When Holladay restored the 1955 Cohen House by Paul Rudolph, the most famous of Sarasota’s Midcentury Modern architects, he was able to consult an architect who had worked with Rudolph and study photographs of the house taken at its completion. A colleague also traveled to Washington to examine the Rudolph archive in the Library of Congress. An intriguing result of this research: Holladay was able to re-create the long-gone built-in furniture for a conversation pit. Though Rudolph’s version of a conversation pit is only 8 inches below the adjacent living area, Holladay said, “It’s enough to become its own gathering area during parties.”
Old home movies and family photo albums that document how a house was actually lived in and what should be emphasized in a restoration are another important resource, said Houston architect David Bucek. When his firm was tapped to restore Neuhaus and Taylor’s 1960 Frame Harper House, the entire structure, both inside and out, had been painted white and the kitchen and master bath had been ripped out. The color photographs in the albums of the original owners helped Bucek and his partner Bill Stern determine the original color scheme and what their furnishings looked like and understand how the family used the spaces. They were also able to interview one of the daughters who grew up in the house.
Not all Midcentury Modern houses have such extensive documentation, however. Thousands were constructed by anonymous builders and radically altered by subsequent owners. To bring such a house back to life, Sarasota architect Greg Hall said he’s taken artistic liberties while honoring the “push the envelope” spirit of that era.
This often requires a degree of inventiveness that matches that of the original designers because modern-day fixes must meet more stringent building codes and safety requirements, Hall said. For example, the huge 8-by-10-foot sliding glass panels that were a hallmark of the Midcentury Modern style in Sarasota are no longer allowed, so any rebuilt glass walls will have much narrower sliders. When these are closed, you see the vertical lines of the frames and know that you’re inside. But when the doors are fully opened, the line between inside and outside dissolves, just as it did in the original houses.
For his “Garden House,” a reimagined restoration of a 1960 Midcentury Modern tract-built house, Hall took the glass wall idea one step further. Two walls of sliding glass doors in the living room pull back from the same corner. When the doors are fully opened, the wall dissolves and half the room is completely open to the outside.
Should an episode of the television drama “Mad Men” that’s set in the 1960s take place in Florida, Hall’s Garden House would be a perfect location shot. One can easily imagine Don Draper emerging through the opened glass walls of the living room to lounge on the adjacent patio and sip an Old Fashioned as he watches the sun slowly sink beneath the horizon.
Katherine Salant has an architecture degree from Harvard. A native Washingtonian, she grew up in Fairfax County and now lives in Ann Arbor, Mich. If you have questions or column ideas, she can be contacted at email@example.com or www.katherinesalant.com.