Homefront - November 2001

By staff November 1, 2001

The Rise of Rosemary

Ed Biggs of Home Resource is taking his forward-thinking, modernistic home decor business back to the past by moving its design and distribution offices to a 9,000-square-foot building in Sarasota's hottest new revival neighborhood, the Rosemary District. The area is bordered on the south side by Fruitville Road, to the north by 10th Street, on the west by U.S. 41 and to the east by Orange Avenue. Asked why he moved his Lawton Drive operation, Biggs jokingly says, "We just followed Channel 40," referring to his old Lawton Drive neighbors who are also relocating downtown.

On a more serious note, Biggs says there were many factors, from the physical properties of the building to the attitude of the neighboring business owners and the vibe of the whole area. "I think this building used to house some sort of automotive business," says Biggs. "It's got these really neat iron windows and huge overhead doors. But more than the building are the people. When we had lunch at Kay's BBQ the owner came out to welcome us and thanked us for moving into the neighborhood. When we ate at Bob's Place, Bob came out and showed us a picture of his 12-year-old culinary student graduates" (from the neighboring Sarasota School of Arts and Sciences, which Bob's daughter, Brittany, attends).

Plus, Biggs adds, "Downtown is growing, and where else is it going to go? Here we're in the middle of a lot of residential construction and will be for years to come, and I like being next to the old cemetery; it's really quaint."

With the lease on Home Resource's two-story Southgate Plaza store running out in two years, Biggs is seriously considering "folding the whole operation" into the Rosemary District if everything goes as he anticipates. "We loved Southgate," says Biggs, "but working two floors was really difficult and here we have all this space. It's a real neighborhood and the people are real neighbors. They all made us feel so welcome, and everyone who shops or eats in this area will find that same welcoming atmosphere."

Greg Penix, chairman of the Rosemary District Association and the owner of A-1 Plumbing (which has been in the district since 1960), is excited that the area is seeing a resurgence after years of decline. Several historic buildings have been renovated, a new police substation has been located on Central Avenue and a brand-new middle school (the Sarasota School of Arts and Sciences) is also helping to bring in new businesses and residents. Real estate prices are rising. Where there were once bare, desolate streets and dingy boarded-up storefronts, there is now a bright, clean, sunny atmosphere complete with a community garden, trees along the walkways, brightly colored storefronts and flowers. Schoolchildren walk to the nearby Selby Public Library, Ringling School of Art & Design students chat outside new galleries and local business people walk to restaurants.

Also helpful, says Penix, is the city's encouragement of old-fashioned "shopkeepers" who live above their stores and are a part of the area around the clock instead of just from nine to five. "It keeps the area from becoming a ghost town at 5:01," says Penix, "plus it helps discourage the old illegal activities after dark that were so rampant in the past."

A New Place to Dress the Home

If it isn't already open by the time you read this it will be any minute: Shoppers and designers who have been driving to Seminole, Brandon, Tampa and Clearwater to shop the Burlington Coat Factory stores will be thrilled to know that the company has remodeled and moved into an 87,000-square-foot building that once housed a K-Mart at Bee Ridge and Cattleman Roads. (We were in the right place at the right time, having lunch at Vincenzo's, fortuitously seated next to Phil DesBruler, the head man in charge of the facility make-over for Bradenton-based TDS Construction, Inc., so we wheedled a sneak-peek prior to opening.) Trust us, you'll not recognize the place!

And although the store's name is "Coat Factory," Burlington offers far more than outerwear. You can dress your home at Burlington's Home Decor Department, which offers items for bedroom and bath, kitchen and dining room, plus home accents and, perhaps most exciting, the collections of Emmy-award-winning designer and TV star Christopher Lowell. ("The Christopher Lowell Show" airs on the Discovery Channel.)

Lowell, whom Better Homes and Gardens refers to as "the self-proclaimed male Martha Stewart" and The Washington Post calls "the vampy, campy Christopher Lowell," is loved by fans as much for his irreverence as for his seemingly unlimited supply of design tips. It was Lowell who offered decorating advice to the Clintons via Newsweek-"Start with comfortable seating and put the Ozark stuff upstairs." Being entertaining is what makes his show a hit, he says. "Nobody wants to watch your glue gun warm up," he told Entrepreneur magazine.

The local store will employ about 100 people plus extra temporary seasonal employees. For more on the Burlington Coat Factory go to

Ritzy Designs

No one has been more excited about the much-anticipated opening of The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, than designer Jan Bullard, Allied ASID and owner of Coward Design in Towles Court. "Anyone involved in the apartments (which start on the 10th floor and go to the 18th ) has been working toward this since pre-construction," says Bullard.

