Best of the Parade

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Parades are fun, entertaining, even uplifting. That’s probably why the Home Builders Associations of Manatee and Sarasota counties’ annual Parade of Homes this spring was so well-attended. Despite mounting real estate woes sweeping the nation, buyers and browsers were undeterred. The lure of new communities, spectacular architecture, trendsetting interior design and ferreting out once-in-a-lifetime bargains […]


Parades are fun, entertaining, even uplifting. That’s probably why the Home Builders Associations of Manatee and Sarasota counties’ annual Parade of Homes this spring was so well-attended. Despite mounting real estate woes sweeping the nation, buyers and browsers were undeterred. The lure of new communities, spectacular architecture, trendsetting interior design and ferreting out once-in-a-lifetime bargains were all powerful incentives. Indeed, bargains abounded. With new homes typically selling from 20 percent to 25 percent below 2005 prices, and with parade specials even at prestigious communities like The Founders Club and The Lake Club, savings at the top end could easily equate to a million dollars or more. But the 2008 Parade of Homes was an equal opportunity event—new homes were not just aspirational, they were attainable.    

Neal Communities stole the show with the debut of its CafĂ© Collection and the promise of “affordable homes” starting at $125,000. (By mid-March, the company had raised the price of the wildly popular models by $13,000.) Few could resist the schlep to Forest Creek in Parrish just to see what the buzz was about. As expected, the homes were compact. But the sunshine-filled rooms, interior finishes, color schemes and island print fabrics dispelled forever the myth that good taste requires money.

In fact, new models in every price category displayed similar design ingenuity—you might call it brilliance—in the face of belt-buckling. Like Target vs. Saks, you could get the look of the moment within budget, and trends seen in the priciest models could also be found in homes well under a million bucks. What’s more, a lot of the hottest interior architecture trends can be duplicated by do-it-yourselfers.

That’s the case with grasscloth, the newly chic—and cost-saving— alternative to faux-finished ceilings and walls. In Neal Communities’ Vision model at Forest Creek ($239,900), grasscloth covers recesses in a coffered ceiling and adds texture to walls beneath a chair rail. At the Gran Vita (a 3,000-square-foot model by Sam Rodgers Homes offered at $578,000 in the new Gran Paradiso development in Venice), grasscloth lines a dramatic tray ceiling. And at Lakewood Ranch’s new Country Club East, a designer-quality grass herringbone is as impressive as Venetian plaster between ceiling beams in Neal Communities’ new Alonte (from the low $500,000s). 

Throughout the parade, the over-the-top glitz of the last few years was replaced with restrained doses of luxury, such as onyx, the “it” stone of 2008. At the new Valencia II by Vernon Homes in Rive Isle, onyx adorns (would you believe) a kitchen backsplash and family room fireplace surround. At the Jacaranda V in Riviera Dunes, Arthur Rutenberg/M. Pete McNabb lavished rich honey onyx on the tub deck, vanity counter tops and built-in shower seats in a master suite. And the same builder’s Biscayne III at La Cantera in Lakewood Ranch boasts an onyx tub deck, insets in floor tiles and a spectacular onyx vessel sink. 

Fine furniture moved into the bathroom this year, an extension of the trend already de rigueur in high-end kitchens. Tall cherry bathroom armoires replete with mullioned glass doors caught judges’ eyes at the stately Valencia II at Rive Isle, which won best overall for Vernon Construction Corp. in the $960,000 to $1.1 million category.  At The Pescara by Peregrine Homes (named best overall for homes from $1.4 million to $1.5 million), stunning cream cabinets with seeded glass doors were finished with the same glaze used on designer furniture; and master bath cabinetry with seeded glass helped John Cannon Homes’ new Kiah win best overall in the $1,625,000 to $1.7 million range.

Wrought iron made a big comeback, used sparingly in less expensive homes, lavishly in larger ones. The front exterior of John Cannon’s Camira in The Lake Club boasts a Juliet balcony and iron work on a Palladian window atop the front door. Arthur Rutenberg’s Biscayne III (best overall in the $2.03 million to $2,203,000 category) has intricate railings and balcony indoors; the company’s Jacaranda model unveiled myriad new applications, most notably an almost-ceiling-high iron grille used as a headboard. Iron is a look that parade visitors can duplicate themselves regardless of budget, with readymade or custom pieces and even by reconfiguring old doors and fences found at salvage shops.

While iron was everywhere, the coveted home theater of recent years went missing. In its place is a new status symbol, the club room. The “starter” room in this category splurges on a pool table and large-screen TV. But at the upper end, it morphs into a multifunction room with all the amenities of a golf clubhouse. Todd Johnston Homes’ Mandalay at The Lake Club, voted best overall in the show’s highest price range ($2.65 million to $3 million), has the club room of every man’s dream, complete with poker and pool tables, pinball machine, wet bar, mini-fridge  and  three TVs mounted on walls sports-bar-style for visibility anywhere in the room.

