Paul Rudolph's Umbrella House Regains its Umbrella

The Umbrella House's famous umbrella, lost in the 1970s, has been reconstructed according to Paul Rudolph's design.

Credit: Julie and Vincent Ciulla

The owners of an architectural landmark, Paul Rudolph's "Umbrella House" in Sarasota, Fla., will officially mark the end of its restoration this week.

On Friday, the Sarasota community and architects from around the world will gather at the house to see its new umbrella, constructed by owners Vincent and Julie Ciulla. 

"Rewarding" is how Julie Ciulla describes the process of restoring the 57-year-old house, now an architectural destination where many come to learn and be inspired.

Built as a model home for a residential development plan in Lido Key, the Umbrella House combines modernism and Bauhaus influences. Rudolph planned the "umbrella" to cover the entire roof, with an additional eight feet over the north and south sides of the house. During construction, the umbrella was extended to include the pool. The wood structure stood for 25 years until the 1970s, when it was lost after a series of storms and decay.

Both designers, Vincent and Julie met while working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Five years ago, they purchased the 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom house, filling it with works of art. "We used the Umbrella House," Vincent says. "We see it as a canvas, the way we would see one of our museums."

The Ciullas receive visitors from all over the globe who come to learn and gather inspiration from the Umbrella House.

"It's great to meet people who are like-minded; architects, designers, historians, people that really appreciate the house," says Vincent.

They have also worked with students from the Washington University in St. Louis' Sam Fox School of Architecture, who were given the task of creating an umbrella for the house using contemporary technology. "Fresh thought was being used in conjunction with the house," Vincent says. "The house is truly used to inspire creativity," adds Julie.

Before the project could begin, Rudolph's original designs had to digitized, and approved by the city. Contractor Ramsey Frangie of Ramate Construction Inc., who oversaw the three-month process, describes it as "an amazing one, because of the opportunity to recreate a lifestyle made for 60 years ago that works within today's lifestyle. We had to conform to current codes while still staying true to the design."

After last year's demolition of Rudolph's Riverview High School, the Umbrella House's restoration is cause for celebration. The Ciullas hope it will one day be designated a national landmark, as well.

"As a significant early work of architect Paul Rudolph, the Umbrella House has served to attract architects and designers to the Sarasota area for decades and had a positive influence on the development of our community," Lorrie Muldowney, Sarasota County historic preservation officer, said in an e-mail.

The June 25 ribbon-cutting ceremony will celebrate Rudolph's sustainable design, along with the completion of a journey for both house and owners.

"The house is a reflection of our lives," Julie Ciulla says, "a museum we get to live in." 

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the Umbrella House is 67 years old. The Umbrella House was built in 1953, so it is 57 years old. We regret the error.

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Submitted by Anonymous at: June 23, 2010
The Umbrella House is 57 years old, not 67 years old.