Oaks listing is as much gallery as home



Home-selling experts often advise homeowners to "stage" their homes for sale, or at least remove unusual artworks and family photos from view. If a house is empty, or has bland, even ugly, decor, then do the staging, they say.

But then there is Margaret Pennington's home in The Oaks.

Kim and Michael Ogilvie of Michael Saunders & Co. have it listed at just under $2 million. But even the top-selling Ogilvies are not about to tell Pennington to remove her art collection.

rpennington06hhUnusual? It's more like an exceptional exhibit of dozens of pieces, starting with "Thinking Man," an enormous 1993 ceramic statue by artist Viola Frey, of a man seated on the floor with his back to the front door.

"I would move that big guy to the Herald-Tribune lobby as a focal point until she sells the house," suggested Kim Ogilvie. "She could be well served by culling some of it down."

But culling implies that some of the art is dead. It is anything but.

Pennington, who wanted to be an art historian as a youngster before embarking on a career in psychiatric social work, has a vibrant collection of contemporary American "craft" sculpture, made of either ceramic, wood, fiber, metal or glass, or some combination.

It is masterfully displayed on "wedges" bolted to the walls of her 4,000-square-foot, classically styled house. The wedges are removable. And at this point, Pennington is unconvinced about the benefits of staging. [FOR A GALLERY OF PHOTOS, CLICK 'HERE.']

"Why is it that we have all of a sudden the concept that houses have to be staged?" asked Pennington. "I wouldn't even be able to know how to do that. It is all personal."

She started collecting the art in her home in the 1980s, and gradually became educated about the genre to the point of expertise.

"My passion was art," she said. Years earlier, she lived with "a very wealthy man who was an art collector, and I helped him put together the largest collection of Alberto Giacometti that has ever been in private hands. That was very exciting.

"From that early interest, I valued artists in all forms, whether it is visual or performing ... it really is not a profession you choose for money, and they struggle, and in this country particularly, we don't support artists and we don't give them the recognition that they deserve."

Her house just happens to have the large rooms, open floor plan, wall space and good natural light for displaying her collection.

rpennington06fShe and her late husband, Gerald, purchased the house 16 years ago on the strength of its fully-equipped guest house. It is separated from the main house by a large plaza with pool.

"We have young grandchildren," Pennington said. "I knew it was so much easier when you've got family, or guests coming, both for you and for them, to have a guest house.

"This is a real guest house, not just a room. It has a kitchen and two bedrooms and two baths and a big porch and a swimming pool. They can have their whole life over there and be on holiday, and you can have your life over here."

The one-acre property has two pools, a lakefront view, a detached garage and an extra lot that will be included in any sale. Pennington uses the lot for parking guests' cars during parties. On Jan. 12, The Hermitage Artist Retreat will announce the winner of the 2013 Greenfield Prize at the Pennington home.

The house

Kim Ogilvie said the house is unusual for reasons other than its art collection.

"It is a compound within a country club," she said. "I can only think of a handful like that over the 20 years I have shown properties. Margaret loves to have 10 women for a Saturday yoga workout on that breezeway between the guest house and the main house. The property provides a wonderful experience. It is difficult to find an acre in a treed, gated country club, on a lake."

"Kim said it is an elegant house," said Pennington, who is from Birmingham, Ala., attended Smith College and had a career at Emory University in Atlanta, working in a program to rehabilitate alcoholics.

"Actually, I think it is refined. The proportions of it are what are so pleasing to me. It is exquisitely proportioned."

The Penningtons worked for a year on plans to construct a modern residence with architect Guy Peterson, but eventually decided not to build, because they were splitting time between Sarasota and Highlands, N.C.

Then they found the house in The Oaks. But it needed some work.

"There was a wall here," she said, pointing to where four columns stand between the entry foyer and the living room, "and I thought it was bad feng shui. My husband said, 'That is not a problem; it is not a bearing wall.'

"The house was dark and had shutters on it and a black-and-white floor, but there was something about walking into the house. Houses have spirits, and good houses have good spirits. We walked in this house and it was like, wow, 'you will be safe here, you will be protected, you will be cared for.' It was elegant, exquisitely built, very refined, and yet it is warm and welcoming."

A modernist

It is not, however, close to Pennington's favorite form of architecture — midcentury modern. In the 1980s, the Penningtons were owners of the Miller Residence, since demolished, on Casey Key. It was designed in the late 1940s by architects Ralph Twitchell and Paul Rudolph.

"I just loved that house. It was a wonderful house," said Pennington. "We had to totally renovate it: Wires were hanging, the pipes had filled up and the water was a tiny little stream. We met with Paul and went over the plans. Paul was furious about the house, because, he said, he worked for Ralph Twitchell at the time and that Ralph took credit for having designed it because Paul didn't have the right to sign his own plans. We always considered it a Paul Rudolph house."

They listed it at $1.5 million.

"Michael (Saunders) said, 'You will never get $1.5 for it.' Fourteen months later, it sold for $1.05 million — for three years the most ever paid for a residential property in Sarasota County.

Her next home? "What I would prefer to have is a midcentury modern. But they are very pricey now. I don't need to be on the water; too many problems."

Selling the house will be one thing. Selling the art will be quite another. She thinks an institution, such as a public museum, might make a good buyer, "but institutions don't have a lot of money right now."

Pennington believes commercial art prices are "in a bubble."

That might be good news, though.

"The big problem is how" to sell it.


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 6, 2013
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