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the architourist

Sue Tapia's round home at 3201 Peachtree St., in Sarasota, Fla.David Bruce Kawchak/David Bruce Kawchak

The thing about round houses is you’ve got to be an out-of-the-box thinker to live in one. I’m here all week, try the stone crab, ba-dum-DUM.

But seriously, a round house is not for everyone, and wouldn’t work on just any old lot in any old city. But in the carefree, top down, sunbaked, stucco-clad, stone crabicious place where the Sarasota School of Architects once practiced, anything is possible.

Well, that’s not entirely true: while most of the School’s members, such as Paul Rudolph, Ralph Twitchell, Victor Lundy, Tim Seibert, Gene Leedy and Philip Hiss were still worshipping Piet Mondrian’s rigid 1920s grids, only Jack West and Elizabeth Boylston Waters thought to embrace Verner Panton’s 1960s circles, as seen in their famous Round House, in Sarasota, Fla., (1960).

So, even in Sarasota, being in the round is a rarity. But, a little more than three kilometres away and 11 years later, Frank Williams, an electrical engineer, built his own version out of cinderblocks (and love). Now known as Sarasota’s “Other Round House,” it sat, occupied by renters, rotting away and mostly obscured by trees at 3201 Peachtree St. until Sue Tapia of White Sands Realty Group spotted it four years ago.

“I was on Facebook marketplace searching furniture,” says the mid-century modern (MCM) enthusiast, “and I see this house for sale.”

Although she was about to sign a lease on an MCM rental, she took a tour anyway. “I was in awe,” she continues. “And it didn’t look like this, but still I saw the potential. I came back a second time, I came back the third time and made the offer and then we closed 30 days later, so it was purely accidental … but I love rare pieces in general when it comes to my [furniture] collection and this house is just the rarest home I’ve ever seen.”

And, at 1,268 square feet (1,922 if you add the enormous carport, which feels more like a lanai), it’s also relatively large for a round house. Walk inside either door (both were replaced by Ms. Tapia; the front door is from Pittsburgh and the kitchen door is from Chicago, where Ms. Tapia used to live) and the lack of angles tricks the eye into thinking it’s even larger. ‘Rooms’ dissolve into other ‘rooms’ and all flow, river-like, around a large core at centre. The core, which has been wallpapered in the sexiest atomic pattern, Nouveau Luxe by Seabrook, contains the only bathroom.

  • Sue Tapia's round home, Sarasota, Florida.David Bruce Kawchak/David Bruce Kawchak

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So, let’s take walk around. Around, get it? Open the kitchen door and one can see past the appliances, over the biomorphic kitchen island, and right into the dining area, which Ms. Tapia uses as her main living room, where the boomerang coffee table/hidden bar is located. Of note in the kitchen is the pristine Frigidaire Flair cooktop/oven (as made famous in the television show Bewitched) and the turquoise refrigerator and washer/dryer pair.

Should we enter the house via the main door, what do we see? To one’s left is the intended living room, which Mr. Tapia uses as a TV room, and, straight ahead, one gets a tantalizing glimpse of the one of the bedrooms down the curved hall.

While the home was originally a three bedroom, a wall was removed by the previous owners to create a primary bedroom large enough for a king sized bed; this also provides her with two walk-in closets and two windows. Strangely, only the bedrooms have windows (then again, in Florida, the point is to be outside, no?). Ms. Tapia uses the second bedroom as her office.

Walk out of either bedroom and a curved door opens to the circular bathroom. Against the wall is an enormous concrete tub, on the right is an original bean-shaped vanity redone in white, and on the left is the toilet. While the walls were bare when Ms. Tapia purchased, she had tilers create a waterfall-pattern in blue mosaic that ‘splashes’ into the tub, all framed by white subway tile. “It’s a modern version of the same bathroom. … I figured it had to count so I tried to glamourize it as much as I could.”

Well, before the glamour came a new roof, new AC, new plumbing and landscaping worthy of the disk-shaped domicile.

And since Ms. Tapia has artfully amassed an admirable collection of kitschy 1950s lamps, shadowboxes, mirrors, furniture, light fixtures, room dividers, art and tchotchkes (which includes a stunning collection of Sexton wall cats) since moving in, the house has never looked so good. She has even considered the little things: every light switch and electrical cover is appropriately atomic.

As she posted her renovation progress to the Facebook group “Mid Century Modern Kitsch,” she found she was inadvertently playing the part of influencer: “I support a lot of small businesses like Sam [Ames of Atomic Surplus] with the outlet plates … when I first saw them on Etsy I went nuts and did my whole house, and then I started pitching it to the kitsch group [and] his business exploded.”

And what about the area of Sarasota that the house is located in, has it exploded? “It is hot,” Ms. Tapia says. “It’s becoming a California or a Manhattan now; I’ve been here seven years and this has never happened. … I think overall Florida was overdue for a big increase.”

Although Ms. Tapia thought the house might be her forever home when she first purchased it, wanderlust has taken hold so, on Friday, April 29, the home will hit the market, priced at US$899,000.

“It’s been a labor of love,” she finishes. “I hope somebody can take it to the next level and appreciate the hard work that was put into it; and I will never drive by this house again, because I don’t want to see it for the better or for the worse.”

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