Tampa residents Joe and Mary Gayle Wessel consider the 64 miles to Sarasota a perfect driving distance for weekend getaways. The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, offered a lovely home away from home with all of the right amenities and an enviable point of origin for exploring the city. When a seventh-floor condominium nearby at 888 Boulevard of the Arts became available, the Wessels were not a hard sell. "This location is exceptional," Mary Gayle explains, "because you overlook downtown, Sarasota Bay, the bridge, the boat docks, just everything. You are in the heart of it all, and the views provide constant entertainment. There is never a dull moment."
Convinced that Sarasota, particularly Sarasota waterfront, would be a smart investment, the Wessels jumped. Mary Gayle, who designs interiors professionally and has her ASID designation, decided to undertake the remodeling herself.
A year later, she still closes her eyes when asked to describe the condominium's original interior. "Let me just say that the phrase 'daunting task' has new meaning for me," she laughs. "The ceiling was too low, the appliances were all original, the carpeting was sculpted shag, and foil wallpaper covered nearly every square inch of wall."
Worst of all, the entire top row of windows in the living room had been obscured and therefore blocked a good deal of the water and sky vista. "People over five feet tall instinctively ducked their heads to see the view," says Mary Gayle. Speculation is that the windows had been covered at some point after construction in 1984, possibly for hurricane codes involving surface-to-glass ratios or energy-efficiency requirements. Mary Gayle just knew she had to let in the light.
Immediately, the offensive windows were replaced. In the kitchen, the drop ceiling was raised, appliances were carted away, the dingy vinyl floor was scraped up, and yards of blah-beige Formica were ripped out. Elsewhere, aging light fixtures were tossed, dated wallpaper was steamed off, and yellowed carpet was removed. Bi-fold closet doors with narrow one-inch slats got the axe, along with 1980s-era doorknobs in shiny chrome and plastic. Even the coated-wire closet shelves were removed, and once inside the closets, Mary Gayle kept dismantling. "We didn't like the looks of the air-conditioning/heating unit or the water heater," she says, "and felt their age was an issue. So we replaced everything with brand-new, energy-efficient appliances that get the job done."
Stripped down to a clean, spare shell, the condo was ready for a total makeover. Gorgeous 20-by-20 tiles in slate, green and gray turned the floor into a mirror reflection of water and sky. Walls were textured and painted shades of warm bisque. Custom kitchen cabinets in solid wood were installed, along with a KitchenAid dishwasher, refrigerator, wine cooler and beverage center, stainless steel sink and Bosch hood. A separate ceramic-glass cooktop and combination microwave and oven complete the streamlined design. Rich vanilla shades in the cabinetry and cool stainless steel of the appliances contrast handsomely with countertops in ubatuba granite flecked with green and gold.
Both the master bath and guest bath were finished in warm wooden cabinetry with the same granite. Indirect lighting with recessed cans and baby spots bathe the condo in soft illumination, while interesting floor and table lamps provide good reading light and eye appeal.
Mary Gayle imbued the condo with understated elegance and maximized spaciousness through her knowledge of proportion and use of classic furnishings, luxurious fabrics and a calming color scheme. The master bedroom is anchored by a four-poster iron bed and accented with a hand-painted Chinese screen, gilded mirror, silk bedding and imported Italian linens. The guest bedroom, which could easily double as a den or office, features a traditional day bed, colorful waterscape and beautiful mirrored chest and table. Exquisite shells, fire coral and sea fans are used as accessories along with art glass, gilded sconces and carefully selected artwork and antiques. Living and dining rooms feature a classic couch with twin lacquered cubes as coffee table, bun ottoman, French bergère chairs, lighted display cabinet and glass dining table on a stone pedestal.
Pieces were selected to work together, offer flexibility and ease of movement within the floor plan and to create a light, neutral backdrop for this beautiful waterfront residence without screaming "Florida" in every fabric and fixture. "I purposely avoided taking the easy way out and decorating with palm trees," says Mary Gayle. "While that look can be beautiful, I feel it has been overused."
Mary Gayle's favorite accessory is the whisper-soft motorized shade that retracts at the push of a button to reveal a beautiful wall of glass windows framing an astonishing view. "At seven floors up, you're at a perfect place," she enthuses. "Our sightline is just above the palm trees, with pelicans soaring by at eye level. We can see for miles and yet still feel connected to what is going on below in the city. I can walk to the windows and see boats going by in the morning or step out on the balconies and enjoy the beautiful bridge or the twinkling lights of the city at night. Everywhere you look there is always something to see."
Design, furnishings and accessories by Mary Gayle Wessel; tile by Ashdown Flooring; window treatments by QS Design Services; cabinets by Sarasota Cabinetry; granite by Stone Saver; closet doors by Superior Shutter; closet interiors by Carefree Design Center; carpet by Loom Incorporated; furnishings covered by Upholstery Shop; windows, mirrors and glass by Nilsen Glass; windows treated by SolarX; painting by Sarasota Paint Company.