger (Moger Mehrhof Architects, Wayne, Pa.)
• Lyme Guest House, Lyme, Conn.: David Mansfield (David Mansfield Architecture & Design, New York)
• Vermont Mountain House, Stowe, Vt.: Marcus Gleysteen, Robyn Gentile (Marcus Gleysteen Associates, Boston)

Photoraphs of the winning projects are online at marvin.com/window- door-ideas/mymarvin-project/ architects-challenge.


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: October 5, 2013
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