Category Archives: Fifties buildings

Dream house: Florida

Martie Lieberman is a passionately advocate for the modern buildings of Florida, especially in the Sarasota area. and every now and then, she sends me word that a 1950s home is on the market. she knows i’m not planning to move to Sarasota…but i love dreaming about the buildings.

Gene Leedy Florida House

this week, i’m in love with a 1956 home by Gene Leedy that’s for sale on Dexter Street in Winter Haven (where Leedy built a slew of houses in the 1950s). i like houses that take the environment into consideration–and this low-lying  stripped-down design really works wonderfully with the incredible plants of Central Florida.

walkway around house

i like the way the house opens itself to the outside world, with practical louvered windows & shade-creating overhangs, so there’s no need to live in a sealed air conditioned box.


this link is Martie talking about meeting Gene Leedy, and the challenge of preserving modern buildings when they’re on the market. more photos of the house, here. meanwhile, i’m going to imagine how wonderful this room would be as a home office…complete with that beautiful daybed for day-dreaming…

Dream home office by Gene Leedy


Sarasota modern

Like a lot of Canadians, I first visited Florida as a kid–so it was a land of grapefruit, condos, and DisneyWorld. I’m not crazy about grapefruit & I’m not a fan of the Mouse…but I went back to Florida to spend a month travelling around the state, & I saw lots of alligators, ate some great barbeque, and saw some amazing houses. I kicked off the tour in Sarasota, which I thought was the epitome of golf course developments & not much else…boy was I wrong. The super-sized condos & houses on golf courses are just a more recent manifestation of a real estate story that has basically created Florida as we know it today, with whole cities made up of suburban sprawl. All across the state, there are plots of land that were either swamp, orange grove, or sandbar, which now have neat street grids and ranch houses…for better & for worse…Florida Tiki

What makes Sarasota special is that, in that development boom, there have been some modernist visionaries. I was fortunate to find Martie Lieberman’s Modern Architecture Driving Tour (you can download it for free from her website); I printed it up & off I went. I was mostly looking forward to seeing some 50s houses designed by Paul Rudolph.

But the house that stole my heart is the Hiss Studio, built in 1952. This street view shows the original house–which was an office for Philip Hiss (the developer who developed this Lido Shores key from a sandbar into a high-end residential neighborhood). His personal house, across the street, has been torn down, but this office, along with a conference room, kitchenette, and bathroom, still contain some of Hiss’ furniture; there’s a large addition on the back by Bert Brosmith & Carl Abbott, built for Hiss’ children & their nanny, but I didn’t troop across private property to photograph it.

Hiss Studio 1952

Tim Siebert, a young apprentice to Paul Rudolph, built the office–and lived there during construction, since he was also supervising Rudolph’s “Umbrella House” going up next door. Like many modern flat-roofed buildings, the roof of Hiss Studio leaks…Siebert has been quoted as apologizing, saying he was, after all, very young at the time.

What I love is how the now-classic glass box, balanced on its solid plinth, tucks beneath the massive banyan tree on the property.