After enjoying a vacation rental on Longboat Key for two seasons, Connecticut residents Len Tavormina and Mary Younglove wondered if they could afford to buy a vacation home that would allow them to come to Sarasota more often and stay longer.
A recently retired school headmaster, Tavormina knew Sarasota fairly well because he had helped his mother move here some years ago, and he subsequently identified the west coast of Florida as the perfect vacation spot. He loves to fish, and both he and Younglove enjoy the extraordinary cultural amenities of small-city Sarasota.
“Budget was the issue,” Tavormina said. “First we looked at houses thinking we wanted a traditional suburban house with a yard, like we have in Connecticut. But, after talking to friends and some Realtors, we realized that maybe what we really wanted was a carefree high-rise condominium in Sarasota with great views, easy access to recreation, restaurants and all that. It would be a complete and probably a good change from what we already had. So we redirected our search.”
They needed to stay under $500,000, and they eventually found a unit on the 12th floor of One Watergate, an older condominium tower on Gulfstream Avenue with the Ritz-Carlton on one side and the construction site of the Vue and Westin Hotel on the other. One Watergate was built in 1974 and has 106 units.
“We found a 1,700-square-foot end unit with a large wrap-around balcony that has beautiful water and city views,” said Tavormina, “and we were able to buy it for $494,000. The place was well maintained, and generally just right for us with two bedrooms and two baths. But, the space was chopped up and every single thing in the apartment needed updating.”
While they were doing the home search, the couple had contacted designer Mark Dalton because they realized that whatever they bought would need remodeling. When Tavormina called Dalton and said he was considering One Watergate, the designer told him to seal the deal.
“I’ve done work on the sister building to One Watergate on Longboat Key,” Dalton said. “I knew the layout and I knew exactly what we could do in that building to bring it up to date. I also knew that One Watergate is a solidly constructed tower and that it’s well-managed. I thought Len and Mary were getting a deal and that a practical renovation would make the place worth a lot more.”
A three-month remodel (with furnishings) that cost $125,000 yielded exactly the vacation oasis the couple wanted. The first thing that designers Dalton and Jessica Napoli did was collaborate with Jeff Francola of J&K Building and Remodeling on devising a new floor plan. The took down three walls to open up the small kitchen, breakfast nook and dining area making it a single space that flows into the living room.
“This allowed us to significantly lengthen the kitchen, adding more cabinet and granite counter space, new stainless appliances, and an under-counter wine storage unit” said Dalton. “And it expanded the entire space, making it loft-like and open to the living room, big balcony and views of Sarasota Bay. Then we added a ceiling three inches lower than the existing concrete one, and slipped in an LED lighting system of recessed can lights. We did this throughout the entire apartment so that there is proper lighting everywhere. This is always an issue in older condo towers. They never have decent lighting. But, that can be fixed, and it’s really important to do it because light changes everything. The new 3-inch LED cans are the answer.”
On the floor-to-ceiling windows, the designers installed Silhouette blinds that control sunlight and also convert to black-out shades with a twist of the wand. “I recommend these blinds in all my contemporary designs,” said Dalton. “They are crisp, practical and modern, but they have a classy designer look. I put them on every window in this apartment.”
The designers removed the old flooring and put down wire-brushed white oak planks throughout the apartment; on the balcony, they laid porcelain tiles that look like oak. “Keeping the flooring consistent inside and out makes a home appear larger, and it successfully integrates the balcony into the living space,” said Dalton, who furnished the balcony with the same style of furniture that he used inside, keeping the color palette the same, too.
The designers installed 6-inch baseboards, but no crown molding, because the homeowners were ready for a more contemporary look. The walls are white, with the exception of a dark charcoal feature wall in the living room, natural grasscloth in the guest bedroom, and a coral wall in the new den/extra bedroom.
“That den was the big surprise of the remodel,” said Tavormina. “Off the entrance foyer was a 10x10 closet that Mark opened up and made into a den with built-ins and a pull-out sofa. French doors close it off when privacy is needed. Mary and I never would have thought to convert that closet space into a functional room. One of the built-ins is a floor-to-ceiling storage pantry for my fishing poles and gear. Mark gave us things in this renovation that we didn’t know we wanted, but ending up loving and using every day.”
For Tavormina, the biggest leap of faith was the floors. “I had absolutely no interest in wire-brushed oak, and even less in tiles made to look like wood,” he said. “But I went along with Mark and Mary, and once I saw those floors installed, I was completely on board.”
The designers were able to reconfigure the new, marble-clad master bathroom to include a walk-in closet and dressing area that was installed by Carefree Closets. The removal of the bathtub in favor of a spacious walk-in shower was the first step. The guest bath has a wall mounted swing-arm, magnifying mirror for shaving or applying makeup. It’s a little luxury you most often see in fine hotels. Dalton said these details make a vacation home special.
To save time and money, Dalton furnished the apartment with fixtures, appliances, lighting, area rugs and furniture that was all bought locally.
“I took Mary and Len shopping to my go-to places, which are Rugs as Art, Franklin Lighting, Crate & Barrel and Robb & Stucky. We didn’t have to invest in custom furniture to get the fresh and relaxed look that Mary and Len wanted.
“I think it’s so cool that we got a young contemporary ambience in a building that is 41 years old. One Watergate is a hidden gem.”