Homefront - February 2003

By staff February 1, 2003

*Coastal Castles

Luxury is serious business for Martel Realty co-owners Doug Martel and Becky Martel, whose magnificent Mediterranean waterfront houses aim to be nothing less than castles for their new owners. With several spec homes on the mainland and the keys, the Martels have a few insights on trends for homebuyers with an eye for opulence.

Architecturally, the rustic castle look is hot, says Doug Martel, with features such as arches, pillars, towers and turrets, intricate forged iron railings and expansive balconies. In Martel's houses, the open space floorplan goes a step further to create a spacious feel by eliminating hallways completely.

Becky Martel says that inside the home, rich jewel tones and blues are popular for walls, and custom faux painting and murals are fast replacing wallpaper. Marble and stone are everywhere, on walls, floors and especially on countertops and in bathrooms, where luxury is always important. Here, furniture-styled cabinets in dark, rich woods are replacing traditional base cabinets, and fixtures have changed from bright chrome and brass to oil-rubbed darker finishes, such as copper, bronze and antique brass. Traditional draperies are out. Decorators are using oversized wood or iron rods and very decorative top and side panel treatments; pleated shades are hidden and used only for privacy.

Down-Home Luxury

Homebuyers looking for discreet luxury with an old Florida flair are flocking to an often overlooked barrier island: Manasota Key. Realtor Nelda Thompson of Nelda Thompson & Associates says that properties on the lush strip of land (protected by a conservation easement) now easily fetch between $1 million and $7 million.

"There is little under a million on Manasota Key," Thompson says.

She says high prices crept up on the quiet key over the past decade, but the slump in the economy has affected sales, with many buyers leaning toward lower-priced, investment-type properties.

But Thompson, like many old and new residents, loves the island for its gracious charm and its turn-of-the-century resort hotel. "There are no condos, no high-rises," Thompson says. "You drive down the road and all you see are trees. You can walk out on the beach many a time and not see another person. This is how old Florida used to be."

*Water, Water Everywhere

It's no secret that waterfront is the magic word in Sarasota realty. Gary Roberts, president of Bamboo Building and Development, is sure water lovers and boaters will snap up his newest venture. Hawk Island is a gated community of 22 single-family homesites, each 300 feet deep, in Manatee County. Each site has a rear bayfront view and a dock and canal in the front, offering spectacular views from both sides. The road will soon be completed, and, as of press time, sales were expected to be under way by January.

Forever Sarasota

A look at the previous addresses of the new buyers at upscale Sarasota Bay Club makes one thing clear: Young retirees who came here years ago for the area's beauty and arts scene plan to stay forever.

Stephanie Shaw, director of marketing for Sarasota Bay Club, says the majority of people who snapped up the phase one units when they opened nearly three years ago moved in from homes on the barrier islands and other Sarasota locales.

"It's an enhancement and extension of what they already had," Shaw says.

Shaw describes the Bay Club as a retirement community that puts great emphasis on independent living while providing all the luxurious amenities residents are used to. There's a full social calendar and on-site health care services.

A waitlist has already been started for phase one. As for phase two, which is slated for occupancy mid-February, half the units have already been snapped up, Shaw says.

Encore Sales Under Way

Empty-nesters and urban professionals alike will find a lovely place to call home-right in the heart of downtown Sarasota-when The Encore, an enclave of 15 luxury townhomes, is completed by October. Developer Hembree & Associates, Inc. has begun pre-construction sales for the charming residences, which will rise at the corner of Cocoanut and Fruitville roads. Pre-construction prices for the two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath houses, which offer more than 1,500 square feet of space, begin at $395,000.

*Pool Partners

Future residents of the upscale Beau Ciel condominium building will have an extra reason to visit the Hyatt next door: a stunning three-story waterfall that links lavish pools on both properties and provides a visual buffer between the two buildings.

The waterfall will cascade down from Beau Ciel's third-floor, zero-entry, 100,000-gallon pool into the Hyatt's ground-floor lagoon pool. Nestled amidst the tropical foliage flanking the waterfalls, a private stair pathway leads Beau Ciel owners safely down the same three stories to the yacht harbor and the Hyatt's amenities.

