Sarasota Style: Thoughts on the City’s Unique Architectural Style

Before relocating to Sarasota in the late 1990s, I had been an apartment dweller in New York City for years. I loved life in Gotham but was especially drawn to its unsurpassed array of cultural offerings. Still, after being there for more than 25 years, it was finally time for a complete change of scenery.

Florida had never been on my radar as a place I might want to live if I ever chose to leave Manhattan. But after a friend recommended Sarasota for its reputation as a thriving cultural outpost on the Gulf of Mexico, I decided to pay the city a visit and was completely blown away by the experience. Not only do the people of Sarasota support an arts community to rival many a much larger city—including New York—but the change of scenery I was hoping to find included palm trees, powdery white beaches, and a distinct tropical vibe. Not too shabby.

At some point, I also got wind of Sarasota’s stature as one of the country’s most vibrant hubs of Mid-Century Modern architecture. Although I knew no one in town, the city’s passionate embrace of both the arts and architecture hinted strongly at a population that was educated, involved and solidly progressive. As such, the decision to relocate here was easy and I couldn’t wait to get on with it. But alas, I was forced to wait.

In those days, the real estate market in the Sarasota-Manatee region was as starved for inventory as it is today. Indeed, it took several house hunting trips to Sarasota before it finally dawned on me that to get what I wanted, I would either have to build new or perform an extensive makeover on an existing property. Either way, I knew I would need the services of a good local architect.

Then, as now, finding an architect in Southwest Florida was much easier than finding a house. The choice of practitioners here is plentiful, which is no big surprise. If I were a fledgling architect aspiring to do my best work, I would be quick to hang my shingle in a city exactly like Sarasota—where great architecture is routinely celebrated and many of the most iconic examples of Mid-Century Modern architecture are here to inspire. Indeed, architects, students, and fans of the post-war genre travel to Sarasota from all over the world to see these iconic homes up close—like pilgrims visiting a holy shrine.

Meanwhile, the organization Architecture Sarasota has pledged its entire mission to preserving the legacy of the Sarasota School of Architecture, whose now-famous band of architects created a regional style of modern, post-war architecture embodied in many carefully preserved homes throughout the city

When home buyers move to Sarasota, they naturally bring their architectural preferences with them. I certainly had my favorite styles. But after experiencing my first taste of the Florida lifestyle, I was not sure if any of my northern acquired preferences made sense anymore. I really did need a local architect to walk me through the building styles and construction materials that work best in Florida’s warm, wet—and sometimes wild—climate.

While asking around in real estate circles and doing my own online research, the name Clifford Scholz kept coming up again and again, almost always tied to one of the more artfully designed homes in the region. A visit to his web site revealed that his design studio, CMSA (Clifford M. Scholz & Associates), was the group behind a broad palette of new designs that ran the gamut from European neoclassic to several different styles of American contemporary.

I recall attending a business outing in the fall of 2006 at which the region’s top real estate brokers were assembled to preview a stunning new waterfront palazzo in Sarasota’s tony Lido Shores neighborhood. As it turns out, the residence—situated on Westway Drive—was designed by Mr. Scholz in collaboration with his client, noted New York fashion designer Adrienne Vittadini, who owned the property with her husband, Gianluigi. Rendered in the Palladian style, the neoclassic edifice was roundly hailed as a splendid departure from the bloated Mediterranean “McMansions” that seemed to be popping up everywhere back then. The palazzo, which overlooks the azure waters of New Pass and the Gulf of Mexico, lies adjacent to another Palladian style palazzo that was itself the product of an earlier collaboration between Scholz and the Vittadinis.

(Fun fact: Today there are design firms that will actually come in and “de-Tuscan-ize” homes that carried the Mediterranean look a bit too far. At the owner’s expense, of course.)

In more recent times, Scholz and his CMSA colleagues were the architectural team behind La Serenissima, a spectacular Italian Renaissance-style palazzo that faces the Gulf of Mexico from its exclusive perch in Regent Court, behind the gates of Longboat Key Club. Completed in 2005, the word “spectacular” almost doesn’t do the home justice. With its classic design, attention to detail and breathtaking décor, the property set a new benchmark in 2020 as the region’s highest priced residential sale ever.

Like fashion trends, architectural styles tend to fall in and out of favor. What’s hot today will be passé tomorrow. But the classics styles always make a comeback, usually with an updated approach that makes us wonder how they ever fell out of favor in the first place. A recent article in the September 2023 issue of Architectural Digest identifies 12 classic home styles it believes everyone should know. These include Contemporary, Midcentury Modern, Classical Revival, Tudor, Georgian, Victorian, Gothic Revival, Mediterranean, Shingle Style, Italianate, Spanish Colonial, and Ranch Style.

Instead of specializing in any particular genre—or the ”in” style of the moment—the design team at CMSA takes pride in its diversified portfolio of completed projects, whose only common thread is a classic design that will stand the test of time.

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