THE CENTER FOR ARCHITECTURE, SARASOTA EXPLORES THE  MODERNISM MOVEMENT in furniture and the decorative arts during their two-day Modern Show May 13-14. The Center’s renovated building, the historic Barkus Furniture Store, will be transformed once again into a showroom for the best in modern design during this inaugural benefit event. CFAS will host a series of related lectures, talks, tours, a vintage fashion show and a sale of modern furnishings and decorative arts. 

FOR MANY IN SARASOTA, IT NEVER WENT OUT OF FASHION, but today almost everywhere we look Modernism is enjoying a rebirth of enormous proportion. Sarasota is somewhat unique in that we have always been known for our appreciation of and respect for modern design.  Some of the great architects and designers of the 20th century came to Sarasota and left a legacy that we still enjoy today.

Let’s reflect.  Modernism in furniture and the decorative arts was a movement that sprang from the early 20th century as new creative forces began emerging, seeking innovation, originality and simplicity in design. It was time to eliminate the excessive ornamentation found in Victorian furniture designs and to incorporate new construction, technology and materials. 

Then, after World War I, Europe saw the first conception of the Modernism movement as the War changed people’s perceptions about cultural values and traditions. They began to challenge the traditional manufacturing methods and materials and began testing the possibilities of new ideas.  This early Modern Movement could be seen throughout the world, but in particular Germany, France, Denmark and Italy. Each country had its own history and evolution of the style and designs of Modernism, and by 1930, Modernism had become a recognized and well-accepted design style.

The years following World War II were characterized by enormous change on every level. “The war ended, leaving a new worldwide generation of veterans with young families struggling to rebuild their lives. The pressing need for inexpensive housing and furnishings spurred a boom in design and production. A new optimism—filled with the promise of the future—prevailed. New materials and technologies, many of which had been developed during wartime, allowed the ability to create artistic, mass-produced pieces at a price more suited to the public at large.

“The elaborate households of the prewar years were gone, replaced by informality and adaptability. Gone, too, was the conventional approach to furnishings as expensive and permanent status objects," according to Jared Goss  in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Families embraced the casual and leisurely modern aesthetic and this new lifestyle spurred the production of products for their modern suburban homes, including the latest innovations in kitchen appliances, home automation, entertainment and of course the necessary furniture, lighting, art and textiles to fill these new homes of leisure and modern living.

The postwar period of architecture was also a time when many retail and office buildings welcomed both motorists and pedestrians. “As commercial areas became increasingly auto-oriented, businesses sought to grab the attention of passing drivers with increasingly eye-catching signage and storefront design, according to a Philadelphia City Planning Commission report."They also considered the pedestrian experience, with large windows that allowed pedestrians a full view into the store and generous canopies that provided shade on the sidewalk.” People were looking for modern and Sarasota experienced the rapid rise of retail structures dedicated to the modern home.  

Donald-Roberts Co. Furniture 
August, 1959; 3201 S. Tamiami Trail

Donald-Roberts Furniture featured the “best in home furnishings and design.”  The building was designed by noted architect Carl A. Vollmer. Vollmer started his career with the New York architecture firm of Carrère and Hastings, one of the most outstanding Beaux-Arts architecture firms in the United States.  Vollmer was also a partner with architect, Charles Beerman, who designed the iconic Wrigley Building in Chicago. The building was described at the time as an “ultra-modern design” and one of the most “modernistic store buildings in the area.” Vollmer stated that the building “presents a new concept in the use of concrete through the use of the umbrella-type paraboloids. Four hyperbolic paraboloids are set on an arc to invite customers to drive in under a 27 ½-foot supported canopy.”  The building (now a surgery center) can still be seen in this location, but it has been somewhat altered.

Galloway's Furniture Store    
October, 1959; 872 S. Tamiami Trail

Just two months later the Galloway’s Furniture Store opened less than two miles away.  In addition to being the wholesalers of the most popular modern mass-produced designs of the day, they had their own factory and manufactured their own modern furniture. Galloway commissioned noted modernist architects to construct new showrooms in their Florida locations including Mark Hampton in Tampa and Victor Lundy in Sarasota.Victor Lundy studied architecture under Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius at Harvard University, where among his classmates were I.M. Pei, Edward Larrabee Barnes and Paul Rudolph. He began practicing architecture in Sarasota in the 1950s designing a number of churches, schools and commercial projects that garnered many national and international awards. Lundy was commissioned to design the Galloway Building in 1959, and when it opened in October the full-page Sarasota newspaper ad described Lundy’s design of the building as follows:

“Taking his design cues from the graceful morning glory, the laminated arches simulate the stems and the redwood decking the petals of the flowers. Two hundred and ninety feet of charcoal glass twenty feet high protects the interior from the glare and the heat of the sun. An enormous “floating” mezzanine visually circles the inner core or trunk of redwood that literally grows from the center.” The building won many national awards but sadly, it bears little resemblance to the structure with features so beautifully envisioned and executed by Lundy.

Barkus Furniture Store     
January, 1960; 265 S. Onue

In January 1960, the Barkus Furniture Store opened in the newly-built Scott Building.  Property owner Clarence Scott commissioned William Rupp and Joe Farrell to design a commercial building that would serve as the new Barkus showroom on Orange Avenue. Rupp and Farrell were young architects who had been working together as assistants to Paul Rudolph in Sarasota before striking out on their own.  

Scott was interested in incorporating new technologies such as precast concrete roof panels, and Rupp and Farrell were able to satisfy this request beautifully. The commercial-style building is designed in the International Style with a flat roof and open floor plan. The 7,100-square-foot building has 101 linear feet of frontage on Orange Avenue and 106 linear feet of frontage on Morrill Street -- both with large glass storefronts. It features a precast concrete structural system with terrazzo floors and exposed masonry, supports and columns. Farrell designed the wide overhangs on Orange Avenue and Morrill Street, which provide sun and weather protection and prominently feature precast hollow “I” sections. This was an ingenious idea developed by the architects and the original exterior lighting was cleverly placed in the articulated I-beams on the overhang which glowed beautifully after sundown.  

The building saw little change from the original until 2015, when the building was respectfully restored and reopened by the Center for Architecture Sarasota as the McCulloch Pavilion.  It currently houses the CFAS organization, the UF Master’s degree program, CityLab Sarasota, and the Florida Gulfcoast Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.