Smart Homes

"People today want their houses looking good and acting smart," declares Steve Gaston, vice president of M. Pete McNabb, Inc.

Gaston says his clients-well-educated retirees and young professionals well aware of the possibilities of technology-want to build houses that save energy, maximize efficiency and just about think for themselves.

They want radiant barriers and shields for energy efficiency, Gaston says, as well as structured wiring. Homes are being wired in the early stages of construction, which later allows all the electrical functions-audio, video, telephone, computers-to be integrated and controlled from one point. This enhances the flexibility of the house, and improves its resale value, Gaston says.

Clients are usually well-educated about their options, Gaston says, and often come in prepared to shell out much more at the outset for design amenities such as custom lighting and built-in units.

Thinking Kitchens

Efficiency, space saving and the latest in cool gadgetry often culminate in the kitchen. At Village Woodworking, engineer Allan Santor strives to combine the latest in technology with timeless design appeal.

Old is new again, Santor says, with clients favoring dark wood grains such as cherry and maple, with details such as beaded insets, intricate molding and staining and glazing. High-gloss finishes are popular; but so is the driftwood look, with warm reds, soft greens and a sandblasted texture.

Under the cozy exteriors, however, clients want the cutting edge. Santor is busy putting in full extension drawers with slides completely concealed under the wood; self-closing appliance doors with pneumatic bumpers; and "magic corners," designed to allow access to previously hard-to-reach corners with an ingenious system of slides.

"A lot of gizmos and gadgets go into our cabinetry," Santor admits.

The Personal Touch

Some avant-garde homeowners don't buy artwork to adorn a wall anymore; their walls become the artwork.

Jaimie Bowes Toma, owner of Fancy Paints, Inc., says homeowners are taking wall painting to a whole new level. Toma has been busy at various upscale homes around town creating what almost amounts to wall sculptures, textured walls layered with plaster, sandstone, special compounds and paint to create a visually stunning look that invites people to touch and stroke. In one bedroom, Toma created a wall that appears to undulate, sometimes raised a quarter of an inch from the base.

It's a look that gives rooms an opulent, intimate look, she says, as well as a unique, customized flair. Many clients opt to treat just one accent wall this way in a room, and the textured look is cropping up in bedrooms, dens and living rooms.

"I think people are tired of flat surfaces," Toma says. "There's a value to tactile."

*Designing Sarasota Style

Robb & Stucky Interior Designer Tre Michel often finds herself taking on the role of tour guide when new clients ask for help with homes they have just purchased in Sarasota-even if it means going outside Robb & Stucky.

"Robb & Stucky designers are very custom-oriented," Michel says. "We go to the fine points of getting clients what they want."

And Michel knows just where to find unique, personalized Sarasota furnishings. From her store, clients can pick out quintessential Floridian items such as indoor fountains, split bamboo furniture, fabrics with sea motifs, seashell chandeliers and window treatments made of real grass. There's also the popular Tommy Bahama line, whose tagline reads: "Life is one long weekend," a sentiment Michel says even locals who live and work here adhere to.

Michel also suggests a few off-the-beaten-track sources for accents, such as local photographers for art photographs of local architecture or nature. Another must-have Sarasota item is the family beach portrait, which features the whole family, usually dressed in white and khaki, against a backdrop of reeds and sand, she says. For the garden, Michel often refers clients to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens for orchids or Sarasota Bamboo Farm for unique plants.

*Leaders of the Pack

The 2002-2003 board of directors of the Home Builders Association of Sarasota County is hard at work after their installation in November.

Sarasota native Mike Padgett of Vision Homes of Southwest Florida, Inc. was installed as the 45th president of the association. The son of an architect, Padgett, who holds a political science degree, spent many of his early years inspecting job sites with his father. He later worked as a sales representative for Padgett Homes, Inc. before partnering with friend and custom home builder Charles Nemec to form Vision Homes of Southwest Florida.

Other board members are: Bob Sisum, Wayne Farrell, Jeanne Schwenk, John Cannon, Mike Rahn, Lynn Pepkowski, Billy Springer, Al Maio, Jim Eslinger, Mike Seery, Andrew Coles, Paul Pugliese, Ed Edsel, Kathleen Strobel, Kathy Robinson and Tom Coleman.

