There is old and charming. And then there is old and ugly. Ancient oaks and mature landscaping are beautiful things. Dated wallpaper is an eyesore. Antique furnishings and rich old Oriental rugs are keepers. Dull metal bathroom stalls circa 1962 are not. Hand-painted tiles from the 1920s are good. Plumbing fixtures untouched for 30 years? Not so good. So when members of the very private Field Club in Sarasota voted to renovate, then walked through the door marked Gentlemen with a critical eye, the choice was clear. Summon an expert to transform one seriously outmoded men’s room into a handsome, updated guy place. Judy Graham of Graham Interiors got the call.
"I had never really ventured into this particular space," Graham admits with a laugh, "but I do know the club very well, as a member and designer. I redid the dining room in 1995 and then two years later tackled the Grill Room. This last was a bear of a project, because the original pecky cypress paneling and beams had been painted multiple times with layer upon layer of paint. We had to pressure clean and acid wash that wood for a solid week, day and night. But the results were worth the effort."
The Field Club, nestled between Camino Real and Sarasota Bay, was built in 1925 as the winter home of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Field of Chicago. Stanley was the brother of department store magnate Marshall Field; his wife fell in love with Sarasota while vacationing as a guest of the Palmer family. The Fields chose a Mediterranean Revival look for their bayfront estate and called it "Wealaka," the Indian word for laughing waters.
In 1957, after more than 30 years of basking in Sarasota sunshine, Stanley Field decided to sell his winter home. He contacted a local realtor and put a price of $175,000 on the property, with the provision that its new owners would use it as a club. Today, Field Club members moor their yachts in the picturesque harbor and enjoy swimming, tennis, fine dining and social events in the elegant old mansion and its manicured gardens.
Tackling the men’s room meant knowing what to keep and what to discard. Ugly mirrors and cultured marble vanities with 40 years of service got the boot, but Graham elected to restore rather than replace the expensive and relatively new tiled floors. Sedate and boring gray and blue wallpaper in tailored stripes came down. Water closets were junked along with lighting fixtures from some sad era in design history. The old gray metal dividers between stalls were retired, faucets were scrapped and fixtures discarded; but the original bathroom floor plan worked and was kept intact. And new finishes were selected to look rich, traditional and-well-old.
"We went with a gorgeous mahogany for stall doors, cabinet surround and mirror frames," explains Graham, "because the luster and grain of fine wood impart a sense of elegance and history." Floor-to-ceiling framed mirrors in the bathroom’s entry are impressive and very masculine. A paisley wallpaper print of dark reds, navy and brown designed by Ralph Lauren creates the aura of an old English men’s club. Pedestal sinks line one wall against a surround of mahogany cabinets with niches for hand towels. Overhead recessed lights provide ample illumination without the harsh glare of fluorescence. Gleaming wood baseboards and crown molding contrast beautifully with classic alabaster plumbing fixtures. The neutral tile floors were cleaned and buffed, and select walls and moldings were faux-painted to finish the room in classic fashion. Hardware in a brushed nickel finish was chosen for its understated elegance, and fixtures were selected to match.
The finished space has the look and feel of a very posh gentleman’s club with sumptuous fabrics, deep leather seats, hand-oiled woodwork and a decidedly distinguished air. "You can almost smell the cigar smoke," says Graham. "The room is handsome and very masculine. Quite a difference."
Project designed by Judy Graham of Graham Interiors, Inc.
Woodwork by Ron Kasun
Faux painting by Jeff Miller, graduate of the Ringling School of Art and Design