Loud, animated and never, ever, at a loss for words-that’s how sports fans all around the nation describe basketball commentator Dick Vitale. And the TV dynamo brings the same vociferous enthusiasm to any conversation about the new home that he and his wife, Lorraine, just completed in Lakewood Ranch.
"I pinch myself every time I come through the door," says the 65-year-old celebrity. "Who would have thought I’d ever have anything so beautiful? I come from a family of love but not money. My dad pressed coats in a factory and we all shared one bathroom growing up. I’ve been so fortunate to realize my dreams and to have financial success for my family. But believe me, I never take it for granted. This house is everything that we wanted for us and our family." And he says all this without taking a breath.
The architect for the 12,000-square foot, two-story home was Gerald Messman, who collaborated with Paul Fletcher, both of the Tampa firm of Bloodgood Sharp Buster Architects & Planners, Inc. The house was built by Roy Dupuis’s Anchor Builders, and interiors were designed by Anne Folsom Smith. Smith worked with the Vitales on their previous residence in Prestancia, and that house had such an efficient floorplan that Dick and Lorraine duplicated it for the Lakewood Ranch residence. But there were significant modifications, since this house is nearly double the size and sits on two lots on a cul- de-sac.
"The style is informal Mediterranean, with some characteristic Mizner touches," says Smith. "The attitude is relaxed, but the public rooms are dressy." The grand salon or living room has a double volume ceiling that soars to 24 feet.
"I like big rooms," says Dick. "I’d rather have fewer large rooms than a lot of small ones. This house doesn’t have many walls; one room flows into the next and everything opens out to the pool area."
Smith convinced her reluctant clients not to cage the pool. Now they’re happy they followed her advice, since the outside is an expansive "room" of its own, high on visual impact with a white pergola as the focal point. A tangle of deep pink bougainvillea winds around the columns.
Lorraine, who’s as serene as her husband is hyper, delegated all the furniture selections and accessorizing (even the art) to her designer. "I trust Anne’s taste completely," she says. "She knows exactly what Dick and I are like." The only furniture that made the move is a baby grand piano. Everything else was custom made or bought specifically for this home. Lorraine requested an earthy palette for the public rooms of the home, a complete change from the Florida pastel scheme the couple had enjoyed for 11 years in Prestancia.
Taking her color cues from a large Oriental carpet she purchased for the living room, Smith crafted a warm, sophisticated scheme using terra cotta, moss, tan, caramel, rust, wine, and cream. Dick didn’t want anything dark. The flooring throughout is pale, polished limestone, and the tall downstairs windows are uncovered. Smith selected stationary side drapery panels to soften the expanses of glass and subtly frame the vistas. Because of its open floor plan and because the loggia pool area is part of the living space, the house can easily accommodate 400 for a party.
Fabrics for the transitional-style furniture are plush. "Lorraine wanted to make sure this is a house for everyday living and easy entertaining, definitely not just a showplace," emphasizes the designer. "So we chose easy maintenance materials. Lorraine also requested that tables have rounded corners because of their grandchildren, who have the run of the house, usually with Papa or Lolo, which is what the children call Dick and Lorraine, running after them."
The Vitales have four grandchildren, all under the age of three. Happily, they live nearby and take full advantage of one of Lolo’s favorite rooms of the house, a big, fully equipped playroom right at the center of the home. "We can watch the children from the café, which is what we call our kitchen and eating area," says the grandmother. Twin boys are most often in that space. Their mom, Sherri, is her dad’s executive assistant, taking care of his book tours, ESPN travel schedule and speaking engagements. Her office is just outside his on the first floor, on the opposite side of the home from the master bedroom.
Dick Vitale does not keep an office at ESPN; his home office is command central for his work, and it’s big and technically sophisticated. He keeps a gallery upstairs-he calls it his "memorabilia lounge"-with photographs, game balls, awards and such. An exercise area is part of that space.
But ask the sports authority what his favorite room of the house is and there’s no hesitation: "The home theater, of course," he says. The 1,200-square-foot room with eight leather chairs and a 135-inch screen is also his production studio for his ESPN broadcasts. Dick credits Ricky Horne of Horne Systems & Designs LLC as the electronic genius who made it all operate efficiently.
"That room took five days to install. It’s so complicated, but I can easily operate everything in it," says Vitale. "And I am not technically astute. I had to have something that is the best and the easiest and that’s exactly what I got. Anne worked with Ricky to make it as comfortable and pretty as it is convenient. The kids watch videos in here. We all enjoy it."
Horne says the trick was keeping everything simple. "We gave Dick the one-button solution," he explains. "He presses one button to turn on the DVD player, close the window drapes, open the screen drapes and turn down the house lights. He just has to remember to put a DVD into the player and he’s all set." Horne’s 30-year-old company is also responsible for the house’s lighting control and sound system, activated by station key pads and touch screens.
The home has four bedrooms. Guest suites are upstairs, and the master bedroom down. "There have only been three weekends since we moved into this house that we haven’t had guests," says Lorraine. "Dick is always calling me from New Jersey to tell me that someone is flying home with him. This is an easy house to entertain in, and we love to do it."
Dick and Lorraine are from New Jersey; they met 34 years ago when he was a sixth-grade teacher at Mark Twain Elementary School in Garfield. He was also coaching high school basketball and football. They married a year later. Dick’s career advanced to college coaching and to the pros. He was with the Detroit Pistons when he was tapped in 1979 to join a fledgling sports network experiment called ESPN. "For eight years I never saw him on television because we didn’t get ESPN," says his wife. The Vitales moved to Florida 16 years ago from Michigan, building a house in Bradenton.
The Vitales’ bedroom suite is more contemporary than the rest of the Lakewood Ranch home, with built-ins and lots of closet space, a must for Lorraine. Dick insisted on a television at the foot of the bed because he can’t go to sleep without watching Sports Center. They have separate walk-in closets, and Lorraine describes the contents of hers as more interesting than his. "You look in Dick’s closet and you’ll find 20 dark blue blazers and a bunch of blue shirts," she says with a laugh. "His wardrobe is what you see on television."
The clothes are less flashy than his media success. Dick Vitale has earned entry into six halls of fame and is considered college basketball’s top analyst. His career is chronicled in his new book, Living A Dream: Reflections of 25 Years Sitting in the Best Seat in the House. He means his TV seat in basketball arenas all over the nation. But in Sarasota the best seat in the house for Dick/Papa the husband, father and grandfather, is any seat in his new Lakewood Ranch home- especially one in his media room.