*New Kids on the Block

There are a couple of new faces at Prudential Palms Realty's new Fine Home International Office. Jerry Thompson and Tony Askew-who boast a combined total of $20 million in sales for 2001-join the new office at Mediterranean Plaza, 595 Bay Isles Road, Suite 115.

Prudential Palms president Scott Sosso says he's proud to have his two new staffers on board.

"They are well-established among customers who expect the best," says Sosso.

John Cannon Gears for Heavy Sales

The new year has ushered in plenty of new activity at John Cannon Homes, Inc.

Sales have begun at Palmer's Creek, a premier neighborhood located in The Country Club at Lakewood Ranch. John Cannon has also bought five homesites in The Oaks II. The builder also is currently accepting deposits on one-third to half-acre homesites at The Hammocks, a gated, deed-restricted community in east Sarasota County where paver walks and drives are standard.

Online Homebuyers

A new Internet web site is proving to be a popular avenue for sales for The Hedge Team of Michael Saunders & Company. Says Charlotte Hedge: "More and more young retirees moving to our city are inquiring via the 'Net about the downtown areas, with a focus on waterfront condos."

Prospective residents, Hedge says, like the idea of living downtown close to the art, culture, shopping and dining that are within blocks of luxury residential condominium buildings such as the Renaissance, Beau Ciel and Ritz-Carlton. Many also are interested in emerging opportunities at Golden Gate Point, she says. The web site is

*Bringing in the Outside

They were based in Orlando and Naples, but the firm of Romanza Interior Design was doing so much work in Sarasota that they decided it was time to move right in. Their new office at 259 Links Road in Towles Court is now open for business.

"Romanza is excited about being part of the Sarasota market," says director of sales and marketing Jill Cotton, who looks forward to implementing Romanza's specialty-integrating the Southwest Florida outdoors right into the home design.

To achieve the look, Romanza designers use parallel color tones and materials to seamlessly unite the indoors with outdoor areas, Cotton says. Another technique is to use natural materials like tumbled marble or slate for interior floor accents or over an outdoor fireplace to create a transition between the two areas, Cotton says.

"The casual Florida lifestyle calls for a close relationship between interior and exterior spaces," says Cotton. "The furnishing of outdoor spaces is no longer an afterthought."

Pendent Pleasures

At The Lamplighter, pendent lighting of Murano glass is proving to be a top-seller, says manager Lorie Parker.

"We've mixed different pieces of glass that blend together," Parker says. "It's our biggest trend and hit."

Parker says customers love the variety of the imported Italian glass (she has around 15 different styles) and its vibrant colors, and enjoy mixing and matching to create the perfect lighting piece. Because they're small and versatile, the fixtures can hang anywhere: powder rooms, dining rooms and above kitchen islands.

*Walkable Art

Black is back-and not just on your cocktail dress. The color is underfoot in every well-dressed home as the shade pops up increasingly on rugs all over town, says John Murse, owner and president of Rugs As Art, Inc.

As well as black backgrounds, earthy wood tones, geometrical Navajo designs and natural Tommy Bahama colors are also popular rug choices now, Murse says. Flowers and pastels are not particularly trendy at the moment, but this being Florida, Murse says he always has a demand for the resort-style colors and designs.

Granite is Gold

Jaren Levitt, president of Stone Trend International, says granite is now so competitively priced that many builders are using the material as a standard. "If you really use your kitchen, it's a great medium," Levitt says. "It's nearly indestructible."

Levitt says the material is virtually stainproof (provided it's sealed well), and withstands scorch marks from hot pots or nicks from knives. Its composition also renders it much easier to keep free of bacteria and germs. And here's a design tip from Levitt: This year's "in" colors for countertops are browns and golds.

High-tech Blinds

With a touch of a remote control, you can turn music on, close a garage door, and now-with the latest in blind technology-let the sunshine in. Patrick Leddy, president and owner of Accurate Blinds, Inc., is excited about the new Hunter Douglas Luminette Privacy Sheers with power glide. The motorized shade tilts open and closes at the press of a button, Leddy says.

Although they're not motorized, matchstick-type reed and bamboo shades have also been a hot seller in the past six months, especially in lanais, where woven sunshades have also made a big comeback, Leddy says.

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