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*New Tiles in Town He may be new in town, but 30 years after founding B&F Ceramics Design Showroom, owner and CEO Michael E. Fick is an old-timer in the tile industry. In late August, the Washington, D.C.-based business opened its newest showroom off Route 301 and Northgate Boulevard, where Fick promises upscale Italian and […]


*New Tiles in Town

He may be new in town, but 30 years after founding B&F Ceramics Design Showroom, owner and CEO Michael E. Fick is an old-timer in the tile industry.

In late August, the Washington, D.C.-based business opened its newest showroom off Route 301 and Northgate Boulevard, where Fick promises upscale Italian and Spanish tiles in an appealing buying environment.

"This is not your run-of-the-mill tile shop where you have boards on a wall," Fick says. "We carry some very unique, hand-selected products. This is a state-of-the-art community where product is concerned."

*Club Scene

LakeRidge Falls residents have another reason to party: a new 10,000-square-foot fitness and social clubhouse, with fitness and aerobic rooms, card rooms, a grand salon, billiards room, computer library area and caterer’s kitchen. Outside, there’s a heated swimming pool with lap lanes and spa, arts and crafts cabana, covered patios, human-scale chessboards and bocce ball courts.

"LakeRidge Falls Fitness & Social Clubhouse offers everything for the active lifestyle," says Michael Belmont, Centex Division president. Centex Homes built the gated, age-qualified community on 170 scenic acres at the northeast corner of University Parkway and Tuttle Avenue.

*Literary Pottery

A charming bestseller, The Secrets of Pistoulet: An Enchanted Fable of Food, Magic and Love, by Jana Kolpen, was the inspiration for a delightful line of pottery that Pfaltzgraff (in Prime Outlets at Ellenton) will introduce in stores this month. The delightful book, set in the south of France, is about a woman whose travels introduce her to mysterious characters and magical foods that help her nurse a broken heart. Look for more than 20 brightly colored pieces with names such as "The Potage of Spirit" (a deep soup bowl) and "La Soupière de St. Pierre" (a large soup tureen), all decorated with flowers, fruits or vegetables based on the book’s illustrations.

Face Lift

The secret to reviving a tired old room may be less expensive than you think. JoAnn Calleia, interior designer with an eponymous firm on Pineapple Avenue, says clients often ask her to rejuvenate a room without changing the main seating pieces.

"I tell them to add color on the walls," says Calleia. "Paint is an inexpensive way to spruce up a room, and then I change the pillows on the sofa to go with the new color scheme. Add to that a new centerpiece for the dining room table, a new print for the freshly painted accent wall, and here you have an inexpensive way to update your tired decorating."

*Main Street Shopping

Construction begins this spring on Main Street at Lakewood Ranch, an upscale mixed-use area with shops, restaurants, office and residential space overlooking the mile-long Lake Uihlein.

Morton’s Market is opening a gourmet specialty market and a Fred’s restaurant, which pleases Rex Jensen, president of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, Inc.

"Casto (co-developer Don M. Casto Organization) brings expertise in mixed-use development with an upscale flair, which is exactly how we envision this plan progressing," says Jensen. "With Morton’s and Fred’s signing on as first anchor tenants, we are definitely headed in that direction."

Plans include 125,000 square feet of high-end retail, five or six restaurants, 45,000 square feet of office space and about 60 condominiums. Local firm Hoyt Architects is pairing with Baltimore-based RTKL Associates to design the project.

Glass in the Garden

Glass is the hot new design element in gardens this year, says Darlene McNamara, owner of The Garden Hut.

"It’s an eyecatcher, just something different," McNamara says.

McNamara’s customers are snapping up glass bird feeders and hand-blown torches. Her gazing balls are especially popular, she says. Look for the copper heron and flamingo garden stakes set with gazing balls of up to nine inches in diameter. And she’s got them in all colors: cobalt, gold and green.

*A "Hole" Redo

Renowned golf course architect Gene Bates’ renovation of the El Conquistador Country Club’s 17th hole will be complete this summer. Already nicknamed a "shotmaker’s course," the renovated course will expand the player’s challenge to 6,950 yards, while providing features to maintain a fun game for the higher handicap player.

El Conquistador welcomes its newest junior members, the students of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, part of the IMG Academies. The convenient location and par-72 championship course make El Conquistador a natural fit to be the teens’ home course.

