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COUNTER POINTS The most sought-after countertops in new or remodeled homes are going back to nature as more and more savvy homeowners study their options. "Our clients see a variety of granite, stone and marble applications for counters everywhere from model homes to decorating publications and televised programs," says Jim Butler, president of CCS Cabinetry. […]


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COUNTER POINTS

The most sought-after countertops in new or remodeled homes are going back to nature as more and more savvy homeowners study their options. "Our clients see a variety of granite, stone and marble applications for counters everywhere from model homes to decorating publications and televised programs," says Jim Butler, president of CCS Cabinetry. "They have done their research and they know what they want."

High-end consumers want natural granite to set them-and their kitchens-apart from their neighbors, says Butler. With striking organic colors, natural stones fit the bill and work for both traditional and contemporary home designs. Plus, organic stone products can be finished and edged in a variety of ways.

Taking individualization a step further, adventurous homeowners are making eye-catching statements with metallic or color inlays for their counters. "Metal inlays featuring stylized motifs or natural designs like ferns or fish are placed flush in countertops and add instant visual interest," says Butler.

ROSEMARY IN TIME Rosemary Place heated up this winter, ignited by the December opening of a new sales office and design center in downtown Sarasota’s Rosemary District. The new 2,800-square-foot space at 500 N. Tamiami Trail includes two finish selection rooms for future residents to perfect their new homes. The 11-acre community comprises Alinari at Rosemary Place, the Renaissance of Sarasota and Villagio at Rosemary Place and offers both condominium and three-level live/work city homes.

"The new office will really allow us to showcase the unique and attractive features of both Alinari and Villagio," says Rosemary Place sales manager Karen Wall, adding that the luxury community was "definitely ready for 2006."

REALTOR OF THE YEAR Greg Reynolds, co-owner of Prudential Cascade Realty, has been named 2005 Realtor of the Year by the Sarasota Association of Realtors (SAR). The organization’s most prestigious award is presented annually to a realtor with a proven record of dedication to fellow realtors, their organization and the community.

Reynolds, whose Prudential partner, Kim Gilliland, is also a former Realtor of the Year, earned the award through his continued involvement in several SAR committees and organizational efforts-he’s volunteered committee service for 21 years-as well as in the Florida Association of Realtors. He also contributed to the post-Hurricane Charley relief efforts, Toys for Tots drive, Brush Up Sarasota, American Cancer Society, Salvation Army, Sarasota Little League and several other fund raisers throughout the year.

"It’s easy to write a check," says Reynolds. "But it’s so much more rewarding when you give up your own time and energy and get involved."

BALANCING ACT Yes, the housing market has cooled off a little recently, but the good news, says Amanda Stiff of Access Capital, is that the market’s lower temperatures have encouraged investors to get some perspective on the role real estate plays in their portfolio. Stiff says real estate appreciation has been the "talk of the town," causing many folks to overweight their portfolios in one market and invest in real estate in addition to their own home.

Instead, Stiff stresses, it’s important that investors not put all their financial eggs in one basket. "Spread your risk over a variety of investments," she advises. "When working with all of my clients, for mortgages or for financial planning, I try to get them to focus on fitting their home and mortgage loan financing into their financial big picture. Your home is generally your largest investment, and so it should mesh with your other investments." And after all, she adds, the home "often is the cornerstone for many retirement plans."

CHANGING TEAMS Realtor Tonna Gruber, a Siesta Key resident and wife of Toronto Blue Jays Gold Glove-winning baseball legend Kelly Gruber, has joined Sarasota’s Keller Williams Platinum Realty. While admitting there were several reasons for the move, she says the most influential factor was Keller Williams International’s standing as the fourth-largest residential real estate firm in North America, which gives Gruber improved means to serve both her national and international clients. "This move is going to provide me the business model, systems and support I’m looking for to grow my business," she says.

Of course, Gruber was also attracted to the firm’s impressive learning initiatives, provided locally and through its training arm, Keller Williams University. Gruber recently graduated with honors from the University of South Florida with a degree in psychology and is listed in America’s Who’s Who. She was first licensed as an agent in 1988 and has been licensed in four states. She and her husband maintain active involvement in community and charitable organizations.

