The Martin R. and Lillian Harkavy House (1957)
Architect Paul Rudolph
Addition (2006) John Quinn
Originally a two-bedroom, one-bath beach house with a carport, featuring exposed rafters, floor-to-ceiling sliding wooden window privacy screen panels and terrazzo floors. The 7-foot entry opens up to the almost 1,000-square-foot great room with 15-foot ceiling. All around the house’s exterior, distinctive columns carry the visual line from roof to ground, ending in concrete spheres that look like exclamation points.
The 2006 vertical addition by architect John Quinn added a two-story master bedroom and converted the carport into a garage. The house is now 2,936 square feet.
The following 2013 interview with Susan Harkavy (SH), daughter of Martin and Lillian Harkavy, was conducted by Joe King (JK), architect and co-author of “Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses”. Joe needed more background information as he prepared to give a talk and tour of the Harkavy House to the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and Sarasota Architectural Foundation members.
JK: Please give me a sense of what it was like to live in the Harkavy house. What were the strengths and drawbacks of living in such an open design, so little storage, etc.
SH: My family moved to Sarasota when I was 1 year old and I lived there until I was 18, so I never knew anything different until I left for college [Yale]. It was only after I moved that I had the perspective to understand how unique the house was.
The first thing I understood about the Harkavy house was the LIGHT. The white terrazzo floors, white ceiling, white dining table, the sliding glass doors to the porch, the sliding glass windows upstairs, the ability to laterally slide open the east and west two-story walls, all helped to create extraordinary light.
You ask about the open design. After I moved to Yale, crammed like a sardine with 3 other roommates in a space the size of a closet, I understood viscerally how open space affects you, especially after you no longer have it. What had been unconscious for me became gradually more conscious, and I started selecting art history courses about modernism (because it was familiar to me). Little did I know that I would major in the subject, and veer into it as a career. Paul Rudolph’s rigorous [open] design had such a profound impact on me growing up that I became a sworn modernist and focused on it in my professional public relations practice. http://www.susanharkavy.com/
As for storage, you may not realize, but there was a ton of storage. Rudolph thought of everything. The built-in cabinetry in the living room and kitchen (under the Shoji screens) were large-size cabinets offered clever and efficient storage where we stored winter blankets and Christmas ornaments and gift wrap. (And, sign of the ’60s, a collapsible aluminum Christmas tree in a box). In the 1957 photo, all those wooden rectangular cabinets behind the sofa held serving pieces, tableware, linens and barware. In the center unit, a bar slid out horizontally and all the liquor was stowed below. In the kitchen Rudolph incorporated a pantry closet and to its left, another minimal but cool space where you could stand and have your coffee like they do in Italy.
You can also slightly see, on the left of the color photo, some of the media unit, which was amazing. Everything you could hope for if you were a music lover (which my dad was) and all the books had their own homes above it.
My bedroom closet was a walk-in, with plenty of space for all my clothes, dolls, toys, luggage, art supplies, puzzles and the occasional ceramic mugs I made in summer camp.
I’d also like to mention the tie-in with nature. The driveway was covered in small stones and there were beautiful trees in square planters in the driveway. There was a Japanese garden under the stairs with grey and black stones and a fountain and a beautiful rectangle of green grass where the pool is now. You could open up the walls to the gardens on both sides, and even if the walls were closed you could see the back garden past the porch. This was all a very carefully planned way to soften the rigidity of the geometry. More recent owners have added those thick walls in the garden.
Rudolph loved sliding everything laterally. The east and west walls, the Shoji panels, the cabinet doors, the glass doors to the porch, the glass windows in the upstairs bedrooms. The repetition of ideas (of course he also repeated squares, rectangles and round spheres) made the house feel very grounded and secure to me.
JK: I loved living in the two bedroom Bennett Residence designed by Ralph Twitchell and Paul Rudolph in 1949 in Bradenton, FL for many years, so I’m familiar with living in these houses. What was your point of view as a child, and what about your parents?
SH: I loved it. I played jacks on the open expanse of terrazzo floor. I listened to records in the living room because the acoustics were great. You could see the whole house from the top of the stairs. It was always very comfortable, temperature wise. The porch was enormous and there was so much open floor space to play on.
My mother loved it. She got a degree in interior design from the NY School of Interior Design just before they moved to Sarasota; she was the one who proposed commissioning Rudolph, and my dad supported it. But it was really Mom who had the idea, because of her degree and reading about him in the design magazines. I never discussed the house with my parents as a child, though I remember the Esto [Ezra Stoller] photos were taken for a 1959-1960 story in “Look Magazine”, which was a big deal for Mom. I was only 3 or 4 years old then, but when I was around 10 she showed me the article in a scrapbook she kept. She recognized how important Rudolph was and was very proud that the house was published. Years later I have tried to find this article and can’t. Erica Stoller [Ezra Stoller’s daughter] can’t find it either.
JK: As I think of my architectural clients today, its hard to imagine them going along with such a minimal, yet elegant, pavilion design to be used for day-to-day living. In other words, I think of your parents as very special clients. Can you help me understand them a little better?
SH: My parents were both New Yorkers beforehand. Mom delighted in the energy, glamour, arts and international pizazz of New York City and had that degree in interior design, so if she was going to leave NYC and move to a small town with heat and humidity and large water bugs and sand getting into everything, then dammit, she was going to have a fantastic house conceived by this gifted talent who had studied with Gropius at Harvard. She knew it would be amazing and she was thrilled. And I think Dad was happy to support her in that. Don’t forget that coming from NYC where apartments are typically small, this house did not seem like a sacrifice of space to them. About ten years ago I spoke to Bert Brosmith [Rudolph’s project architect in Sarasota] about working with my parents and he remembered them as being very enthusiastic and adventurous.
JK: Thank you Susan, I appreciate your thoughts about living in Rudolph’s Harkavy House.
SH: I’m happy to be of help. It was a glorious house.