Bullard's assignment began as she was finishing the interior of a home WHERE? for WHO??clients and they informed her that they were buying a unit in the Ritz. Asked to design a floorplan, Bullard began a work-up for the unit and ended up with a much larger space when the clients purchased the adjacent apartment. One side is being treated as the everyday living area while the other will be the entertainment area.

Bullard says the joys and challenges of working on such a project are a little different than the many successful projects she's tackled in her extensive career since graduating from Ringling School of Art and Design back in the late 1970s. "It's not like designing an individual home or condominium," she explains. "You can't move plumbing around or go to any of the solutions you might use in other types of construction. There was a lot of reconfiguring and meeting with the developer."

Bullard says the style will be somewhat contemporary with Italian influence. She and her clients shopped for the interior in New York and on the East Coast; some pieces will be custom designed by Bullard. "I'm using special wood floors and simple ceiling detail, except in the grand room where I did a design on the ceiling to give it a little more 'oomph.' My clients will probably choose some high-tech media pieces to use with Venetian accents and their color scheme is cobalt blue and amethyst."

Bullard, a South Carolina native, worked for Coward Design since its inception and purchased the firm-formerly located on Palm Avenue-nine years ago. She has worked internationally and also does custom furniture design.

Bugs and Beads

There's no place like home-unless it's your shop and you love it every bit as much as you do your leisure surroundings. Such is the case for lucky Joann Carmel of The Yellow Bird, who loves spending six days a week in her shop surrounded by beautiful things. Carmel says she thinks her current stock and displays are "the best we've ever had" and lists a few of her favorite things

"You've seen Madeline Albright wearing that unique jewelry that looks like big bugs?" she asks. "The wings move while she's talking? Well those pieces are by designer Bettina VonWalhof, an absolute doll who's a designer from New York. She calls her designs 'jewelry for the confident woman,' and she's featured in leading boutiques in Europe-Berlin, Munich, Paris and London-and in the U.S. on Madison Avenue and here at The Yellow Bird."

VonWalhof also creates fantastic and unusual elegant "table decorations" with a deep-sea theme. "We have her lobster and two of her starfish featured in a display of orange, gold and tangerine-colored sea fans with shells that look like opals of the sea, two genuine Cathedral amethyst geodes and natural shells from South Africa, New Zealand and Madagascar-they are beautiful! Out of those geodes comes this big huge lobster with Swarovski crystals from Austria, the finest in the world. The two big starfish are inlaid with topaz-colored crystals."

And looking to the holiday winter season, Carmel mentions two unique items. "Back in the 1930s, ladies made their decorations for Christmas," she says. "I have a little glass-beaded tabletop Christmas tree from that era. It features thousands of little green beads for the tree, all hand done. Plus all the ornaments are real crystals, cultured pearls, etc. We'd never do this today; it would take too long."

Also a wintry-decor item from an unlikely place: the tropics of Brazil. "It's a little brass tree about 12 inches tall, mounted on a piece of cut amethyst and decorated with crystals. This piece is from just after WWII and it's gorgeous. It looks like a tree of ice with sun shining on it." Carmel loves showing off the things she loves and says browsers are always welcome.

Precious Waterfront

With new construction a constant of this county, it's easy to overlook the more established neighborhoods that are tried-and-true jewels. Two of the newest "places to be" are actually two of the oldest neighborhoods in Sarasota, Coral Cove and Southpointe Shores.

"Sitting side-by-side on Sarasota Bay, these family-oriented communities offer prime bayfront and canal home sites, many with deep-water for boats," says Tracy DeRamo, a professional real estate consultant with Laughlin's Luxury Lifestyles. "There are also community parks and boat ramps in each of these neighborhoods, but not a great deal of turnover; homes available in this area are few." Only six of the 227 homes in Coral Cove were listed for sale last September and only four of the 114 homes in Southpointe Shores. Prices range from $449,000 for a vacant canal-front lot to $2,695,000 for a large bayfront home. Any property in this area tends to sell quickly, adds DeRamo, noting average time on the market to be "about five to six months."

Grand Decorating

Pianos are works of art both musically and architecturally, and plenty of people who never spent their Saturday mornings taking lessons are making them centerpieces in home décor and entertaining. Technology is making this possible, says Bob Secker, vice president and general manager of Piano Distributors. Today, you can have romantic dinner music tinkling "live" from your grand piano, dance music in the living room, even on-site vocals with piano accompaniment without practicing the first scale or sweating out a recital.

