Randy LaBolle walked into the Ringling Gardens condominium and worried that he had been struck blind. Glaring white surrounded him, so austere and complete that he was unable to see the corners of the room. Walls and ceiling were painted bright white. The Living room carpet was white shag and the adjoining kitchen was decorated in snowy Formica with white knobs and a white tiled floor. LaBolle likened it to stumbling into a snowstorm, without the drama.
Still, the place intrigued him. Ringling Gardens, on Ringling Boulevard a couple of blocks east of downtown Sarasota, was built back in the 1960s as a condominium and has a decidedly retro appeal. The pure camp of the building's turquoise trim, skinny architectural arches and sliding glass doors appealed to his sense of humor, while the price fit his budget. A second bedroom offers ample space for LaBolle to design the original floral creations he sells at his shop, August Third. So, pallid and lifeless interior notwithstanding, LaBolle bought the place and began the transformation.
Color was the immediate cure. LaBolle warmed the interior with gleaming oak floors, antique bisque paint on most walls and a rich shade of marigold faux-painted on a focal wall to look like limestone. Richly patterned wool rugs from Iran in deep shades of rose and red covered the floor. An oversized cormandel screen in gold tones over black lacquer lines the living room wall, while a handsome mirrored chest and opera mirror reflect color and light back into the living room from the entry. Ginger in a Jar, an original oil painting by local artist Cheryl Moody, is a bold splash of greens and reds in the living room; the painting even features turquoise arches that replicate the condominium's façade.
LaBolle chose to furnish the modest living space with a few large pieces, carefully selected to make a statement. The hand-carved Indonesian coffee table is crafted of marble and wood. An eight-foot couch and oversized chair are both framed in wood glazed in a pewter metallic stain and covered in oatmeal chenille. Browsing an auction, LaBolle discovered a chandelier featuring globules of glass that look like oversized grape clusters. "I was smitten by its nod to the 1960s," he says. Throw pillows covered in vivid sari fabric remnants and cowry shells mix with faux fur and petit point for a rich mix of textures. And because LaBolle creates silk and floral arrangement for a living, he filled his place with miniature palms and orchids and bromeliads so authentic that guests just have to touch the leaves.
Once the living room looked fabulous, LaBolle turned his attention to the small and very ugly kitchen. His big dilemma was the refrigerator, which occupied a great deal of space and could be seen clearly from the couch. Solution? Throw it out. "I don't cook and rarely dine at home," LaBolle explains. "So it made sense to just get rid of the beast."
Now he had room to work with. LaBolle chose to furnish his kitchen in smart black wood cabinetry hand-washed with a rosewood stain and trimmed with 12 inches of ornate crown molding painted pewter and silver. Pewter bin pulls centered on doors and drawers give the kitchen cabinets the look of fine furniture, augmented by granite counters flecked in violet and plum and imported copper sink and faucets. Mirrored pantry doors conceal a pantry and storage closet, while a pretty black wood chair from the Bahamas offers a spot to sit or rest a parcel. A small refrigerator, perfectly sized to hold snacks, beverages and restaurant leftover boxes, is paneled in matching cabinetry and completely concealed. LaBolle continued the wood floors from the living room and also wrapped the faux limestone painting around the shared wall for visual flow. His finished kitchen is now a smart entertaining center and natural extension of living space.
Accessorizing is done with personal pieces, gathered and collected through travels and combing antique stores. There's a tramp art box made of cigar boxes and whittled with a pocketknife. Sid Dickens memory tiles mix with gargoyle plant hangers from the 1920s. A wonderful ebony and ivory African box made of porcupine quills and a pair of 1870s cast-iron fixtures from a building in LaBolle's Pennsylvania hometown create warmth and spark conversation.
LaBolle believes homes should reflect personal style and feel easy, comfortable and relaxed. "A few old pieces give a place approachability," he says. "People are uncomfortable with the uncharted territory theory of decorating. You know that living room, where everything screams 'new' and guests are afraid to sit on the sofa. That will never happen here, because I find things at auctions and antique stores as well as custom-design houses. Oh, and there's also that instant Bohemian charm provided by the exterior of the building. That really defines the place."
Design and decorating by Randy LaBolle; mirrors, artwork and floral arrangements from August Third; faux painting and cabinet painting by Randy LaBolle; couch and chair by Bennetti of Los Angeles; mirrored chest by Bassett; gilded opera mirror and coffee table by Harrison & Gill.