Debbie and John Dart are selling their Sarasota home in Laurel Park and moving.
It shouldn’t surprise friends and family. Since they married in 1974, this couple has bought homes, renovated them, sold and moved on the average of every three years.
They’ve done upwards of a dozen, all of them having some historic value, and all in neighborhoods with significant real estate cache.
Their Laurel Park home is on the market for $1,050,000 through Dede Curran of Michael Saunders & Co. The surprising part of this venture is that the Darts have been in their 1940s cottage in Laurel Park for 10 years.
What’s taken them so long to put a for sale sign on the lawn?
“We’ve just loved our living situation that much,” said Debbie Dart. “We were living in Oyster Bay and wanted to move downtown when we decided to move again a decade ago. I came to a Sunday open house at this cottage and fell in love with it the minute I stepped inside. We bought it immediately for the downtown setting and the history and charm associated with the house. We love old houses.”
Dart said they moved to the house with two cars, but sold one. “John can walk to his office in the Northern Trust building, and I can walk to my studio on Palm Avenue,” Dart said. “Basically, we don’t use our car except on weekends; every place we go during the week, we can walk to. Also, I have to be honest and say that our two daughters, Sara and Allie, said they were tired of moving and wanted to stay in one house for a while. They really came to love this neighborhood. So I guess you could say we stayed so long because we’ve been so happy.”
The Darts seem ideally suited to their hobby. John is a real estate attorney and Debbie is an artist. They both love history and historic houses. His roots in Sarasota date to the Dart family’s arrival in the 1920s. Debbie (originally from Bucks County, Pennsylvania) came to Sarasota to attend Ringling College of Art and Design, met John through friends and stayed to marry and forge a successful career in Sarasota. She’s been active for years on the board of the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation and spent 25 years on the committee that preserves and maintains the historic Rosemary Cemetery.
One of their major house projects was restoring and improving the Harry Higel residence on Siesta Key. With one or two exceptions, they live in all the homes they repair and renovate, although they never move in until a remodel is complete.
“Our criteria for choosing a house has always been that it should have historic value, need fixing up and that it be in a neighborhood where we want to live,” said Dart.
The Laurel Park home is 2,200 square feet under air and 3,460 square feet overall. It sits on two buildable lots on a street named Ohio Place. The property consists of the main house and a detached, oversized two-car garage, above which is a 570-square-foot guest house with two bedrooms and a bath. The garage and guest suite was added to the property in 2005 by the Darts.
The cottage was English in design when the Taylor family built it in 1942. They lived in it for 53 years, adding to the square footage and updating over the decades to accommodate their growing family. The second owner was Judy Jones, who added large windows, sky lights, a fireplace in the living room and modernizing updates.
When the Darts took over, they converted a small garage into a screened porch, extended the decking, added a pool, outdoor shower, guest house and garage, and acquired more land, making the lot extraordinarily spacious for a downtown property. The Darts entertain frequently in the backyard, which was landscaped by Hazeltine Nursery. They paid particular attention to outdoor lighting.
Inside the Darts put in new maple wood flooring, added a 300-bottle, walk-in wine room, reconfigured the kitchen to make the compact area more functional, and updated bathrooms. There’s a second kitchen, a summer one, off the screened porch that’s handy for entertaining. The biggest change the Darts made to the floor plan was to relocate the front entrance and the convert the original living room into a master bedroom suite.
“There was a small bedroom and bath off that living room, so when we made it our bedroom, we took that other little room and made it our dressing room/walk-in closet with a new bathroom on the other side,” said Dart. “It truly is a luxurious master suite now, but it has that cottage charm with wainscoting, beadboard and that sort of thing. The new living room now overlooks the backyard and has direct access to the decks and garden areas.”
The Darts generally work with Pat Ball, of Ball Construction, who is known for his sensitive reworking of historic properties; he worked on this property.
The furniture is a combination of new finds and pieces that always move with the Darts from house to house, such as Aunt Ruth’s shaving stand, art, vintage wicker (repainted numerous times) for the porch, and a square wooden pub table with leaves that is currently the dining-room table.
“I had some furniture reupholstered to suit the color scheme of this house. I didn’t need window treatments because we have blinds, plantation shutters, French doors and big sliders in the house,” said the homeowner. “I’m generally pretty clear about how I want the inside to look right at the outset, but I often ask my friend, the interior designer Judy Graham, to come in and consult. I appreciate her eye and sense about what’s missing, or what I have too much of. When I was styling this house for Realtor showings, Judy made me put my huge shell collection in storage.”
But, the homeowner indulged herself on the exterior paint color. “It’s a Porter Paint color called Limesicle Green, and I just love it. With white trim, it always looks fresh and happy and perfectly suits the rambling Florida cottage that the house has evolved into over the years.”
With this house on the market, what’s next for the rehabing Darts?
“John and I want to stay in this downtown area because we love the convenience and the lifestyle of these small urban neighborhoods,” she said. “But this time we’re looking for a house that we can make our aging-in-place residence. We’re thinking about wide doorways, where we’ll put outlets, levers instead of doorknobs, and living on one floor, things like that. It will be a challenge, but we’ve already got some ideas, and we’re anxious to get started. As always, we want to work with an older home that has character and some local history to it.”