A Thoroughly Modern Milieu

I’m heading to Sarasota today for a book signing for Four Florida Moderns, which will honor the town’s talented architect Guy Peterson. I thought it would be great to share with you an article I wrote about one of the many insanely gorgeous residences he’s designed. I wrote this for Robb Report Vacation Homes and it was slated for the January issue of this year but was never published because the magazine shuttered late last year. Wish us luck as we sign books tonight and present a panel discussion tomorrow at Coverings in Orlando. We’ll talk about how the tradition of using materials in avant-garde ways is a hallmark of modernism.

To see how the early modernists made this a habit, visit my Examiner page. It’s little wonder that Annette Theisen, an avid fan of modern architecture, was drawn to Sarasota when she searched for the perfect place to build her second home, as the very name of the town is uttered each time a certain group of modern architects is discussed. Known as the Sarasota School, these early American modernists were quietly designing and erecting buildings from the early 1940s to mid 1960s while unknowingly creating a movement that would become important to the evolution of modern architecture and influence future modernists all around the world.

Theisen Couldn't Have Been Happier With Her Home

Theisen Couldn’t Have Been Happier With Her Home

“I have always been seriously drawn to Richard Meier’s architecture and had always wanted to have a home that evokes his designs,” says Theisen, whose next move, her choice of architect Guy Peterson, wasn’t much of a surprise either. “After interviewing Guy, I was very impressed with the homes he had designed and with his philosophy of architecture.” Peterson, who considers himself a third generation Sarasota School architect, says of his modernist leanings, “I wasn’t a part of the Sarasota School, but it was part of me when I was growing up: I went to elementary school in a Victor Lundy building, to junior high in a Ralph and William Zimmerman Building, and to Rudolph’s Riverview High School; I swam at Ralph Twitchell’s Lido Casino and went to the Field Club, which Tim Seibert designed—I was literally steeped in the Sarasota School aesthetic!”

Theisen House by Guy Peterson.

“What I’m most pleased with is how the home became very sculptural while remaining intimate,” says Peterson.

There were only two things Theisen asked of the Sarasota-based architect. “I wanted a minimalist architecture that would speak for itself and expansive views of Sarasota Bay,” explains the retired manufacturing executive, who relishes the fact that Peterson, known for an experiential architecture that elicits unfolding sensations, gave her so much more. When it was time to furnish the serene backdrop of crystalline glass and polished porcelain, Theisen asked Sarasota designer Wilson Stiles to complement the home’s minimalist lines. He did so with a monochromatic interplay of her favorite color—white, eleven shades of which intermingle in the furnishings.

Since Theisen is often seeking privacy when she’s in residence, Peterson was determined to prevent the rooms in the 10,000-square-foot, six-bedroom home from being uncomfortably voluminous. “Annette wanted the spaces to feel welcoming to her when she was there alone so it was important to design rooms that would feel intimate,” says Peterson. He achieved this by breaking the home into three separate cubes—the front holding the main living spaces and her private living quarters, the middle one containing an office and maid’s quarters, and the rear cube serving as the guesthous

Theisen House by Guy Peterson, living room

“A feeling of serenity and calm became evident the moment I moved in,” says Theisen.

“The lot is very narrow, so I designed the home to unwind as it moves away from the water,” says Peterson. “The scale goes down from the large volume in the front to the guesthouse in the back, the elements becoming less transparent as the home progresses toward the street for greater privacy.” Peterson knew that the outdoor spaces would be as important as those indoors, so he paid close attention to the exterior “rooms” that link the three cubes. To join these outdoor rooms to the interiors, the pale porcelain flooring was extended onto the courtyards and the areas tucked beneath an angular protrusion, which points toward the bay.

“One of Annette’s desires was to be able to see the entire bay from the first-floor kitchen,” explains Peterson. “To provide as full a view as possible, I angled the front element to 45 degrees to open up the area of the bay to the north, which is the widest part.” This jutting triangle illustrates Peterson’s ability to be geometrically expressive, as does the wall running the perimeter of the courtyard containing the swimming pool, into which Peterson placed a grid of openings that allows breezes to waft through and serves as up-lit points of light at night. “The house is magnificent in every detail,” remarks Theisen, whose private quarters are on the second floor above the main living spaces.

Peterson left her private living quarters above the formal living room open to the lower level, creating the illusion that it’s suspended or floating. The massive wall of glass facing the water infuses these spaces with such a high quality of light that switching on interior illumination is rarely necessary during daylight hours.

Living room of Theisen House by Guy Peterson

Mies Van der Rohe’s Barcelona Furniture is Perfect in the Modern Milieu

Theisen’s desire to live completely free of clutter inspired Peterson to design clean-lined cabinetry, which keeps life’s accoutrements out of sight. “In some ways the house feels museum-like,” he says. “Annette wanted to live in a home that gave her peace and it is a strikingly Zen-like environment.” For Theisen, it was infatuation at first sight. “I fell in love with the house—the simple design, the sunlight streaming through the rooms with rainbows appearing everywhere, and the palm trees and sky reflected in the floor,” she says. “There’s a beautiful sense of peace about it.” All photos by Steven Brooke Studio.

  • Marilyn G Russell

    Hi Saxon, I so enjoyed your presentation at Coverings 2010 on this topic. Indeed this is a great house and it was your presentation about it that kept me so captivated. Nice to indirectly (via Paul Anater) you!

  • Saxon Henry

    Hi Marilyn:So great to hear from you. I’m so glad the presentation was a success. I don’t often do those types of things so I was pretty nervous! I do so love Guy’s houses (if only I could afford one!)…thanks so much for stopping in and taking the time to comment. Are you on Facebook and Twitter? It would be terrific to connect in other ways. Isn’t Paul the absolute best? I think he’s just devine!