1920s Sarasota















I’M JUST BACK from Florida’s Gulf Coast, where I attended Sarasota Mod, a conference aimed at educating the public (and hopefully saving) the city’s stock of innovative post-WWII housing and public buildings. But before I delve into all that — and delve I will, on this blog and in a piece for Architectural Record — I couldn’t resist a post about another, earlier love: 1920s Mediterranean Revival-style cottages. Sarasota developers built them to meet the needs of people beginning to discover the charms of what had been wilderness a few decades before.

Top, not a cottage — that’s Ca’ D’Zan, an over-the-top Venetian-style palazzo built for circus impresario John Ringling and his wife Mable in 1926, now restored and re-furnished down to the original china and silver. We were treated to dinner on the terrace there, below, sunset included.


One lunch hour, I strolled the back streets of Sarasota’s business district and found, in the shadows of condos and parking garages, a few 1920s buildings that have survived the relentless march of commerce. Can you spot one in the photo below?

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What fun it was to come across Burns Court, below, a rare, intact street of stucco cottages, each painted and decorated with Florida flair. Built in 1926 by developer Owen Burns (who also built Ca’ D’Zan), Burns Court is on the National Register of Historic Places.


Just east of Orange Avenue, in the streets around Laurel Park, there’s a whole neighborhood of wood-frame 1920s bungalowsBelow, a small apartment complex in that red-tile-roof, arched-windows ersatz Spanish style so beloved in the Twenties. Most, though not all, of the homes in the Laurel Park area are well-maintained, with landscaping that is beyond lush, sometimes obscuring the houses from the street.



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Must add this guy to my mailbox archive:



New-to-Market Greenport Cottage 415K


HERE’S A FRESH HOT LISTING FOR YOU — it just came on the market two days ago. It’s a classic, cedar-shingled 1920s house with a farmhouse-style front porch, 4 bedrooms, wood floors throughout, and some interior details.  


The house is in Greenport on Long Island’s North Fork, a great little town with a Main Street full of mom & pop stores, a vintage carousel, ice cream parlors, an Art Deco movie theater, antique shops to explore, and a few good restaurants — but Greenport’s main appeal, IMO, is that it’s made up almost exclusively of older homes.


This one seems to have a lot to recommend it, including an attractive garden and a location a block from the Peconic Bay.


On the minus side, it looks like the taxes are high and the lot is small (7,000 square feet). Still, if you’re in the market, it’s worth a look. For more info and pictures, click right here.

BOOK REVIEW: A Very Modest Cottage

A Very Modest CottageTHIS SWEET LITTLE BOOK attests to the power of the idea of ‘cottage’ — the emotional pull four walls and a roof can exert.

Tereasa Surratt, author of A Very Modest Cottage (Hearst/ Sterling), went to great lengths to rescue and lovingly restore a broken-down 1920s shack that sat on her grandmother’s property  in rural Illinois. The cottage was Surratt’s childhood playhouse in all its “twelve-by-twelve foot glory.” Then thirty Midwestern winters took their toll, and it was abandoned for decades by all but mice.


With the help of her handy husband, David Hernandez, and her brother Sam, whom she coaxed into the project with “homemade cookies and sisterly guilt trips,” Surratt moved the diminutive dwelling to a Wisconsin lakefront and, over a period of three months, turned it into something worthy of Country Living magazine (whose imprimatur is above the book’s title).

On truck

An advertising creative director in Chicago when she’s not saving derelict cabins, Surratt documents the move, the renovation, the decorating, and the landscaping (mostly with hostas) in great pictorial detail. Graphically, the book is a charming  product, with endpapers in a 1940s floral barkcloth design, even an ersatz library card in a pocket. Inside, it has a scrapbook feel, with sketches and swatches, inspiring quotes (the book’s title comes from Thomas Jefferson), and information-packed sidebars.

Tereasa Surratt

The book is also a high-spirited how-to, with instructions for refinishing wood floors, hooking up a potbelly stove, and what Surratt calls “the fun part”: shopping for period-appropriate furnishings and accessories like a junk-store mirror and dresser, camp blankets, fishing reels, and paint-by-number pictures.



Later, when Surratt got around to research, she discovered the cottage had several prior lives. A tourist cabin in the early days of the automobile, it was booked by the hour in the 1930s for the “hot pillow trade.” In the ’40s, a rod-and-gun club used it for Friday night card games. In the ’50s, it served as the office for a trucking company. Then it was a storage shed before being finally abandoned. Now it’s a guest cottage once more, on property owned by her husband’s family.


A Very Modest Cottage would make a fine gift for anyone embarking on the hands-on renovation of a house, which — no matter how modest — has got to be grander than this one.

Go here for a video of the cottage’s history and much more.

Coslick’s Cottages


SO HERE I AM, trying to renovate just one cottage, and along comes an e-mail from Jane Coslick, who has bought, fixed up, decorated, sold, and/or rented some three dozen of them!

She’s well-known as a cottage preservationist on Tybee Island, Georgia, near Savannah, where tiny workmen’s houses and fishing shacks built in the 1920s, some as small as 400 square feet, would have been pulverized in the name of development if not for Jane and others like her.


It’s the exuberance and care with which she does it, and her free hand with color, that has made Jane’s work a staple of such magazines as Coastal Living, Southern Living, and, before its recent demise, Cottage Living.

Jane has a website with links to all her press coverage, of which there’s been no shortage. Her vibrant cottages, with evocative names like Fish Camp, Calypso, and Hemingway, are like honey to magazine-editor bees. She just started a new blog, too. You can find it here.


Boho Cottage in Sag Harbor 450K

IF, LIKE ME, YOU’RE A SUCKER FOR THINGS BOHEMIAN, maybe this cottage in the über-charming village of Sag Harbor is for you.


It might well be for me if I hadn’t just bought a place three months ago and am still recovering.

I came upon it Saturday in the course of my yard-saling. The house is practically hidden by hydrangeas and in dire need of loving care (so much the better!) I’m guessing it was built in the 1920s.


The yard was full of the sort of stuff a woman of a certain age who had lived in an old cottage for a long time would have. I happened to overhear her telling someone the place was for sale; there was no sign out front. But it is indeed listed with Corcoran, and for the realistic price of 450K. (Many in this area can remember when you couldn’t get anything less than 700K in Sag Harbor; it wasn’t that long ago.)


The house is petite, c’est vrai, but it’s got a big old garage, above. And will ya look at that fab green stove in the kitchen, below.


Go on, buy it and make me jealous.


Details: 3 BR, 1 bath, 800 sq. ft., 0.17 acres, woodburning stove, separate barn/studio with sleeping loft

Contact: Anja Breden  631/725-4015, cell 516/445-1082