High-tech versions of the old pump-and-roll player pianos, called "reproducing" pianos, are nothing short of amazing and the response to them has been overwhelming, according to Secker.

"You can have whatever style music you enjoy-standards, classical, jazz, ragtime, hymns and more-on a simple three -inch floppy disk, each of which holds enough data to play hundreds of tunes," explains Secker. Stores sell the disks and Secker says that "the Internet is a great source to buy disks (try; you can even legally download free files onto a floppy."

These pianos can be learning tools, too. By using models with CD-Rom technology, teachers can record lessons for students to take home with them, students can record practice sessions and listen to them played back with perfect technique or the player can listen to just the right or left hand.

Around the World

The Netherlands and Italy

Prime Imports Inc. in Venice reports that the classic burled walnut "Bombay" furnishings that are part of the Van Rees Collection, an exclusive collection imported from the Netherlands, are now being introduced to the American market. Also in stock: Italian Cosi Tabellini pewter, "which is food safe."


A major exhibition at Galleria Silecchia, running from Nov. 19, 2001 through Jan. 31, 2002, features Russian painter Yuri Gorbachev's original oils on textured canvas, and contemporary and traditional icons in 24-karat gold, gold leaf and oil. Gorbachev is represented in more than 20 major museums around the world, including the permanent collections of the Louvre Museum, Kremlin Museum, Stockholm Art Museum and museums of fine art in Spain, Italy, Scotland and Finland.

He combines the history, mythology and cultural heritage of his homeland with references to Russian and Balinese folk art, African rock drawings and masks. His paintings express mythological and theatrical themes with architectural elements, strong design and high emotion. Gorbachev's playful, primitive images tell stories of rural life, preserving in clay, glazes and paintings, a strong sense of an entire civilization.

Contemplating Ceramics

Alison Bishop, the owner/designer of her family's longtime local business, Living Walls, says some of the hottest decorating items for fall and winter are ceramics. "This year has seen a lot of interest in contemporary porcelain objects that offer a refined mixture of bold, confident forms, warm colors and rich textures-what's been called 'an eclectic view rooted in the straightforward utility of contemporary design.'"

Tall shapes are especially impressive, says Bishop. "They are, for the most part, all handmade but well priced. Their graceful shapes are very balanced and light though they have a large presence and visual weight. They can stand alone and make a statement or you can put flowers in them." Bishop says the pieces lend themselves well to most any décor, depending on which ones catch your eye. "Some are almost-I hate to say 'retro'-but they definitely speak to the revival of classic contemporary design. They could go in any decor, and the darker colors are especially good for traditional homes."

A favorite of Bishop's is The Relief Collection from Jonathan Adler, who cites diverse inspiration from Cubism to modernism.

In the Kitchen

For the sixth consecutive year Cook's Custom Cabinetry has the honor of doing the kitchen for the ASID Showcase home. Ron Cook won awards for his 1998 contribution to the Icard estate show home and the 2001 Orange Blossom design. When asked if he'll try to top himself this year, his wife and partner Margaret Cook says, "Absolutely!" Ron and Valerie Cribb will do this year's kitchen, including appliances, for the house at 5022 Bayshore Road, and the event will again be in support of the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Ringling School of Art and Design, and the University of South Florida. The showcase will open on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2002, and close on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2002. Margaret Cook asks that anyone interested in participating in this event as a docent/greeter for one four-hour shift one day a week for four consecutive weeks contact her ASAP at 366-6112.

Correcting credit errors

Whenever you apply for a home loan, you enter the mysterious netherworld of credit reports. Unfortunately, erroneous information on reports is more common than you think, and such mistakes can ruin your chances for the best loan. Here's some inside info from expert Penny Hill at Chase Manhattan Mortgage on how to make sure your credit stays clean: "Major credit bureaus compile reports, and if there is incorrect information on any or all of them it is the responsibility of the credit bureau and the account owner (i.e. Burdines, American Express, etc.), to correct mistakes. But it's your responsibility to make them aware of mistakes."

Of course there's a certain way to do this, she adds: "Write a letter to the credit bureau, furnishing your complete name and address, the mistake(s) and why you feel the information is wrong. Include documentation of proof such as a paid receipt or cancelled check and enclose a copy of the credit report, noting the mistake. Request that errors be corrected or deleted. Send the whole thing by certified mail requesting a return receipt, and copy the same to the lender who initially brought the derogatory report to your attention."

The credit bureau must research the circumstances within 30 days. If the disputed item can't be verified it must be deleted. Getting to the bottom of mistakes on your credit report can take time and effort, but can ultimately make the difference in getting the best terms on loans. For further information check out

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