Improving a house, improving the block


 PHOTO GALLERY: Renovated Rivera-Panek ranch home

Homeowners Jerry Rivera and Joey Panek in their fully renovated (inside and out) home. Lulu the chihuahua is behind them. Rivera bought the house, on the corner of busy Tuttle Avenue in Sarasota, eight years ago and turned it into a quiet and verdant oasis, just perfect for entertaining or just relaxing at the end of the work day. (Staff photo by Dan Wagner)

Homeowners Jerry Rivera and Joey Panek in their fully renovated (inside and out) home. Lulu the chihuahua is behind them.  (Staff photo by Dan Wagner)

Eight years ago when Florida native Jerry Rivera bought a 1958 home on the corner of busy Tuttle Avenue, he had a clear vision of how to update and enhance the outdoor spaces and the inside of the 1,600-square-foot house — even though he’d never done anything like it before.

He was transitioning his life from a Disney World entertainer (12 years a dancer) to a career as a mental health therapist. He holds a master’s degree in social work.

“I actually came to Sarasota from Orlando because of a relationship,” said Rivera. “That didn’t last but the homestead did. I decided to buy a house — the first I had ever owned — and then I quickly decided to totally renovate it inside and out. It was a time of big changes for me and I guess this was part of the process.”

curbfullRivera and contractor Bill Watson transformed a tired ranch painted white with turquoise shutters into a contemporary house that nestles into lush tropical landscaping that has significantly lifted the curb appeal of the street.

“When I first came to Sarasota, I worked part time for a while for the landscape designer Robert Davie,” said Rivera. “And what I learned from him about hardscape, design and lighting was put to good use immediately at this property. For the inside spaces, I kept the original footprint of the house but changed nearly everything except the beautiful terrazzo floors, which had many brown and cream tones in the random pattern set against an off-white background.

“The floors had been preserved because they had been covered in green wall-to-wall carpeting. The whole color scheme for the house comes from the chips of stone in the terrazzo flooring.”

Besides replacing windows and resurfacing the popcorn ceilings, Rivera gutted the pea-green galley kitchen, replacing everything and adding double wall ovens, granite counters, stainless appliances and good lighting. At the end of the kitchen, a door leads to a spacious laundry room (which he added) and the garage. Rivera also converted a third bedroom into a den/office that is accessed through custom double glass doors at one end of the living room.

“That room originally had a door off the hallway where the other two bedrooms are located,” said Rivera. “We didn’t need a third bedroom but we did need an office.

“I had that hallway door sealed off and I broke through a wall in the living room to make an entrance into what is now the den. We use it every day and when the doors are open, it visually expands the living room too. It was the best use of space for us, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out.”

Rivera’s partner, Joey Panek, moved into the home two years ago and said his main contribution has been the artwork. “Jerry’s color scheme is earthy and the furniture is a bit dark, which is nice because it has a cozy and sophisticated look,” said Panek.

“But, I thought some infusion of vivid color would enliven the ambience so I brought in some large colorful paintings and Jerry’s mom had a few more. It’s made a difference and we both like it.” Panek, who is a food and restaurant blogger, is also the chief cook in the house.

Panek first came to Sarasota from New York to appear in a production of “The Full Monty” at The Golden Apple. A career actor, he kept getting more and more job offers regionally. In 1999, he rented an apartment in town and made Sarasota his home base. Eventually, Panek decided to transition into video production. He went back to New York to earn a degree at Onondaga College in Syracuse and came back to Sarasota, and in 2009 he set up at the HuB specializing in video production and electronic media marketing.

“It was the best thing I ever did,” he said. “My clients are both national and local, and I get to stay in Sarasota full time.”

Panek and Rivera met in 2010 through mutual interests. “We were both transitioning from careers in the performing arts into something else,” said Panek. “We had both taught fitness for a while and we both wanted to put down domestic roots. We were on parallel courses; we both learned from each other’s experiences and we encouraged one another. Essentially, we’re really compatible.”

But Panek goes on to clarify one point. “I have to admit Jerry has all the vision when it comes to home renovation. I help with the art and furniture selection, but Jerry is the sole renovator and designer.”

Their plans for the home include enlarging the master bathroom to double its size and perhaps completely modernizing the guest bath. They are undecided because the original 1958 aqua tile is in good shape and has sentimental appeal for the homeowners.

The couple share the care of four chihuahua dogs and several gardens that include nine varieties of palms and lush tropical foliage set amid garden rooms at the back and sides of the house.

The homeowners have enclosed the lanai, making it a true indoor/outdoor entertainment area and they have refined the backyard adding fencing, stone pathways, a huge patio and outdoor cooking area. What they’ve done with the curb appeal of this remodeled property has inspired the neighborhood, impressed their friends and is an example of what can be accomplished with an old house and an empty yard.


Marsha Fottler

Marsha Fottler has been a newspaper and magazine lifestyle, food and design writer since 1968 first in Boston and in Florida since 1970. She contributes to regional and national publications and she is co-publisher and editor of a monthly online magazine that celebrates the pleasures of the table called Flavors & More. (941) 371-8593.
Last modified: November 26, 2013
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