The Pennsylvania couple who approached the Anne Folsom Smith design group to bring their Mediterranean concept to life were a decorator's dream. "They were not only excited about the long process in front of them but also came with organized folders of colors, architectural details, fabrics, furniture styles, and, just as important, knowing what they did not want," explains Smith. "The wife had done about two year's worth of research into the homes of Addison Mizner. And if that weren't enough, they were relaxed and totally fun to work with."
In their early 50s with three grown children, a small granddaughter and one English bull dog all factoring into their plans, the well-traveled pair (he's a commercial builder) chose Sarasota for their second home after years of vacationing here. When waterfront property with a dock for their boat became available on Lido Shores, they quickly decided to buy. They removed an unsalvageable house on the lot and got busy erecting an eclectic Mediterranean structure with strong Spanish influences. Smith brought in designer Fabiola Softas and interior architect Bob O'Brien from her Sarasota firm to comprise her team.
Tom Denslow of DSDG, Inc. was the architect, and Steve Carr of Bradenton the builder. The exterior of the finished 7,500-square-foot, home mirrors the interior. Inside the ornate black iron gates, a path leads to a large U-shaped brick entrance courtyard with a three-car garage on one side and a wall of palm trees, flowers and vines on the other. Both sides frame a picturesque arched wooden door with a fossil stone surround and a large Mediterranean-style doorknocker. Overhead arches a graceful bow-shaped balcony with a curved wrought iron railing. Patterned tiles on the three steps leading to the door are from Monterey, Mexico. Tuscan columns and aged urns filled with leafy plants complete the first impression.
On the other side of the arched door, the courtyard is replicated as a huge reception area with grand piano. The beam ceiling soars to 23 feet and is accented by an immense iron Mexican chandelier. The second floor bedrooms radiate off an open gallery featuring a sculptural wrought iron railing. The custom-crafted lyrical design, which is also used on the staircase railing, was supplied by Gulf Coast Metal.
Saltillo terra cotta glazed floor tiles in a hexagonal pattern unite rooms on the street level. Upstairs, the floors are Southern chestnut. Hundreds of years ago, a design such as this, along with the cool tiles underfoot, would have helped to lower the temperature of the rooms and encourage air flow on steamy days. "We used the small tiles rather than the larger ones, because in older Spanish or Italian villas this is the size you see," explains Smith.
Downstairs rooms radiate from the courtyard room-kitchen, formal dining room, guest suites, and a cozy library/office. The entire back of the house opens to a two-tiered loggia and to the disappearing-edge swimming pool designed by Joan Brown. Beyond the pool lies Sarasota Bay. All the rooms, inside and out, are furnished with an eye for relaxed sophistication, with soft fabrics and subdued Mediterranean hues. Window treatments are either soft, translucent curtains that descend to the floor or blinds that disappear when they're raised. The homeowners wanted panoramic views and an open feel, but they've been in Florida often enough to realize that the sun has to be under some control.
The dining room is the most formal space in the home. A row of three handsome arched windows frames a tropical garden of white bird of paradise. Jo A. Woodworth custom-designed and installed the elaborate drapery treatment to give the window wall and the view it provides a star treatment. The custom-made rectangular dining table seats 14; and since the room could take the length, the couple determined to build it big and not bother with table leaves.
The fine-boned, vanilla-colored kitchen, with a walk-in pantry off to the side, has soft white paneled cabinetry, granite and wood countertops, and a mirrored backsplash to reflect the outside bay view. The Sub-Zero is concealed behind vintage-looking wood paneling, and the cabinets appear to be antique furniture collected over time. Eurotech Cabinetry was the kitchen consultant and did the installation. This room, with its bar acting as the space divider, merges with a more eclectic family room.
In this room, the wife's late night e-bay shopping yielded a wonderful monkey-themed needlepoint rug of 18th-century, formally clad animals at play in a rococo setting. Picking up on the colors of the rug, the designers created a comfortable window-side banquette upholstered with a whimsical monkey pattern. A monkey chandelier and collections of brass monkeys reinforce the theme, along with prints and posters scattered around the room.
The husband's mandate for a recliner sent the designers shopping. "A recliner is the bane of any interior designer's existence," sighs Smith. "Normally, we hate to use them. But we sure got lucky with this leather chair. It's subdued and has an appealing, soft, distressed look that works really well with the slightly jungle theme in the room."
The favorite chair sits in the middle of the room with an unimpeded view of the television, which is inset into the fireplace wall. That wall is made of fieldstone that the homeowners had trucked down from Pennsylvania. "In spite of the playful monkey theme, this room is darker, more intimate and definitely more Northern in feel than the rest of the home," says Smith. "I think it reminds the family of their roots."
While many Mediterranean homes feature faux finish paint treatments, the couple selected wallcoverings for their new villa. They chose grass cloths, nubbly silks, and tone-on-tone patterns so subtle and delicately faded that they give the rooms an antique aspect. Unique accent tiles from artist Elle Leonard and Southwest Tile & Design complement the papers in the bathrooms.
"We brought in a few Spanish mission-style pieces to reinforce the Mediterranean theme," says Fabiola Softas. "But the owners bought new things for the rooms, too, as well as bringing things from their home in Pennsylvania. They personalized the rooms. There's no doubt about who lives here."
Although the Lido Shores project is finished, the design relationship is far from over. The couple told Smith they intend to build a country French place in Pennsylvania, which should keep the collaboration going for some time to come.