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*The party’s in the kitchen

Ever notice how people at a party love to congregate around the food, sometimes while it’s still being cooked?

"Today’s kitchen trend is toward social cooking where guests can become involved in the process," says Werner Venter, owner of Lube Italian Kitchens, now located in the DeSears building at 4650 S. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota.

"Because the kitchen is no longer viewed strictly as a ‘work’ room, it needs to be inviting," Venter says. "An inspired kitchen contains both function and beauty, therefore design and space planning should be carefully considered. The ambience of the kitchen can set the tone for the entire house, creating an ease of flow and social interaction."

So, whether building or remodeling, Venter urges you to select a kitchen specialist who will listen to you and consider your needs, one who will create a kitchen you will love for years to come.

Lakewood Ranch picks favorite

John Cannon does it again: The builder’s popular Nariah model in Portmarnock in the Country Club at Lakewood Ranch took the top award at the Lakewood Ranch Tour of Homes.

Voters visited all 42 models by the 14 builders who participated in the 10-day Lifestyle Collection Tour of Homes. Nariah won points for its formal living room, four spacious bedrooms, four-and-a-half baths, a second-floor den overlooking a nature preserve, elegant custom cabinetry and marble and wood interior accents.

Nariah previously won the Best Overall Single Family Home award in the 2002 and 2003 Parade of Homes. The model is open every Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m until 5:30 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.

Cleaning up the garage

Without basements, many Floridians use their garages more for storage than perhaps their Northern counterparts. So investing in great-looking and hard-working storage components is worthwhile, according to Anne Sferra of Slide ‘n’ Hide Garage Storage Closets.

"Home owners are looking to use garage space more efficiently and conveniently," says Sferra. "The storage product you put in your garage should not be affected by water, humidity, termites or rust. The design should offer the convenience of sliding doors in various heights and widths."

Products like Slide ‘n’ Hide’s 3/4-inch laminated aluminium garage storage closets, with adjustable heavy-duty brackets, are useful whether you want to hide a water heater unit or washer and dryer or store smaller things, says Sferra.

The adults are home

If you’re in the market for a new home in an adult community, check out Venetian Falls, a new 280-acre adult community in Venice by Centex Homes. Venetian Falls offers single-family homes, paired villas and garden villas with a variety of floor plans and upgrades from the mid $160,000s to $300,000. Residents will have access to a fully equipped fitness center, card room, special event room and large heated swimming pool with an aqua track.

The community is located off Center and Rockley Roads in Venice, close to charming downtown Venice and the beaches. Models will be ready by summer, but if you can’t wait that long, head to the preview center in Sarasota’s Lakeridge Falls or check out www.centexhomes.com.

The real thing

Luxury home owners in Sarasota have always leaned toward ultra-luxe European interior finishings. Now, people know where to go when they want to move from imitation techniques to the originals.

At Design O Fresco on Palm Avenue, Rainer Scheer and his wife, Asuncion de las Heras, recently brought over two artists from Italy to cover three rooms of a Bird Key mansion with original Italian frescoes. "People want the real thing," says Scheer. "They are no longer content to settle for trompe d’oeil or paintings."

Design O Fresco creates custom plaster frescoes they import from Italy. In addition to wall hangings, the showroom offers old-world style CD racks, coat racks and a variety of furniture and accessories.

River Wilderness introduces Island Estates

Jack Afflebach, project director at River Wilderness, says 178 luxury homesites are planned in the first phase of its new Riverfront Homes at Island Estates, including 60 homesites that front on the Manatee River.

Sites will be priced from $100,000 to $600,000, and homes will start in the $400,000s. "We anticipate that some of the homes on the choicest riverfront homesites will sell for more than $2 million," Afflebach says. Construction will begin this summer

Seven luxury home builders will participate at Island Estates: John Cannon Homes, Lee Wetherington Homes, Christner Brothers Homes, Arthur Rutenberg Homes, RoseCorp, Vernon Homes and SunCoast Homes.

*Brain power

Michael Saunders, president and founder of Michael Saunders & Company, recently attended an annual meeting of the Brain Trust, a group of 30 principals and managers from the nation’s most prestigious and recognizable women-run real estate corporations.

Founded 10 years ago, the Brain Trust allows members to share ideas and real estate trends in a positive, non-competitive environment. At this year’s meeting in Summit, N.J., nationally recognized speakers presented information on risk management issues and recruiting and retaining associates.

Also, Karen Cook, director of special projects for new development properties in the Commercial Division at MS&C, received the 2003 Realtor of the Year Award at the Commercial Investment Division (CID) Annual Awards Meeting Dec. 2, 2003. Cook is the first woman to win the Realtor of the Year Award.

Sales strong at Fidelity

Fidelity Homes has sold four homes in 2003 from its Renaissance Collection, valued at more than $3.5 million. The homes are in the historic redevelopment section of Sarasota between South Osprey Avenue and U.S. 41.

The sales bring to seven the number of homes sold west of the Trail since 2000, says David C. Hunihan, president of the North Port-based Fidelity Homes.

The Renaissance Collection features one- and two-story homes with 2,400 to 3,500 square feet of living area, priced from the $800,000s, land included. The homes are reminiscent of old Florida, including the architectural style of Mizner’s Mediterranean homes and bungalow craftsman designs, Hunihan says.

The company has two more luxury homes from the Renaissance Collection available for immediate occupancy.

Sneak peek

Taylor Woodrow kicked things up a notch when it unveiled its new Sales & Design Gallery for The Beach Residences recently at 100 S. Washington Blvd.

The Gallery contains a grand scale model of the condominium tower, as well as the 26,000-square-foot Ritz-Carlton Members Beach Club. Artist renderings showcase the dramatic interior common areas and illustrate the project’s magnificent outdoor swimming pool, spa and entertainment area. Interior finish displays illustrate the furniture, lighting fixtures and fabric choices that will decorate the private amenity rooms.

Currently under development, the condominium project will feature 88 luxury residences, including eight penthouses, priced from just under $1 million to $4.5 million, and ranging in size from 1,725 to 5,254 square feet. Spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico, Sarasota Bay and downtown Sarasota come with each residence. Occupancy is scheduled for 2005.