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Architect Jack West’s Dennis House Is a Taste of Sarasota Modern Close(r) to Home

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Jack West was born in Galesburg, Illinois, in 1922. In 1949, fresh out of Yale School of Architecture, the newly married World War II veteran moved to Sarasota, Florida, drawn by the innovative work being done there by Paul Rudolph and Ralph Twitchell. West landed a job with Twitchell Rudolph Architects as a draftsman the day he arrived in Sarasota. Photo credit: Sarasota Herald-Tribune

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West is best known as the designer of Sarasota's City Hall. Completed in 1966, it is considered one of the last major works of the Sarasota Modern era. Photo credit: Sarasota School of Architecture Facebook page

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The Jack West-designed Dennis House was built in 1955 on a gently sloping 0.75 acre lot in a quiet residential neighborhood in Glasgow, Kentucky. Photo credit: Donna and Scott Brogdon

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West's plan is a rectangle divided into three sections. The glassy center section contains a wide-open living/dining area and kitchen. The main living section is flanked by a two-car garage on one side and two bedrooms on the other. The bedroom wing is suspended above the ground on steel columns. Photo credit: Donna and Scott Brogdon

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Architect West selected all of the interior furnishings, including, in the living room, a pair of Eames Compact sofas. Photo credit: Donna and Scott Brogdon

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Throughout the 1,850 square foot home, wood wall panels and cabinets add warmth. Photo credit: Donna and Scott Brogdon

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Building in Kentucky gave West a chance to experiment with different materials. For example, the living/dining room floors in the Dennis House are slate, not terrazzo, and stone is used in place of usual concrete block. Photo credit: Donna and Scott Brogdon

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The elevated master bedroom overlooks the backyard. Photo credit: Donna and Scott Brogdon

Jack West was a leading figure of the Sarasota School of Architecture, although he worked somewhat in the shadows of Paul Rudolph and Ralph Twitchell, the movement’s “father” and “grandfather,” respectively. In 1954, while partnered with Twitchell for the second (and final) time, West was asked to design a house in Kentucky for Dartha and Bill Dennis, owners of a Glasgow hatchery.

Dartha Dennis had become acquainted with West on her frequent visits to Sarasota, where her parents spent the winters. She gave West free rein over the design of her new home, even allowing him to select (or build) all of the interior furnishings.

“This was the first and only time in my professional life I designed a building without first seeing and experiencing the site,” West wrote in his 1988 autobiography, The Lives of an Architect. Not until the house was completed did West make the trip up to Glasgow from Florida.

Despite a complete lack of experience, Dartha Dennis supervised the construction of the house herself. West was complimentary of the job she did in his absence, writing “[T]hanks to the tireless efforts of Dartha, the house was very well constructed. I was particularly pleased with the quality of the stone walls.” In 1958, West and Twitchell received an honor award for the Dennis House from the Southeast Regional AIA Conference.

With its flat roof supported by slender columns, wide eave overhangs, thoughtful placement and sizing of windows to maximize natural light and ventilation, and cantilevered bedroom wing, the Dennis House is a fine example of Sarasota Modern style. It shares with about 300 surviving buildings on the Gulf Coast five characteristics identified by Tampa architect John Howey in his influential 1997 book The Sarasota School of Architecture, 1941-1966: “clarity of construction, maximum economy of means, simple overall volumes penetrating vertically and horizontally, clear geometry floating above the … landscape, and honesty in details and in structural connections.”

Dartha and Bill Dennis never had children. Bill died in 2003. After Dartha’s death in 2012, ownership of their “Glass House” passed to Donna Brogdon of Cincinnati, a niece. The house was little changed from the mid-1950s. Even the furniture that was hand-picked by West and that he considered to be “vital to the architectural integrity of the house” sat right where it had always had been.

Donna and her husband, Scott, have spent a great deal of time and effort over the last two years trying to find a buyer who appreciates the home’s historical significance and who will care for it the way Dartha Dennis did for more than half a century. I would love it if that buyer turned out to be a 615MODERN reader or client.  Holler at me if you’d like to get in touch with the Brogdons to discuss this unique opportunity 90 miles from Nashville.

Want to learn more about Sarasota Modern? In addition to John Howey’s textbook-like work, you might be interested in the beautiful coffee-table book by Andrew Weaving or Joe King and Christopher Domin’s book focused on Paul Rudolph’s early career.

Open House Alert: 1112 Park Ridge Drive

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The former home and studio of acclaimed ceramic artist Sylvia Hyman is back on the market after two years and a  respectful renovation. We love how much cleaner and more streamlined the exterior looks painted white, and we’re glad to see that the original carport has been retained. Similar restraint is evident throughout the interior, where period and updated elements mix harmoniously. The skylit octagonal living room must have been a real showstopper in 1962.  (It still is.)

Fridrich & Clark’s Griffin Nicholl will be hosting an open house this Sunday, May 24, from 2 to 4.

1112 Park Ridge Drive
4BR/3.5BA; 4,352SF; $1,250,000
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Need help purchasing this or another modern property? Do you understand the benefits of buyer representation and how it works? Contact Will Sanford today for assistance and answers to all your real estate questions.