The 2016 Designer Showhouse celebrates the creativity of two dozen design professionals and the determination of one Ohio woman to rescue a vintage home
The 2016 Jewels on the Bay Designer Showhouse should have opened its doors to the public at the end of January.
But frustrating delays, which are almost always associated with renovating a big, vintage property, as well as a change in contractors midway through the project, forced this year’s incubator for high-style design ideas to open today.
The creativity of about two dozen local design professionals is on display throughout two floors of a 1926 bayfront beauty of about 3,000 square feet.
The showhouse series, now it its 21st year, raises money for the Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota County. Chairs of the Jewels on the Bay committee are interior designers Joyce and Jeff Hart. Additionally, Joyce Hart is the current president of the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation.
Built in 1926 by developer and Bay Haven hotel owner Walter Coleman, this year’s showhouse is a prominent edifice on Bay Shore Road; it had been in decline for many years until it was rescued last year by Robin Thomas of Cincinnati.
All the participating designers volunteer their time to transform bare walls and floors into dreamy and smart spaces. They are likely to influence local homeowners who are making lists of what they want out of renovation projects or a brand new home. Color trends, as well as the newest in furniture and practical home technology, are within the walls of this historic house that Robin Thomas now calls her home.
“The house bought me,” said Thomas, who will move into her designer home at the end of March, when the public tours end. “Last year, I was looking for a new city and a neighborhood to call home, when I came to this part of Florida on the suggestion of friend. I liked what Sarasota had to offer, so I stayed to look at properties. I wanted a place with history built between 1920 and 1950.”
Thomas said she came to an open-house at the Coleman mansion, and that was it. “I kept returning over the next several months, one time to make an offer that was rejected,” she continued. “I looked at other houses, but this one kept drawing me back.
“I finally got serious about what it would take in terms of time and money to realize its potential because I planned to make it my primary residence. I eventually made another offer, and wrote a letter to the owner, who was happy that I wanted to save the house.”
She collaborated with architect Thorning Little, who had just finished the renovation of a historic house next door that belonged to Realtor Pat Taylor for many years and was itself a Designer Showhouse.
Thomas devised a floor plan and flow for convenient modern living. The glamorous result is what visitors are now invited to see for $25 a ticket.
The house has three bedrooms and two bathrooms, a powder room plus terraces and all the small nooks and charming indoor/outdoor spaces that characterize an expensive home of the 1920s. It was through the architect that Robin Thomas met members of the Designer Showhouse committee, who were looking for a stately home that they could decorate for their month-long charity project.
“The style of the house is mostly Mediterranean revival,” said Thomas, “but it looks more like a castle to me. It does not carry a historic plaque from the city or county, but I understand the property has been on a watch list for some time.”
Besides the main house, the property has a guest house over a garage to the rear of the yard. It was supposed to be part of the tour, but it is not ready for its close up — just one of many frustrations and setbacks that both the homeowner and the showhouse committee have endured over many months.
“I’ve worked with old homes before,” said Thomas, “and on a scale of 1 to 10 in degree of difficulty, this one would come in at 25. Everything took longer, was harder and was a lot more expensive than I expected.”
Besides replacing all the plumbing, wiring, windows and some flooring and ceilings, Thomas reconfigured some of the spaces to enlarge and open up her kitchen. She enclosed a porch to make a family room (it’s styled as a sun porch for the Showhouse), modernized and enlarged bathrooms and took an undersized bedroom and transformed it into a walk-in closet.
What the contractor thinks was once a trunk room (rich people in the 1920s had a special place for their suitcases) is now a powder room. The living and dining rooms retain their original plaster ceilings (it’s an unusual treatment) and most of the red oak flooring in the home was salvaged. The extra-deep plaster crown molding throughout is intact and just needed fresh paint and a few patches.
Future projects include an outdoor kitchen and expanded outdoor entertainment spaces to the back of the house. With all the renovations, additions and modernizations, the home from the street looks exactly like it did in 1926, something that Thomas insisted upon.
Thomas renovated and restored an 1854 home in Cincinnati in the late 1990s. And in 2008, she restored a property that she converted into a boutique hotel with a culinary studio that provided cooking lessons. Previous to that enterprise, she was in the lumber business for 22 years. She hopes to reincarnate the culinary studio in Sarasota and keep that part of her business going once she relocates to Florida and is settled in her new-old bayfront home.
Because this showhouse will be her permanent residence, Thomas collaborated with the designers on the color palette throughout the house, and things such as appliances, bathroom tiles, kitchen counters and fixtures.
“I’m keeping only the bed in the master bedroom and the window treatments and a few other things when the designers leave,” said Thomas, “because I have plenty of furniture that I’ll bring from Ohio, and I want to take my time in furnishing each room. And I’ll also have the guest house to do.”
She loves the color purple; her kitchen cabinets are purple with granite countertops. And one of the guest bedrooms features a purple and pistachio combination.
Some of the design professionals participating this year in the 2016 Designer Showhouse project are Bob Barthman, Toni Bratton, Christine Brown, Cameron Cox, Linda Daniel, Kimberly Doucette, Gary Ficht, Susan Frick, Barbara Gardner, Joyce Hart, Jeff Hart, Robert Henry, Dennis Herzek, Richard Hinkle, Keffie Lancaster, Terrance Leaser, Deborah Marr, Marla Oppenheim, Michael Perkinson, Jacki Rogerson, Robert Rider, Penny Schindler, Tom Stanley, William Tidmore and Pamela Weeks.
Showhouse coordinator is Carol Field, and the contractor is Gary Loer. Furniture, art and accessories in all the rooms of the showhouse are for sale through the designers (price list in each room), and there is also a gift boutique that’s been set up in the garage.