Inside Ohana project, Longboat Key


It’s not unusual for architects to be pitted against one another when large public projects are being planned. Design competitions are not so common when the project is a house. But the Canadian owners felt one was needed when they were planning Ohana, a recently completed renovation and 7,000-square-foot addition on 2.6 acres of Longboat Key beachfront. The property recently came on the market at $22 million, a record list price for a local house on the MLS. Deborah Beacham has the listing for Michael Saunders & Co.

ohana1In 2007, as the once-booming real estate market was early into its freefall, the owners asked their general contractor, the highly respected Michael Walker, to select four architects to compete for the job.

“That is a huge assignment,” said Walker, “and not usually one that comes my way. I offered to help them write the narrative for the program” — the client’s needs and wants for the property — “and then selected the four firms to invite.”

Walker was not willing to name the three runners-up, revealing only that they were all local firms. “Everyone was very aggressively pursuing this project,” said Walker, “because if you read the program, it was unlike an invitation that a typical firm would have gotten.”




It was also an especially dry period for architects, and this was a chance to land a substantial project, with costs exceeding $1,500 per square foot, that would keep an office busy for quite some time.

“I was drilled very hard by all four firms for information” about the owners’ requirements and desires, as stated in the program, recalled Walker. “I remained neutral; I was there to represent the owners’ best interests to get this project to move forward.”

The owners flew in for one day of interviews. Each architect had 90 minutes to make his case.

“It was a very intense day,” said Walker. One of them was Guy Peterson.

“Guy hit it on the head,” said Walker. “He absorbed the program and did a marvelous job of getting it as close to the mark as the owner desired, and we took off from there.”

Drawing from the owners’ desire for vernacular design elements from the tropics, Peterson created an addition that is rich with siding of mahogany, a wood that he has used previously as an accent material.

The addition, in three pods on a common elevated concrete floor, is inspired by the soaring volumes of Balinese architecture.

Client instructions

“We were given a very definitive brief from the client for what they wanted,” said Peterson. “I can’t say this is my idea of having this kind of language to the architecture. An architect has to be a good listener, and we had to listen to the client’s desires, based on their travels and certain aesthetic qualities that they liked.

“It was based on primitive African and Balinese architecture — modern in the sense that it is not contrived, but has honesty to it,” said Peterson. “We were given the ingredients of what they were thinking about, and that helped drive the design process.”

For Peterson, who has won a lot of design awards doing more rigidly modernist houses with rectangles and gleaming white masonry, Ohana was a chance to expand.

“Clients come for specific reasons with specific programs,” he said, “but this was such a unique program and it let us, as architects, get engaged in a kind of architecture we normally don’t get engaged with. Different materials and things like that. It became an alternative to me.”

And if the clients had just come to his office with the address of their lot and a big check?

“We wouldn’t be sitting in this house,” the architect said. “The client had, not a prescriptive, but a definitive look they were looking for, and I am thankful for that. It wasn’t canned in any sense. It wasn’t, ‘Do this,’ but, ‘Capture this.’ ”

What Peterson and Walker captured were traditional vernacular forms like those seen on tropical islands, and even in South Florida’s Miccosukee Indian villages. Three chickee hut-like structures punctuate the estate.

“We have poles and Dutch hip-type forms,” said Peterson, “ with a lot of wood. This captures some of those primitive ideas with the way we treated wood, but it is done in a refined and sophisticated manner. It is not trying to look rustic, but it is trying to capture some of that essence.

“It is a certain way of using the word organic, but it has a warmth and natural quality, using real materials in an honest way.”

Despite his portfolio, Peterson said he has always liked to use wood in his houses. But given the environment, the execution by Walker and installation by his subcontractors was a key to the project.

“We are using wood here that is going to withstand the climate,” said Peterson. “The beach is a harsh environment, so we have materials that will withstand that, and they are not inexpensive. We are using amazing quality. The way Michael builds —there is not a piece of wood that touches the ground. Water is not going to get in. Everything is built for low-maintenance, but durability.”

“We really worked hard on permanence here,” said Walker. “I have been fighting water for 39 years, and we are really getting close.

“Rain, wind, salt. You have to really pay attention to your details, because as you put them together, you have to be able to take it all apart if something is wrong. We have a pretty rigorous regimen. We water-test as we go.”


Walker expects the mahogany wood will hold up well on the beach, but maintenance is a must.

“This is a ship, and it has to be maintained, just like any good ship,” he said, noting the mahogany is finished with a premium marine coating. “The house will have to be coated twice a year, and once we get some mileage on it, once a year.”

Walker’s company writes maintenance manuals for every project. “This one has a pretty rigorous maintenance regimen that will have to be followed, which we are doing until it sells. Estates like this have full-time staff, and it is an important part of the permanence of the building.”

The project, which included renovating a 1960s house on the property along with the intricately detailed addition and a complex landscape plan that was executed by Raymond Jungles of Miami, took about 18 months to complete.

It helped that Peterson and Walker have worked on many projects together.

“Guy started drawing and we collaborated — we have a great synergy together,” said Walker. “He draws; I interpolate. We feed a lot of details back and forth — we have done enough now that we have a pretty good system going.”

“This is a project we are extremely proud of,” said Peterson. “They all have different qualities, and I hope this matches the best of the best in terms of the qualities that are important to the clients and us as architects. It is at the top tier of projects that I feel are substantial.”

Views and location

The clients were enchanted by the property’s secluded views, and that drove the design, Peterson said.

And it became a big part of the $22 million price tag. Unlike Peterson’s highly visible, and controversial, Spencer House on Orange Avenue in Sarasota, Ohana, which means “family” in Hawaiian, is hidden behind gates and landscaping near the northern end of Longboat Key. It has sweeping views of the beach as it juts northwestward into the Gulf of Mexico. A seawall, a rarity on the beach, adds to the value of the property.

“It is the erosion control line for this end of the island, and our setback was measured from the seawall, not the mean high-water line or the erosion-control line,” said Walker. “So we gained all that real estate to develop the pool. We would be even further back (from the beach) if we did not have that, and we would not have that long view.”

Walker said Ohana has raised the standard of waterfront luxury homes.

“The bar has gone up everywhere,” he said. “The price, the quality of the architecture, the quality of the workmanship, the quality of the amenities.”


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: January 4, 2014
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