Couple look beyond decor to find ideal home on Bird Key


Al and Dodie Dell’Aglio of Westchester County, New York, moved permanently to Sarasota the smart way. They bought a vacation condo on Longboat Key and flew here often over a 10-year period while they both had fulltime careers in New York, she as a school social worker and he an executive for IBM.


bird2In 2012, when Dodie retired and Al semi-retired, they made the decision to give up winter for good and become year-round Florida residents.

“We loved the beauty and convenience of Longboat Key,” said Al, “and we enjoyed the beach strolls, the restaurants and shopping on St. Armands Circle, and being fairly close to downtown Sarasota for city things, such as theater.

“So, when we went neighborhood-shopping, Bird Key seemed exactly right. It’s private and beautifully maintained, close to St. Armands, Longboat Key and downtown Sarasota. It couldn’t be more convenient to places we were already familiar and comfortable with.”

Over several months, they watched home sales and checked out various sections of Bird Key, an island that in its smaller and more rustic days in the 1920s was owned by John Ringling and home to his only sister, Ida Ringling North. She lived on the island until her death in 1950. In 1959, Bird Key was among 2,200 acres on the barrier islands that was purchased from the Ringling estate for $13.5 million by Arvida Corp.

Arvida tore down the Ringling mansion and dredged-and-filled the small island to its current size of 200 acres. Arvida aimed to make Bird Key an exclusive island for luxury living, and the company succeeded, despite the slow pace of initial sales.

The house that Al Dell’Aglio chose — he was here scouting while his wife was in New York — is a 3,800-square-foot “garden home” built in 1974. In Bird Key parlance, garden homes are not on the water. Instead, the house is oriented toward a spacious swimming pool pavilion and outdoor entertaining area. So it has a water view, just not the bay.

The house had been updated significantly by previous owners in ways that were encouraging, but also a bit scary. “There were huge, imposing black lacquer built-ins with opulent hardware everywhere,” said Al. “and the decor was a combination of Asian and Old World European. The windows had stained-glass transoms or stained-glass insets, and the formal style of the furnishings was the opposite of what we were looking for.

“On the other hand, the house was well-built, meticulously maintained and the outdoor entertaining and living spaces were spectacular,” he said. “I could see past the storage and decor choices, and I believed that Dodie and I could make this home perfect for us and great for hosting out-of-town family and friends. It has four bathrooms and plenty of bedrooms, plus additional flexible space for guests. We bought it.”

The Dell’Aglios then had to figure out a renovation plan. “I initially resisted the idea of bringing in an interior designer,” said Dodie, “because I was afraid our house would end up being the designer’s vision and not ours. I definitely wanted lots on input on how this house would look and function for us. But, honestly, I didn’t know how to go about achieving our vision.

“Reluctantly, I admitted we needed professional guidance.”

After searching through the online portfolios of many area design professionals, the couple interviewed three designers and ended up hiring Bonnie Lancaster and Keffie Lancaster.

“We wanted a home that would be contemporary, light and airy, not formal and an open-concept kitchen and dining area,” said Dodie. “Bonnie encouraged me to pull photos out of magazines of things I admired, and she asked about our favorite paint colors and our taste in art and furniture.

“Also, I had some furniture and accessories from the New York home where we raised our children that I wanted to incorporate into this house for sentimental reasons. Bonnie encouraged that, and said we would find the right spot for everything.”

The renovation took seven months — the fortunate Dell’Aglios were off-site the whole time in New York, staying in a small condo they purchased for when they travel north to visit children. Homeowners and designers sent photos back and forth by phone and computer, and were in constant touch about new purchases, paint colors and accessories.

The chandelier that hung over the family dining room table in New York for 20 years is now a glamorous addition to the master en-suite bathroom, where it is suspended over the luxurious soaking tub.

In the living room, the designers got rid of a Tuscan mantle and converted the fireplace into a sleek contemporary focal point. Dodie wasn’t so sure about a white sofa.

“It was beautiful, but we have a toddler grandchild,” said Dodie. “Then I learned the fabric, which feels soft and lovely, is actually indoor/outdoor, which means it resists fading, dirt, stains, everything. I thought, ‘This is really carefree Florida living.’ ”

The design team removed several interior formal columns, got rid of the stained glass, repaired a skylight and redid the kitchen with a new backsplash, recessed refrigerator and niche for a wall-mounted flat-screen television.

They opened up the space to the dining area and removed several built-ins, although they left the ones in the spacious laundry room off the kitchen.

“The kitchen was a combination of Tuscan-Asian,” said Bonnie Lancaster. “Now it’s open and airy with a comfortable contemporary vibe. It’s a wonderful space to cook in and entertain.”

In the dining area, the designers and homeowners found an alternative to having a single long table taking up space when the Dell’Aglios didn’t need it.

“Instead we have two modern glass-top tables that seat four,” said Dodie, who loves the arrangement. “They can be joined together for large groups. In other parts of the house, we have two more narrow tables in the same glass that can be added on for really big dinner parties. When not in use for entertaining, those two tables function as desks. I really enjoy the flexibility of this space, and I think it’s smart design.”

Like nearly all couples who renovate, the Dell’Aglios exceeded their estimated budget by about 30 percent. Splurges in the master bedroom include the mirrored night stands and elegant tall table lamps, and the rolled white leather headboard that sets the contemporary tone in the room and is comfortable for reading in bed.

“Our biggest extra expense was something I thought was absolutely ridiculous when Bonnie first suggested it,” said Al, “and then it became one of our favorite features. It’s white sheer tie-back drapes not on the windows, but used to define spaces from one room to the next. They come out from the end of a wall.

“I thought the idea was nuts. Bonnie said we needed them to soften the look of the rooms, and also to absorb sound because the floors are marble. They were custom and expensive, and I grudgingly went along.

“But as soon as I saw them up, I knew they were the finishing touch to the house. And everybody who comes in comments on those drapes.”


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: October 13, 2014
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