Exploring Siesta Key: Paying homage to the old-world Florida bungalow

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By Jane Bartnett

I have always had a fascination with old houses that tell the story of how a place came to be. Here on Siesta Key, I discovered that the charming bungalow has played an important role in our island’s history.
Traditionally created as one-story vacation properties, many of the original island bungalows that dotted the island when built in the 1940s and 1950s have now given way to new and much larger homes. While they may not be as plentiful as they once were, thanks to Rich and Ali Light a collection of bungalows has been preserved.
The Lights, who live and work in Palm Island’s canal country (just south of the Village) with their daughter, Chloe, are passionate about the bungalows. While preserving a piece of Siesta Key history they have found a way to share it with others and keep this important part of the island’s history alive.
After discovering the Key more than 25 years ago, the Philadelphia couple fell in love with the old-world feel of this special place. Captivated by the many original bungalows that dotted the island, they decided to make it their home. Soon after, they created a business that preserves these small Palm Island homes and also offers visitors a chance to experience the old-world charm of bungalow living.

Blending Rich’s background in construction, real estate and business management, along with Ali’s talents as an artist, the couple began to purchase and renovate cottages when they came up for sale.
“It was a generational time,” said Rich. “People in their 80s were interested in selling. When we bought our first bungalow in 2000, the owner wanted to be sure that we would keep the house intact.”
During the next several years, the Lights found other sellers who shared that same desire to keep the tradition alive. Instead of putting the houses up for sale, the Lights kept the properties and made them into rental properties that they marketed to island visitors. Their company, Siesta Bungalows, was born.
“Our business model is grandma’s beach house,” says Rich with a laugh.
And Ali calls their style “old-Florida comfortable.”

“Many of our guests are what I call old house people,” said Rich. These visitors, he noted, come from areas of the country where older homes are valued and cherished.
“When the island was first developed,” he added, “there were shell roads and the houses were built with large overhangs and lots of windows to allow for good ventilation. These bungalows were built to be winter cottages.”
While so much of the island’s history gives way to new construction, these cheery and welcoming bungalows stand proud.
The Lights currently own and manage six pet-friendly bungalows on Siesta Key. “We’ve painted them in timeless, fun colors that are not serious,” said Ali.

All bungalows, she reported, are fully equipped for long-term stays and each house has its own name reflecting a tropical casual island vibe. Rentals are available on a monthly, seasonal and annual basis. Rates and availability vary for each unit. Siesta Bungalows rentals include two studio cottages named Fern Haven and Garden Terrace. The Tropical Hideaway has two bedrooms and one-and-a-half baths. The Lily Patch and the Blue Lagoon are both two-bed, two-bath houses. Canal Place, the largest bungalow, has three bedrooms and two baths.
The couple also own and manage two other bungalow properties in the historic Sarasota neighborhood of Granada, near the Siesta Key north bridge.
Under Rich’s watchful eye, each bungalow is well-maintained and preserved. “Customer service is extremely important to us,” he said. “We treat our tenants with respect and deal with any issues that come up. Each year we focus on various updates.”
“Our rates are reasonable,” he added. “Many of our people are retired couples who want an extra bedroom for family visits and room for their pets. When they arrive, we have bikes, beach chairs and coolers ready for their use.”
Many guests return year after year. “We’ve got people who’ve come back for more than 10 years,” said Ali.
Clearly, the Lights are two people who have found a calling in their lives. Photos and property details of the bungalows are available at SiestaBungalows.com.
Fortunately, this important piece of Siesta Key’s history is being cared for and nurtured.

Jane Bartnett
Author: Jane Bartnett

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