OH, FRESCO! Sarasota is home to a lot of mega-houses that need more than art prints and decorative molding to fill their 24-foot walls, according to Jeff Weller of Design O’Fresco. Partnered with a studio in Italy, the Palm Avenue shop supplies authentic custom-made fresco art and finishes, and now offers Venetian plaster as a handsome alternative to drywall or faux finishes.

Frescoes offer large-scale solutions for high-ceilinged foyers and living rooms, which Weller says are often poorly decorated. "You have an entry with 20- or 24-foot ceilings, and above eight feet it’s just space," he laments, adding that undersized decorating is even more egregious in homes with balconied living rooms and tall, white stone mantels. "That mantel just cries out for something instead of molding for molding’s sake."

The frescoes, which can be purchased from the store custom made, shipped or applied directly to the walls and ceilings of a home, are not limited to Italian styles; African- and Asian-themed works are also gaining popularity. Design O’Fresco clients can even have their favorite painting or a snapshot from their honeymoon reproduced as a custom fresco.

BUILDING THE FUTURE In January the International Builders Show took over the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. It was the world’s largest home and building exhibition, welcoming approximately 100,000 attendees, from 146 countries, and taking up over 1.5 million square feet of floor space.

"It is apparent that homes are moving towards the integration of technology, interior and exterior design and functionality," says Lawrence Anderson of the Sarasota Home Builders Association. Technological improvements on display at the show included natural-looking materials with durability, texture, energy efficiency and even insect and mold inhibitors built in. New and custom homes are using fewer natural building products on the exterior and more natural wood, stone and tile in the interiors.

"How about a real Japanese tea house erected in your home?" says Anderson. "Or multiple moving showerheads mounted flush to the walls and ceiling, or waltzing water fountains that respond to the music you select? Homeowners now expect their home to be an extension of their personal design taste [and are] demanding quality and functionality from the home components."

HAVE CAKE,

EAT CAKE

"Whatever the trend, whatever the latest craze, there are only three criteria for the savvy real estate purchaser: location, location, location," says Gail Young of University Park Country Club. And around these parts, the ideal location involves a new home site in a gated golf course community west of I-75. Sound too good to be true? Almost, but not quite: University Park Country Club still has new golf course-adjacent and lakefront lots and the area’s most in-demand builders standing by. The icing on the cake is a free membership for all new homebuyers to one of the area’s most respected country clubs.

OUT WITH THE OLD Antiques and collectibles are so five minutes ago, according to Bob Harris of Osprey’s House of Lords. "There still is a market for them," he says. "But they don’t bring the high prices they once did." Demand nowadays is focused on "used everyday furniture" like dinettes and dining room pieces and living room and bedroom suites, which are bringing good prices, says Harris. "Pictures and paintings are moving so fast we can’t keep up with the demand. Bronze and marble statues are still selling well."

House of Lords, which just added a patio department to its business, will consign or buy furniture and other goods, from estates to single pieces.

ONLY BY SEA South of Boca Grande and north of Sanibel and Captiva islands, Useppa Island has been enjoyed by seasonal and vacation owners for more than 100 years. And while on-island broker Useppa Property Company invites prospective homebuyers to consider making a second home of the tropical retreat, don’t bother hopping in the car for a real estate drive-by-the bridgeless, access-controlled island can only be visited by owners, club members and guests who travel there by boat. In contrast to the growing populations in towns along Florida’s West Coast, crowds and traffic do not invade quiet Useppa. Cottages start in the low $1 millions and homes are available from the high $2 millions.

FOUNDERS

KEEPERS

Corresponding with the first birthday of its already celebrated golf course, The Founders Club kicked off a series of open houses in February to showcase the luxury community’s homebuilders. The month-long, model-home extravaganza-opening homes each weekend from Feb. 4 through March 5-began with the Elanora by John Cannon Homes and in the following weekends featured models by Taylor Woodrow Homes, Todd Johnston Homes and Lee Wetherington Homes before wrapping up the series with Pruett Builders. The models are shown by appointment only.

The Founders Club, a gated golf course community just east of I-75 off Fruitville Road, includes plans for only 262 homes on its 700 acres; the majority of the land has already been set aside for the 18-hole golf course and surrounding natural preserves. Prices begin at $400,000 for home sites and in the low $1 millions for single-family homes and home sites together.