There's no doubt that Boca Grande is one of the prettiest islands anywhere. And when you climb the double curving staircase of the Old Florida style vacation home of Terry and Shelley Barr, you just may feel that you've arrived at the prettiest house on this charming island. Outside, a garden with white gate and graceful white lattices strikes a pastoral note-and hides the parking area under the two-story house. Pale-blue wooden shutters and balconies with fretwork and white wicker rockers add to the air of gracious welcome. Look at the house long enough and you realize it's actually a whole system of terraces, balconies and porches at different levels with a home tucked neatly behind them.
Inside, the main living area of the 5,200-square-foot home (excluding terraces and porches) is perched 16 feet above the water line, complying with local building codes and allowing grand views of sparkling Charlotte Harbor.
A collector of silver and vintage linens who owns her own antique business in the couple's hometown of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Shelly Barr knows how to select charming furnishings. But she needed an architect who shared her vision and sensibilities. She found that in Diane Weinman, who has designed a dozen or more homes on Boca Grande. In business since 1976, Diane Weinman is based in Nokomis and over the years has designed homes of distinction on Casey Key, Manasota Key, Anna Maria Island, Siesta Key, and in Venice. She has five underway in Boca Grande at present.
With a degree is in architectural history and design, Weinman brings an artist's imagination to her projects along with practical knowledge about what conveniences and features are necessary for comfortable, relaxed living on a barrier island. Clients often frame and display her exquisitely detailed drawings and blueprints of their homes.
"I never, never repeat a design," stresses Weinman. "It wouldn't make sense for me to think that two different owners would want the same things in the look or layout of a home. Consequently, I spend a lot of time listening to the client, looking at photos they like and getting to know them. Every house has its own personality and makes its own statement."
The Barr's house took its personality from a photo of a porch that Shelley pulled from a magazine and gave to Diane Weinman. Big, wide and welcoming, the porch featured lovely detailing on the railings and was done in fresh white and blue. It was a thoroughly livable space with sections for dining and nooks for curling up with a book or watching the rain make patterns on the water on lazy, overcast afternoons.
It didn't take long for Barr and Weinman to realize that this house, which would be used as a vacation playground by three generations, would give full and personal expression to the word "pretty." "Diane was the magician," says Shelley Barr. "She gave us a home that has a timeless design rather than a specific period, and she included all the detail that I wanted. She picked up on everything I like-she just seemed to get into my soul. And if that isn't enough, we had a great time together, too!"
The Barrs selected Jack Curley as their builder, and the project took a year and a half to complete, although the owners continue to refine features and add to the furnishings every time Barr attends antique shows, which she does four times a year.
Barr served as her own interior designer, and she did it with the confidence of a pro. For example, when she found a ceramic tile pattern she liked, a simple ivory-and-white checkerboard design, she decided to use it not only for the kitchen countertops but in all the bathrooms. By adding beadboard and unassuming hardware, she gave all the rooms the breezy cottage feeling she was after.
For the formal dining room, which is done in shades of rose and green with a bird motif, she consulted Bob Bacon and Tom Wing of Bacon & Wing in Sarasota. They upholstered the chairs in a trapunto (an early form of French and Italian quilting) technique that adds dimension and extra interest to the furniture. The sideboard is a vintage Baker piece that Barr spotted and Tom Wing refinished for her. Most of her antiques are American, crafted in either cherry or mahogany, although a Scottish cabinet is her latest find for the living room. The floors are hardwood, accented here and there by a Claire Murray hooked rug. For paintings, she visited Crissy Galleries in Sarasota and other local resources.
Barr selected white wooden blinds and white porcelain doorknobs throughout. All the doors-even the closet doors-are topped by working transoms. The balconies and porches feature fretwork and were fashioned for fresh white wicker furniture and big, creaking rocking chairs. Three-tier crown molding, carved fireplace mantels, built-in display cabinets and bookcases, niches and decorative cornices also reflect the design team's taste for architectural detail. Weinman even added ornamental molding over the arched doorways and windows. All the interior and exterior doors were custom-designed with raised wooden panels below glass panes.
Barr had fun doing a nursery as one of the upstairs guest bedrooms. In a raised alcove, set away from the twin beds in the room, she placed an antique crib and dressed the area with antique white linens. In another room, she indulged her love for mint-green fabrics and comfortable white, shabby-chic painted furniture. And in another, she used pink and incorporated a small French sofa that belonged to her mother. She added white iron beds to this room and found the perfect fabric at Gattle's in Naples.
In the blue-and-white master bedroom, the bed is positioned so that the first thing the Barrs see in the morning is a view of Charlotte Harbor. The yellow downstairs guest bath includes an antique china cabinet in which Shelley Barr has displayed her doll-size collection of vintage china. The grandchildren love the tiny dishes, and the collection is placed at their viewing level. For the upstairs landing, the Barrs commissioned artist Jane Carlson to paint a Florida genre scene incorporating the Barrs' four grandchildren. The artist cleverly left space to include more youngsters as they come into the family.
When the house was under construction, Diane Weinman overheard Terry Barr talking to one of the workmen. The workman was suggesting a change, and Terry Barr was thoughtfully considering it. "I don't know," he finally said. "It's pretty the way it is, and around here you don't mess with pretty." That's when the designer knew that everyone shared the same vision, and that the home would be every bit as pretty as she and Shelley Barr had planned.