You don’t see many tumbled stone or brick facades on beach homes, but the look is coming on strong east of I-75, particularly at The Forest at Hi Hat Ranch, where Lee Wetherington Homes’ Castella Rossa (best overall winner in the $1,345,000 to $1.39 million range) is distinguished by a dramatic stone exterior and interior floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace. The look is achieved inexpensively at the Vision in Parrish with white brick under a chair rail in an entry hall; and at the high end, the Biscayne III is designed around a stone and brick theme that begins on exterior walls and continues to a unique round entry hall, a wine cellar/bar and kitchen trim.

Master carpentry made big fashion news, especially coffering, which climbed down from the ceiling and onto cabinetry and walls. Inventive permutations were endless. The sunken panels appeared most frequently as squares, often on the diagonal, as in the elegant living room at Pruett’s Cyprus model in The Lake Club. John Cannon created a knockout floor-to-ceiling breakfast room wall of white coffering in its new Amaroo, and the Jacaranda V model by Arthur Rutenberg/M. Pete McNabb created a dining room wall treatment with a grid of diagonal dark wooden square coffers inset with beveled mirror. 

The novelty of wall-mounted flat TV screens must have faded, because decorators of the newest model homes are camouflaging them. Screens are still in plain sight, but the big black focal point is diminished with creative drywall coves or bump-outs to contain shelves on either side of the TV and/or credenzas built in below it. Designers decorate the entire cove as a vignette, as in the great room at London Bay Homes’ new Capriano in The Lake Club (best overall in $1,625,000 to $1.7 million). 

Built-ins for these TV walls took advantage of the thin profile of the new flat screens, keeping the bulkier cabinetry below eye level. The look is so clean and fresh it will make you want to ditch that behemoth TV armoire (so last century). And best of all, you can pick and choose ideas, even replicate the beautiful new entertainment walls, bathrooms and kitchens seen at the 2008 Parade, because many participating builders formed home improvement divisions last year to compensate for slower new home sales. 

And the winners are… Here are the judges’ picks for best luxury entries.

$960,000-$1.1 million

Arthur Rutenberg/R.W. Wilson Home: Biscayne at Boca Royale. Best Kitchen (tie), Best Master Suite. Gibraltar Homes: The Caterina w/Bonus Room at Lakewood Ranch. Best Curb Appeal (tie), Best Architectural Detail. Vernon Construction Corp.: Valencia II at Rive Isle. Best Curb Appeal (tie), Best Kitchen (tie), Best Floor Plan, Best Overall.

$1,153,000-$1.3 million

Arthur Rutenberg/M. Pete McNabb: St. Augustine VII at WindingRiver. Best Curb Appeal, Best Kitchen, Best Master Suite, Best Floor Plan, Best Architectural Detail, Best Overall.

$1,345,000-$1.39 million

Bamboo Homes of Florida: The Admiralty at The Inlets. Best Floor Plan, Best Architectural Detail. Signature Homes of the GulfCoast: The Columbia at The Inlets. Best Master Suite. Lee Wetherington Homes: Castella Rossa at The Forest at Hi Hat Ranch. Best Curb Appeal, Best Kitchen, Best Overall.

$1.4 million-$1.5 million

Neal Communities: Wyndham IV at Lakewood Ranch. Best Curb Appeal, Best Kitchen. Peregrine Homes: The Pescara at Lakewood Ranch. Best Master Suite, Best Floor Plan, Best Architectural Detail, Best Overall.

$1,625,000-$1.7 million

Pruett Builders: Cypress at Lakewood Ranch. Best Kitchen, Best Master Suite. John Cannon Homes: The Kiah at Lakewood Ranch. Best Floor Plan, Best Architectural Detail, Best Overall. London Bay Homes: The Capriano at Lakewood Ranch. Best Curb Appeal, Best Overall.

$1.77 million-$1,950,000

The Founders Club Golf Cottages: The Magnolia at The Founders Club. Best Master Suite (tie). Arthur Rutenberg/M. Pete McNabb: Terracina at LegendsBay. Best Curb Appeal, Best Kitchen, Best Master Suite (tie), Best Floor Plan, Best Architectural Detail, Best Overall.

$2.03 million-$2,203,000

Arthur Rutenberg/M. Pete McNabb: Jacaranda V at Riviera Dunes. Best Curb Appeal, Best Master Suite (tie). John Cannon Homes: The Camira at The LakeClub. Best Kitchen. Arthur Rutenberg/M. Pete McNabb: Biscayne III at Lakewood Ranch. Best Master Suite (tie), Best Floor Plan, Best Architectural Detail, Best Overall.

$2.65 million-$3 million

Todd Johnston Homes: Mandalay at The LakeClub. Best Curb Appeal, Best Kitchen, Best Master Suite, Best Floor Plan, Best Architectural Detail, Best Overall.