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Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Organize for a multi-tasking room

By Marsha Fottler

Photographs by Chip Litherland

This article was published in Sarasota Herald Tribune, May 12, 2007.

Sonia Fuentes wanted a well-organized and attractive library/file room, but she needed a guest room, too. Clever custom built-ins, including a fold-down bed and plenty of closed storage, solved her problem.

Sonia Pressman FuentesSonia Pressman Fuentes moved to Sarasota last October to permanently occupy a 1,200-square-foot vacation home at The Meadows she's owned since 1999. She brought 54 cartons of books, albums and files, which she stacked floor-to-ceiling in the second bedroom of her compact condo. And that was after she had gotten rid of at least that many boxes, plus a houseful of furniture, when she sold a three-story town house she owned for 20 years in Potomac, Md.

"I don't move easily or lightly," she said.

Part of her de-acquisition program included giving boxes of documents pertaining to the early days of the feminist movement to the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, in Cambridge, Mass. Fuentes, along with Betty Friedan, was a co-founder of the National Organization of Women (NOW).

"I actually gave Betty the idea in 1965, when I was general counsel -- the first woman to have that position -- at the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) in Washington, and she came looking for a story to write about women's concerns," said Fuentes.

"The EEOC sprang from the Civil Rights movement and was primarily concentrating on race issues; there wasn't enough attention being paid to gender issues," she added. "I told Betty we needed a separate organization like the NAACP, only for women. She started NOW right after the Commission on the Status of Women convention in June 1966. The next September, I was with a group of about 50 women who met in the basement of the Washington Post building to draft NOW by-laws."

Those papers were just part of a career as federal government lawyer, activist writer and public speaker that added to the Fuentes accumulation of files and other resource material that had to be dealt with in Sarasota. She had retired in 1993 from a paying career, but not from her work as a feminist.

Fuentes needed help fitting her big life into a small space. When a friend suggested Closet.Tec, Fuentes called in the professionals. The result is a library/file room/guest bedroom that was accomplished with attractive built-in storage and a fold-down double bed.

After interviewing Fuentes and measuring items she'd need to store, the experts determined that the answer was two walls of versatile built-ins. The built-ins would occupy the long walls of the room, because one short wall had a window and the other, the door leading to the en-suite bathroom. The experts got rid of the two twin beds and night tables and replaced those pieces of furniture with a fold-down bed flanked by twin storage units containing upper cabinets with deep shelves, open shelving in the middle section, and drawers in the lower cabinets.

Sonia Pressman FuentesFor the opposite wall, the experts designed a bookcase with open shelving and file drawers for both letter- and legal-sized folders. Fuentes originally thought she'd have to get rid of her copier and fax machine, but Closet.Tec created a space for both.Today the second bedroom is a practical library and file room that quickly converts into a welcoming guest suite in less than 15 minutes -- and that's counting the time it takes to dress the bed.

One of the cabinets beside the bed holds 24 albums of family photos, including many of Fuentes' daughter, Zia, who lives in California. Another set of shelves display cookbooks, a testament to Fuentes' zeal for reading and saving her mom's recipes -- but not cooking. She stirs the pot in other areas of life. Fuentes had half her kitchen (the breakfast nook end) converted into a home office so she can work at her computer and look out the window to a hibiscus garden and the little lizards that fascinate her.

She's not interested in interior design. "I bought this place furnished," she said. "So when it came time to pick out a finish for the storage units and the fold-down bed, I just went with the light finish that was already on all the living room pieces so that everything would match." The color scheme of her condo is soft aqua, apricot and sand.

Having everything organized and within easy reach has increased Fuentes' efficiency and greatly eased her mind. "I love knowing that I go to a certain spot and can lay my hands on what I want. And it's all so neat and good-looking. Those few times a year that I have overnight guests, I move a couple things, pull down the bed, and then I have a convenient place for friends. Getting professionals to come in and organize that room was the smartest thing I did since moving here."

Since her retirement in 1993, Fuentes has been a public speaker, activist, and, in 1998, she published a memoir about her family called "Eat First -- You Don't Know What They'll Give You: The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter." Born in Berlin, Fuentes was 5 when her family fled Nazi Germany in 1934, going first to Belgium and then to Woodridge, N.Y.

Fuentes is being featured in an upcoming documentary by Jennifer Lee called "Wavelength," which deals with the second wave of the women's movement, and she volunteers her legal expertise with several national organizations.

While she's happily adjusted to life in Sarasota, the fearless feminist says she does have a few concerns.

"In all the years I've come to Florida, and I've been coming since I was a child and our family spent winters in Miami, I've never gone through a summer. I wonder how I'll do with the heat. Also, I'm afraid of hurricanes and I hate bugs. But, I have never been happier in a home than I am in this little condo. It's perfectly organized and just the right size for me. I have everything I need and not one thing more. It's a good feeling."