Club amenities, including dining, fitness, tennis and golf will remain available to members during the renovation. El Conquistador’s state-of-the-art course is scheduled to reopen November 2003.

Tuscan Charm

If you like metallic finishes but worry they’re too modern for your home, Monika Kelln, co-owner of Deko Texture, has news for you. "Shimmering metallic finishes on ceilings, crown moldings and walls abound, and are not just for contemporary decorating anymore," Kelln says. Incorporating the finishes with Venetian plaster imbues walls and ceilings with a Tuscan look and European ambience that can be duplicated in any room of the house.

Home Sales Strong

Sarasota home sellers continue to get close to their asking prices, says realtor Kevin Vale at the Coldwell Banker downtown office. As of August 2002, single-family homes and condominiums were selling at an average of 96.4 percent of the list price, Vale says.

"This statistic continues to show the strength in the Sarasota real estate market," says Vale.

He attributes this partly to lower interest rates that encouraged many first-time homebuyers, investors and vacation homebuyers to take the plunge.

High-tech Blinds

With a touch of a remote control, you can turn music on, close a garage door, and now-with the latest in blind technology-let the sunshine in. Patrick Leddy, president and owner of Accurate Blinds, Inc., is excited about the new Hunter Douglas Luminette Privacy Sheers with power glide. The motorized shade tilts open and closes at the press of a button, Leddy says.

Although they’re not motorized, matchstick-type reed and bamboo shades have also been a hot seller in the past six months, especially in lanais, where woven sunshades have also made a big comeback, Leddy says.

A Good Place to Start

First-time homebuyers can look to Westfield Homes for affordable, brand-new start-ups in Manatee and Sarasota counties, says Lea Lagueux, Westfield’s marketing director.

Plans are underway to develop Newburn Village off Honore and 17th Street in Sarasota, a community of one- and two-story single-family homes. In North Port, Westfield is building starter homes in Heron Creek and Lakeside Plantation. Westfield is also taking the concept to Manatee County’s Waterford Village in the Imperial Lakewood community.

Though Westfield will take pains to blend in with this upscale area architecturally, the goal is to keep the houses affordable, with some prices starting in the low $130,000s, Lagueux says. "It’s something we do well in all our markets," Lagueux says.

Pool Smarts

Without the right interior finish, pools stain and discolor quickly. That’s why Dave Benton, general manager at Water Designs of Sarasota, advises clients to buy Pebble-Tec. While the product has been around for nearly 30 years, it is now more affordable (adds about $1,500 more to the cost of your pool, down from about $5,000 before) and comes in a variety of colors.

In Florida, one pool with Pebble-Tec on the inside has gone 24 years without needing a touchup, Benton says.

New Homes

University Park Country Club recently opened five new homes in Warwick Gardens-three by Neal Custom Homes, and one each by Todd Johnston Homes and Marc Rutenberg Homes.

Designs emphasize Florida living with outdoor kitchens and fireplaces, custom pools, spa, fountains, lush foliage, and entry points and windows throughout designed to bring the outdoors in. The Chatsworth model is a courtyard design with a pool situated in the middle of the home. Marc Rutenberg, a builder new to this area, opened his Woodbridge Model-a must-see that is offered at just over $1 million.

Pendent Pleasures

At The Lamplighter, pendent lighting of Murano glass is flying off the shelves this year, says manager Lorie Parker.

"We’ve mixed different pieces of glass that blend together," Parker says. "It’s our biggest trend."

Parker says customers love the variety of the imported Italian glass (she has around 15 different styles) and its vibrant colors, and enjoy mixing and matching to create the perfect lighting piece. Because they’re small and versatile, the fixtures can hang anywhere: powder rooms, dining rooms and above kitchen islands.

Big is Better

Homebuyers are clamoring for bigger and more detailed homes, says Debbie Gonzalez, director of sales and marketing for John Cannon Homes. The builder’s 2002 sales stayed strong, Gonzalez says, with the bulk occurring in Lakewood Ranch (Palmers Creek) and Silver Oak. Gonzalez says buyers are looking for large houses with amenities such as stone floors, intricate ceiling work, columns, stone detailing in the front elevation and built-ins throughout the house. Her average sale price began at $600,000.

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