Bob and Jayne Gunther spent six years creating their dream house on North Casey Key Road, a 10,000-square-foot residence with abundant patios and terraces on land that stretches from Little Sarasota Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s the kind of place most people would not ever want to leave — but not the Gunthers.
After living there just three years, they’ve put the estate on the market at $16.9 million — now the highest-priced residence in Sarasota County.
While it’s not unusual for wealthy homeowners like the Gunthers to move, such shifts are typically brought about by life events like death, divorce, foreclosure or family matters. But in their case, the couple simply feels like five bedrooms and eight baths is too much.
There’s also a restlessness that has driven the couple’s financial success.
“We’re ready to downsize, and we are looking for a new project,” said Bob Gunther, 69. “I don’t like wasting anything. As long as I have the energy to get up and think, I am going to keep doing this.
“I have no desire to say, ‘Wait until I retire.’ To do what? Work, to me, is an honor and a privilege. I love challenges, and sometimes I get in over my head, and sometimes I don’t.”
Gunther also admits that he likes to take risks as much as he likes to build, and that he’s “never satisfied.”
“I mean that in the best way,” he says. “No matter how good it is, I think it could be a little better.”
Area Realtors note that for many affluent homeowners, the right house comes down simply to personal preference.
“ ‘I can have what I want,’ ” Roger Pettingell, a Coldwell Banker Previews agent who closed $61 million in sales last year, making him the No. 1 single agent in Sarasota, said of affluent buyers. “For whatever reason, ‘I have this money, and why wouldn’t I?’
“People who are buying these houses at the super high end are used to having what they want,” Pettingell said. “They are not going to lose a lot of sleep over that decision to change into something that just works better for them at that time.
“The wealthy usually have the option of changing their minds to explore other options,” said Cheryl Loeffler, a Premier Sotheby’s International Realty agent in Sarasota.
The Gunthers discovered Casey Key in the 1990s while vacationing with their children.
While here, they rented a 42-foot Grand Banks cruiser and motored to South Seas Plantation, now South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island.
“It was a great vacation,” Bob Gunther recalls.
On the way back to Sarasota, he noticed a long stretch of uninterrupted beach with no high-rises, just houses.
They bought a home but kept looking for the ideal parcel. In time, they believed they had found it: A Gulf-to-bay lot near the northern end of North Casey Key Road, with ample trees and privacy.
But the owner had different ideas.
John Frisse, who had lived in a large, 1940s house on the tract for decades, did not want to sell.
So the Gunthers waited him out. After he died at 88 in 2000, they bought the property for $3.5 million.
Working with Mayer Construction and Sarasota architect George Merlin, the Gunthers began planning a house on the site, which includes a private boat basin that likely would not be permitted today.
“We wanted a U-shaped home around this patio area, and we wanted the architectural feeling of Addison Mizner in Palm Beach,” said Bob Gunther. “The Breakers, The Biltmore. We wanted the whole house to look like it was built 90 years ago.”
That design extended to several large and old oak trees, which were preserved.
To ensure privacy, they installed landscaping to screen their property from neighboring houses — two years before building their house.
Today, bay views predominate. The oaks obscure most of the view toward the Gulf of Mexico.
In the kitchen, green marble abounds, and distressed ceiling beams — decorative, not structural — are found in almost every room.
More than 80 pilings, driven 135 feet to bedrock, support the structure. There’s a large garage — it’s air-conditioned, with piped-in music — and even a small building that houses a wine cellar, which Bob Gunther uses as a hideaway. Atop the building is a generator large enough to power the house for weeks following a hurricane.
“We wanted to make sure everyone working on the house understood that it is on a barrier island,” Bob Gunther said. “There is not a fastener or screw that is not stainless. The deck by the beach is Ipe wood. It will last a few hundred years.”
The place even contains a moisture-detection system to prevent decay in the humid environment.
It’s hardly a surprise that the Gunthers are drawn to projects that require lots of tinkering, along with lots of time and money.
Bob Gunther spent his career building sewers and other utilities, along with communications towers, for cities in the Northeast and Texas.
His High Point Tower Technology just built a communications tower near Wauchula, where Mosaic has converted an exhausted phosphate mine into a resort called Streamsong with a pair of golf courses, a 100-room luxury hotel and 100 houses.
Both he and his wife admit the home has become an extension of Bob Gunther’s work, the common theme running through both being that each loves and thrives under a project to work on. To that end, the six-year process of building their Casey Key mansion was a comfortable conduit for their creativity and planning skills.
But now, while staying on Casey Key remains a desire, having all the square footage does not.
They’ve decided that about 5,000 square feet sounds good, so long as it contains top-grade materials.
“I look forward to building another home with the same team,” Bob Gunther said.
“I am a project guy. I like creating, and this is finished. But I would love to do it again. It’s time to build another project.”