John and Elisabeth Root of Medina, Ohio, discovered Sarasota and knew they’d found their second home. And it was no problem moving from their pretty "trial" villa in Turtle Creek into a spacious Deer Creek pool home. But how does one transform a dated model home with pink Corian counters, acres of porcelain tile bordered in pink, green and black, and hideous matching window treatments into a warm and richly textured living space? Poppies.
"I love poppies and delight in having them all over the house," Elisabeth explains. "The reds are varied and beautiful, and I never tire of the colors and shapes." An artist from Vienna, Austria, Elisabeth paints vivid florals, and many of her oils on canvas feature the luscious red flowers. She also needlepoints intricate Old World tapestries, dabbles in photography, paints furniture, collects antiques and arranges flowers with an artist’s keen eye for graceful symmetry and a penchant for bold, striking color. Throughout her work, poppies are a recurring passion.
Designer Micheline Laberge understood at once that the Deer Creek home’s 1980s color scheme was all wrong for the Roots, but there were major problems. "The floor tile was a cool white with gray undertones, not what we wanted," Laberge explains. "The tile was in perfect condition and it was everywhere, so common sense and our budget prohibited tearing up the floors. But the bigger problem was the tile borders running through the house to delineate dining spaces and traffic areas. The borders were pink, green and black, and that just does not work with red flowers."
Laberge researched floral motifs and ultimately found a wonderful Dakota fabric in beige linen with a poppy print. Using a swatch of fabric as a guide, Laberge used tiny tumbled travertine stone tiles in beige and red to create a pattern that would exactly fit the existing width of the bad tile borders. Next, those borders had to be removed by hand, a painstaking process because no adjacent tiles could be broken or even chipped.
Once the travertine tiles were set in the floor, Laberge repeated the same border pattern in the kitchen for a new backsplash to unify spaces. Laberge’s careful color selections neutralized the grayish tones in the floor tile and rendered it an acceptable background palette. "A few years ago, this would never have worked because there were no tiles in existence to properly fit that nonstandard space created by ripping out the old tile," she says. "The tiny travertine stones available today, however, can fit anywhere."
Laberge next yanked the floral swags from their hooks across the curved window in the breakfast room and eliminated the shabby sagging cornice across the sliding glass doors in the family room. She used the Dakota poppy fabric to fashion handsome box-pleated valances with soft jabots and rich red cording with antiqued bronze medallions. Hunter Douglas Luminette verticals provide light control and privacy on the doors, and Silhouette shades do the same on the window.
The family room’s sterile white walls were warmed up with an application of coffee-colored paint, and Laberge camouflaged the kitchen’s outdated and faded laminate and oak cabinets with multiple coats of creamy ivory paint. Kitchen walls were covered in textured wallpaper with double borders of blooming red poppies, one high against the ceiling and another down near the baseboards. The borders now frame the kitchen and breakfast nook and continue the family room’s colors and theme.
Laberge turned her attention to the family room’s forgotten and disproportionately tiny fireplace. "Happily, the original builder surrounded the fireplace with authentic Florida shell stone, which is very beautiful and very upscale," the designer says. "It is also impossible to find or afford anymore. So we simulated." Concrete was fabricated in the exact colors and finish of the shell stone, complete with cracks, streaks and fossil swirls, and the fireplace surround was taken up to the ceiling and framed with substantial pillars. "We had to work at getting a good color match and tweak the formula more than once, but the results were worth it," Laberge says.
Furnishings and accessories were the last step, and since the Roots already owned many good pieces, answers were often found through reupholsters and rearrangement. An existing wood framed chair, for example, was covered in the same linen poppy fabric used for the window treatments. The Roots’ iron and glass breakfast table and chairs already had a sandstone finish that works with the new colors, so cushions were simply recovered in a rich red cotton. Existing bar stools did not quite fit at the new counter height, so Laberge had their legs cut down and the seat cushions covered in the same material.
A cushy sofa and love seat were ordered in crisp red and tan stripes, which mix marvelously with the poppy florals. A gorgeous Chinese wool floral rug found in Atlanta and ordered through Rugs As Art is placed on an angle to anchor the conversation area. The existing coffee table and end table fit right into the room, and Laberge broke up the Roots’ oversized wall unit to feature only a single section as an entertainment area.
An occasional chair covered in red ribbed cotton, interesting lamps, a small round table in iron and glass and a painted wooden chest are all new acquisitions that work well with existing pieces. A red Chinese breadbasket, painted porcelain bird, photographs and various examples of art glass were all chosen personally by the Roots in favorite antique shops or while traveling. An impressive collection of candlesticks displays the beautiful products created at Root Candles, touted as the best candle in America, where president John Root carries on a family tradition begun in 1869.
The finished family room delights the homeowners. "Not only were Micheline’s ideas very sound," says Elisabeth, "but she did a wonderful job communicating what she wanted to the craftspersons and explaining things to us long-distance. Her attention to detail was excellent. She understood where we wanted to go, and she designed a plan to get us there."
Laberge enjoyed the challenge of integrating the old with the new, and while she is probably best known for her contemporary design, including large commercial projects such as offices and restaurants, she enjoyed working with traditional pieces to create a classic design. "I believe in holding on to existing pieces, particularly when they are good, and using them again," says Laberge. "You can create a totally new design without purchasing all new elements."
Design by Micheline Laberge ASID, fireplace by West Coast Architectural Pre-Cast, window treatments by Custom Interiors, lamps from The Lamplighter Gallery, tile work by Phil Pagano, sofa and love seat by Eisenhower, other furnishings from Kanes and Robb & Stucky.