Homeowners Francis and Nathalie deWolf say the only thing that could pry them from their airy cottage on the bay in Osprey has happened.
Merchant banker Francis deWolf (who founded Colt Capital) now must spend at least four or five months at a time in Hong Kong, so the couple will sell their European-inflected waterside home and invest in two maintenance-free townhouses, one in Hong Kong and one somewhere in south Sarasota County.
Their home at the end of a private shell road on Kensey Lane in Osprey is on the market for $969,000 through Brian Meskil of Michael Saunders & Co.
“We came from Washington D.C. in 2010 looking for a piece of Old Florida,” said Nathalie deWolf, “and although we were familiar with the east coast of the state, and thought we’d settle there, friends told us about Sarasota and offered their vacation apartment for a visit over the Easter school break.
“We fell in love with everything about this area, and it didn’t take us long to make the decision to move here. A big surprise and selling point was Sarasota Crew, because both of our sons are passionate about rowing. They joined right in.”
With a waterside neighborhood taking priority over house style or age, the family chose a property on a half-acre at the end of a private road on Little Sarasota Bay. The back of the house overlooks the water, 100 feet of pristine waterfront and a view of Casey Key. There’s old-growth foliage on the treed property.
The house is a stucco ranch built in 1972. It had had only had one owner when the deWolfs bought it. It had 1,700 square feet when they moved in, but now it is a little over 2,500 square feet, thanks to a major renovation by Nathalie, who is both a fashion designer and interior designer. Her plan was to turn an unexceptional ranch into a light and airy seaside cottage with both European and Florida characteristics.
The project didn’t cause this creative British management consultant any apprehension. She had redone three houses so far in her marriage.
“What did cause me stress, and the thing that presented the biggest challenge to my design scheme, was the low ceilings in this house,” she explained. “They were 8 feet at most. I wanted more height for that light and airy coastal feel. After debating the situation with my husband and architect friends, who all told me not to do it, I just broke through the ceiling in certain rooms and went right up to the roof, exposing the roof joists.”
She had foam insulation sprayed, and then extended wallboard straight up into the exposed ceiling.
“Then I did the magic thing,” she said. “I painted everything — walls, wood, metal, trim — the same color of white, which happens to be a Benjamin Moore soft shade called Moonlight. It turned a construction essential into an architectural feature. Now, we’ve got a great beamed ceiling that’s 12 feet high. In retrospect, it was daring, but more volume made the single biggest difference in the look and feel of this house. I’d do it again.”
She didn’t stop there. There was a two-car garage on the property connected to the house by a breezeway. She made both those spaces into living areas and changed the look of the front of the house into a charming, vine-covered cottage with a porch entrance. Then she intentionally chose a shell driveway and approach to the house to reinforce the informal, Old Florida personality of the property.
In the back she reimagined the 400-foot veranda into actual indoor/outdoor living space with a travertine floor and white gauzy drapes that float in the breeze and give a seaside cabana aspect to the room. The family has views of the water from the open-plan living room, dining room and thoroughly modernized kitchen. There’s a gas range powered by a propane. French doors add charm.
“I chose butcher block instead of granite for the counter tops to keep things informal and beach like,” said deWolf, “but I did select a watery blue-green glass-tile backsplash to reference the water. And I added some Moroccan lanterns and a couple of Moroccan wooden screens to divide the space and give it an original look.”
The floors throughout the house are a combination of travertine and white-washed bamboo.
The furniture is an eclectic mix of European heirlooms from Nathalie’s family, and comfortable, upholstered pieces bought locally.
“My theory about unifying everything is sturdy white cotton slipcovers,” said the homeowner. “We usually have a dog or two in the house, as well as two boys, and I’ve never found anything as durable or easy to maintain as white slipcovers. A little bleach, a washing machine and you’re all set. And the look is always fresh, welcoming and so right in a house by the water.”
One of deWolf’s go-to places to shop for accessories is Sarasota Architectural Salvage.
The one-story house has three bedrooms, three baths, a motor court at the front of the house and a security-gate entrance. The den/library/home office space measures 25x18 and could be luxurious guest quarters because there’s an en suite bath.
In spite of what Nathalie deWolf has accomplished to make the home fashionable, charming and fully functional, both she and real estate agent Brian Meskil realize that for some buyers, the value is in the waterside land. The house is only 10 percent of the footprint of the property. There’s a chance that the house will be seen as a teardown by buyers wanting the same kind of Old Florida that appealed to the deWolf family.
Nathalie deWolf has come to terms with that and has detached enough to look ahead to the next two family dwellings, one in Sarasota and one in Hong Kong.
“With our son Colt (19) at college in Boston, and 15-year-old Maximilian at Venice High School, it is likely that my husband, Francis, will be traveling back to the States more often than we will be going to Hong Kong,” said deWolf. “But we definitely will be going there, so there needs to be a comfortable family place there as well as here. But we don’t need a big residence in either east or west, just something comfortable and stylish with low maintenance. I’m looking forward to both design projects.”
The homeowner said she will take all the furniture from the Kensey Lane house and also has a storage unit of things from their former Washington home that she can source.
“I do love this part of Sarasota County,” she said. “I treasure Spanish Point, love shopping in Venice and I certainly would like something on water again. I’m ready to leave this house, but I want to hold on to some of Old Florida.”