Hiding from the blustery Scottish weather, Linda and Alan Stewart had been coming to Sarasota from Glasgow for six years before they made the seemingly inevitable step of buying their own place.
From their base accommodations at the Longboat Key Club, they searched from St. Armands to Anna Maria, paying particular attention to Lido Shores.
“We used to curb-crawl around here all the time,” said Linda Stewart, who possesses the most charming of Scottish brogues, “just to look at the houses.” They fell in love with the work of the late architect Paul Rudolph.
Eventually, they found an original ranch house, which they have recently remodeled into a striking modernist statement with architect Tatiana White. They renovated the main house and added a separate building in front of it that has two-car and one-car garages with two guest suites upstairs. Their son, Breck, 16, loves to host visiting friends there.
The house is their happy place in the sun. “I keep saying to Alan, as we drive by, ‘If we were looking at a house today, we would say, “Oh my God, that would be the ultimate dream.” ‘ It would be something that we always wanted ... but we weren’t thinking that at the time that we bought the house.”
To find a suitable vacation home, they were assisted by Realtor Jon Partridge, who knew that when the Stewarts were in town and it was raining, he could expect a call. The beach was out and house-hunting was in.
“We became very good friends,” Alan Stewart said of Partridge, despite the fact that the Stewarts often waited until the final week of their four-week vacations to shop, and by then “it was too late to do anything.”
Eventually, Linda Stewart started house-shopping online, just to save Partridge the aggravation, not that he minded. Partridge was a respected Michael Saunders & Co. agent who was known for his design sense and ability to bring together teams that could create exceptional houses. He died in 2014 at age 52.
The Stewarts wanted a house on the beach — who doesn’t? — but the prices were too high. Instead, she found a 1950 house on Morningside Drive, overlooking Pansy Bayou, that, beside being one of the oldest houses in the neighborhood, was also perhaps least attractive. (All Lido Shores residents have access to the neighborhood’s private North Lido Beach club.)
Alan Stewart was shocked when he saw the house for the first time.
“To be honest, I thought, ‘What in God’s name is she thinking about?’ ” he said of his wife’s choice of the property. “But she hit me with, ‘It’s the location, it’s the location, it’s the location.’ I kind of thought, ‘Yes, it is the location, we can make ...’ I am used to building processes, but this was unique in my experience.”
“Houses right on the beach were going to be too expensive,” Linda said. “It was going to be a compromise, but we wanted to be on the water. When we saw this, it was absolutely perfect. Given the choice now, I don’t think we would get one on the beach. I think this is better.”
“There are so many positives — walking distance to St. Armands, the private beach access and the lovely view over the Pansy Bayou,” her husband said.
They bought the property in 2012, thinking they could do a few things to “make it pretty,” starting with removing the overgrown landscaping that partially concealed the two-bedroom, 2,100-square-foot house from the street (perhaps not a bad thing).
So Partridge brought together builder Sam Dickson and designer Tatiana White, a native of Colombia who then was not yet a licensed Florida architect; she achieved that distinction in December 2015. Paula Prewitt did the interior design.
Demolishing the house was considered, but as it was on grade, the team wanted to maintain its intimate relationship with the serene bayou.
“This design came about because of the restrictions of the 50-percent rule,” said Linda Stewart, referring to the regulation that requires elevation of house to FEMA standards if the cost of remodeling exceeds 50 percent of the structure’s value. “We wanted another two bedrooms, and how do we achieve that?”
The answer was to remodel the house on grade, moving walks around to create a large living/dining room in the center, and add the guest suites in a structure that barely connects to the main house.
“It would have been easy to tear the whole thing down, but to have to go up to come back down, when that is your view ...” Alan Stewart said.
“You lose that contact with the ground. That was not going to work for them,” White added.
The project — “It has a lightness and a prettiness about it,” Linda said — was completed in phases with two building permits — two years ago for the remodel and October 2015 for the addition.
Ever conscious of costs for the remodel so as not to exceed the 50-percent rule limitation, White did insist that the front door be moved several feet to allow a direct view from the street through the guest house courtyard and the main house to Pansy Bayou.
“Tatiana had her vision and could see the detail in it,” Linda said. “She was perfect and stuck to her guns (above moving the door). ‘I’ve got to have that.’ She had this vision that I suppose we couldn’t exactly appreciate at the time.”
“I work with my clients. There are things I won’t give up and things that are like, ‘OK,’ ” White said.
“The minute Tatiana showed us the drawings, we started crying. Happy crying. It just blew us away.”
It is characteristic of good architecture that the buildings reveal themselves as the visitor walks through. This one does not disappoint.
“Jon Partridge had impeccable taste himself, and he would have never allowed you to do something that would not be advantageous in the long term,” Alan noted.
” ‘Trust me,’ he said, ‘we need surprises. You have to come through the front door and have a surprise. When you drive up, there has to be a surprise. When you get inside, a surprise. A minimum three surprises.’
“After that,“Alan said, “I got the surprise bug and I said to Tatiana, ‘Let’s have lots of surprises.’ When you drive up, you have to get a wow. When you come through the front door, another wow. I think we are up to about six wow factors.”
Back in Scotland, the Stewarts build hair salons and franchise them to stylists. Design and construction is not foreign to them.
“I am used to architects back home, and sometimes it is like drawing teeth,” Alan Stewart said. “They don’t want to do something that later on you say, ‘I don’t like that.’ So they go through a consultation, asking, ‘Do you like this, do you like that?’
“At the end of the day, even though you are quite familiar with the process, it is not your everyday job. You need to have someone who has the vision to be able to say, ‘No, this is right.’ To be able to see right through the house — you could see immediately that it was necessary to be able to see right through the building.
“It has been the most pleasurable experience I have had with an architect.”