A closer look at coastal contemporary


Architecture is full of esoteric catch phrases, “coastal contemporary” among them.

By definition, contemporary architecture is that which is being designed at this time. Stonehenge was contemporary in 2500 B.C. Still, modern architecture often is referred to as contemporary.

Coastal? Well, just about anything designed within 25 miles of a coastline might qualify. An igloo. A tiki hut. A beach cabana on Casey Key.

coast2But put the two words together and you have the latest design trend along our coastline.

One of its leading practitioners is architect Mark Sultana of DSDG in Sarasota.

“Coastal contemporary started six years ago with the design of the Sarasota Yacht Club,” Sultana said. “That was the overwhelming consensus of what the members wanted. They didn’t want Mediterranean or Key West, yet modern was too extreme for them. So they said they wanted a coastal contemporary-style building, and they gave us examples, pictures of buildings they liked.”

“This is a morph of the cozy Key West style, or British West Indies style, and the modern.

“It is a great mix of the two styles, and creates the warmth that people are drawn to. There is no difference in a single-family home of that style and an 11-unit condo like we have here.”

Here is the Infinity condominium now under construction on Longboat Key.

“We began a process of exploring design concepts two years ago with Mark Sultana and (interior designer) Carrie Riley,” said developer Randy Moore of Crossgate Partners, developer of Infinity. “We wanted to do something different, with clean lines, and make it unique to the traditional Med Rev you see across Longboat Key.”

“We had roundtables with Realtors and potential buyers,” Sultana said. “They all said ‘coastal contemporary.’ It was unanimous.”

A distinguishing characteristic of coastal contemporary is the use of ipe and other tropical hardwoods on the exterior of the structure. “Soft woods,” architects like to say.

Even those who don’t use the phrase coastal contemporary are using the soft woods to good effect: Witness Guy Peterson’s Spencer House on Prospect Street at Orange Avenue in Sarasota.

Coastal contemporary “is a modern that is not so stark,” said Sultana, emphasizing that he is not enthusiastic about labeling architectural styles.

“But it has a warm, coastal feel,” he said. “The very first job I ever did, I put wood on it. It is a nice way to warm it up a little.”

He also likes to use standing-seam metal roofs on coastal-contemporary houses. “It is more slick and architectural. We also use the sand-finished stucco and the white color.

“We’ve got some cool features on the front of Infinity,” he added. “We have roofs that come in on an angle, and the ceiling is formed on an angle with the cypress so that you not only see it when you are standing beneath it, but also you see it when you are away from the building looking back. It is on a rake.”

Aside from that, the architecture tends to have the same geometry of more starkly modernist pieces, with expressed structure at right angles, and lots of glass.

“A Key West-style house, you can’t really do the large expanses of glass because it doesn’t match the style. But with the coastal contemporary, you have the expanses of glass mixed with the warmer elements.”

“We have returned to the light, the air, the clean lines of the Sarasota school,” said real estate broker Michael Saunders at the recent groundbreaking for Infinity.

Not only in condominiums, but in new houses West of the Trail and on the barrier islands, too. The majority are modern.

“The market is accepting it very well,” Sultana said. “Both condo projects on Longboat are coastal contemporary, and people like them. They are selling.”

Five of Infinity’s 11 upscale residences, sized from 3,380 to 6,370 square feet, have sold. Prices range froom $2,975,000 to $4,950,000.

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 10, 2015
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