Alix and Mark Morin discovered their Florida vacation home, complete with sparkling pool and pretty views of converging canals, on a quiet cul-de-sac on Siesta Key. As perfect as the tropical setting was, however, the interior lacked imagination. The floor plan was cut up into smallish boxes with entryway, living room and dining area in tight juxtaposition. The foyer was crowded, and to get from the foyer to the family room, they had to maneuver past dining table and chairs. The living room was isolated, and the furniture placement detracted from water views.
Solution? Do away with a traditional dining room arrangement and create room for living. The Morins divide their time between a residence in Connecticut, a New York City apartment and a home in Maine; Sarasota is a vacation getaway for them, and interior designer ASID Howard Firth of Robb & Stucky reasoned that the couple would rarely dine or entertain formally on their holidays here. The Siesta Key home already offered an expansive eating area adjacent to the kitchen as well as ample patio seating for outdoor dining. "I explained that in Sarasota, we prefer to sit around the pool, invite friends over for casual buffet suppers and or have drinks and then go out for dinner," says Firth. "You can absolutely live without that traditional dining room table."
Firth deftly unified three unwieldy rooms into an expansive and inviting living space. The once-claustrophobic dining area was eliminated and a spacious new entry opened up the view from the front door. That made the living room, which showcases water through a wall of glass doors, easy to see and to get to. On those rare occasions when the Morins want to host a sit-down dinner, during holidays for instance, they have plenty of room to set up tables in the wide entry hall.
The couple wanted a West Indies feeling; and Firth took it from the top, trimming foyer and living-room ceilings in hand-carved crown molding of rich, dark walnut. The walls, already heavily trowel-textured, got a faux finish; four shades-gold, green, red and umber-were applied, to create a soft rosy gold hue with subtle distinctions.
Firth softened the hard lines of the living room's sliding glass doors-and helped create the illusion of higher ceilings-with double swag window treatments on a three-inch wooden rod, stained to match the crown molding. He paired a traditional floral print with crisp plaid, using fresh red and yellow fabrics that puddle on the floor and provide a handsome surround for the sliders. In keeping with the tropical plantation look, he kept colors and fabrics informal and made sure seating was inviting and comfortable. Additionally, the swags camouflage the hardware for shades that can be raised and lowered electronically for privacy and sun protection.
Entry and living room floors are tiled in a neutral stone and accented with a mix of contemporary and Oriental rugs, including a one-of-a-kind peshawar from Pakistan. A hand-carved wooden mirror on the living room wall reflects water and visually enlarges the space. The massive pine server along the entry wall provides storage capacity for china and silver and balances the room. This same piece doubles as bar and buffet when entertaining. Above the server hangs a large oil painting of white cockatoos in a tree laden with red fruit, enhancing the West Indies feel and providing a bold strike of eye-catching color upon entry.
Firth also chose accessories, such as the iron and stone console and wicker chicken basket, and placed them in the house for the couple's approval. The Morins were especially delighted with a pair of bronze giraffes and have since acquired two more, creating a small herd that grazes quietly behind the couch. Guests find them much more interesting than a dining room table.
Interior design, Howard Firth, ASID, Robb & Stucky
Carved wood molding by IB Furniture in Sarasota
Faux finish on walls by Michelle Held of Unfauzgettable in Sarasota
Rugs from Heirloom Collection in Robb & Stucky's Oriental Rug Gallery
Window treatments, furniture, art and accessories from Robb & Stucky