The name Michael Saunders has become synonymous with luxury real estate on the Gulf Coast, but before becoming a property mogul, Saunders grew up in the region with modest means and spent nearly a decade as a probation officer before her name was printed on a single display advertisement. We spoke with Saunders about the causes and comforts closest to her heart. 

Syd Solomon Painting
He would have soirees and invite all kinds of fascinating people. His wife Annie was a great marketer and would have his work set on an easel. You would walk across a bridge to get to their courtyard, and she would have some of his latest pieces. I just fell in love with one. Annie let me buy it by the month until I owned it. I’ve had it in my office probably 40 years. 

All The Light You Cannot See
The way [Anthony Doerr] puts together words is amazing. I think if there is such a thing as word liposuction, he uses it and synthesizes what he writes down to the essence. 

Historical Longboat
I was fortunate enough early in my childhood to spend a great deal of time on the north end of Longboat in a small cottage, back when there was no bridge to Anna Maria Island. It still stands today. I still remember the crystal clear water and lying in the sand watching stars at night, walking the beaches, finding treasures from the sea. It really was all about nature, and we were taught as children to enjoy it but also to protect it. If we found a live animal we were not allowed to keep it, and if we found a male or female stone crab, we were only allowed to take one claw and taught to break properly so the crab would live. Land’s End is still our family place and I love seeing nieces, nephews and cousins, and all of their children creating memories. I like nothing better than to cast a net, catch mullet, sit on the dock and tell stories. 

TV Silence
I don’t do dysfunctional anything. I don’t own a television in the downstairs where I live; I only have one for guests. Most of TV is a waste of time, and if I do watch, it’s National Geographic or a nature documentary.

Gourmet Cooking
I love to cook experimentally and I love to cook for friends. You name it. I like something simple, grilled and fresh. I love knowing who grew or who caught what I’m cooking. I’m excited about Italian, Oriental and Southern. My father was from Barbados, so I love that West Indian touch. I measure nothing; it’s a handful of that.  I learned to cook years ago from gourmet food magazines. If it didn’t have 30 ingredients, it wasn’t gourmet. And I thought everyone cooked that way. I’m way simpler than that now.

Fly Fishing
Even if I don’t catch anything I am in a spot of beauty. My kind of challenge is in choosing the right lure and bait, casting to the right spot. I’m pretty much “catch-and-release” unless I am going to eat it. I do a lot of it in Idaho, where I spend time in the summers, so I know lots of spots there. I like to wade, and don’t like to drift as much.

Baleen Whale Filters
These are what Baleen whales have in their in mouth, to filter everything out and in. When I was in Alaska, we came upon a dead Baleen whale, and we kept these. Now I look and smile and think of that trip to Alaska.

Tiny Boxes
I collect these boxes. I have a tea caddy that came with bottles in it. It’s a fascinating, interesting piece and you can tell the good craftsmanship. These are so simple and you can’t cover up mistakes. It’s an interesting way to store things instead of in a Ziplock bag. 

Local Fine Dining
Supporting local business is critical to the uniqueness of Sarasota. There are so many locally owned restaurants to choose from. I go to Michael’s on East and just ate lunch at Louies Modern; I love the Seidensticker and Klauber families. I love the little restaurant across the street [from my office] called the Saki House, which is also run by an incredible family. And I have to mention Bijou Café. I have been going for years, and I can remember when that was a gas station. 

Through travel you really learn and grow. I have never seen a nation of people or group of people more kind, more gentle and more caring about each other and their country. I just saw that universally everywhere there.

Adrienne Vitadinni
My favorite designer is also one of my best friends. We have been to India together. She was an incredible inspirational designer, because I think she took fabulous design in proportion and made it affordable for women. She is incredibly creative and talented.

I started out with poverty. When I was growing up and first got into my professional life, first as a one-year school teacher and then as a probation offer, I had to wear real clothes, but was on a very limited budget. My mother said buy the best jacket you can afford and accessorize it with something that’s your own. That something was scarves. I can change a good jacket from casual to dressy just by changing my scarf. I wear them when I fish, when I cook, to the grocery store, to yoga class. I feel almost undressed without one. Of course, who wouldn’t love an Hermès scarf, but how many Hermès scarves can you afford to own? 

Live Theater
I saw my first live play at the old Asolo Theater. One should make every day a day of joy, and there are so many ways to do that living here. I love that you can go to the Asolo or Florida Studio Theatre, the Orchestra or the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.

Wild Africa
I have been to Africa twice, and it changes your life in some way. Most of the time I was in Africa I spent out on safari, tenting, walking at game reserves and just watching animals on the plains. They live together in harmony, unless unless they are hungry. There is no beginning or end to the horizons, and in the night skies, you lose yourself in eternity. There are many things in Africa that are inspiring and humbling.   SRQ