The Perfect Blend

By staff May 1, 2005

The brass plaque to the side of the welcoming red door at Nina and Jay Richardson's charming Bradenton home says everything the couple wants to express about their house and their lifestyle over the eight years since they wed. The home is named "Dovetail."

"Our lives, our families and all our belongings just seemed to effortlessly dovetail and blend when we bought this house, which was, by the way, before we got married," says Nina. "We had been dating for a few months and were serious, but not engaged. We were on a bike ride one day when we saw the open house sign." She lived a short distance up the road and was aware of the property, she explains, but certainly wasn't in the market for a home. Both she and Jay were divorced, with their own homes, careers and plenty of possessions.

"But we went in anyway and separated at the front door, each wandering through rooms on our own," she recalls. "We met up about an hour later, looked at each other and decided to make an offer. We got married a few months later and moved in. "

The home is a rambling two-story Tudor-style cottage with eight-foot ceilings, three working fireplaces, oak plank floors and many clearly defined and self-contained rooms. It's an atypical Florida coastal home, one that owes its stylistic pedigree to Great Britain and Colonial America, which is just perfect for the Richardsons, who collect antique furniture, mostly English and American.

"I appreciate that the ceilings aren't too high because it means the scale of the furniture is right for the spaces," says Nina. "And Jay and I like a lot of separate rooms that each have a purpose. For instance, our living room is the place where we go for reading by the fireplace or to have a drink with friends in the evening after dinner. I wouldn't dream of putting a television in there." To play off the wood floors and dark wood furniture, the couple decided to have some fun with wallpaper and paint treatments selecting bold instead of shy prints and colors.

The result is a series of rooms, lavish and fully realized. "I guess that's a nice way to say we have a lot of stuff," says Nina. "But we decided to keep the things we each treasure and that have meaning for us." Nina terms her decorating style "traditional New England eclectic."

Nina collects miniature Limoges boxes, fancy glass perfume bottles, hats, glassware and anything that's needlepoint, from pillows and chair cushions to area carpets and vintage footstools. Jay, who's from an old New England family who settled in Athol, Mass., brought to the marriage Windsor and Hitchcock chairs, Duncan Phyfe tables, oil paintings-some done by his mother, Adele-and a growing collection of some 30 antique clocks. The tall grandfather timepiece in the entrance foyer is a family heirloom handed down from Jay's grandfather. An oversized, artfully illustrated map in the front hall, from 1855 Athol, depicts the Richardson homestead and the family machine shop. Nina had it framed for Jay as a gift.

Nina and her family moved to Sarasota from New York in 1952 (her father, Donald, was a stockbroker who came to town to set up a Francis du Pont office near Marina Jack). She graduated from Sarasota High in 1960, the same year she was presented as a debutante. Later she married, moved to Atlanta and had two children, a son and a daughter. In 1978, she returned to Florida, settling in Bradenton, where she's now the real estate channel account executive for Brighthouse Cable television. Jay owns a business that wholesales marine electronics. The couple actually knew each other when they were married to other spouses, because their youngest daughters (Jay has three) were cheerleaders together at Manatee High. Some years later, Jay and Nina reconnected as singles through a friend of Nina's.

The Richardsons' home, 6,600 square feet under roof, was built in 1980 by Herman Searcy, who lived in it for a short time. Dr. Jeffrey Hill then bought the home and made a few changes: adding the 60-foot L-shaped swimming pool, replacing the Chicago brick floor in the kitchen with wood, and rearranging the placement of the front entrance and two fireplaces.

When the Richardsons moved in, they decided they needed a game room and bar off the pool area, because they like to entertain. Jay reconfigured what had been a laundry room, hall and maid's room to give the couple the floor space they needed; then they painted the room festive red. The floor is a dark and light wood checkerboard pattern. Jay handcrafted an oak bar, which has a brass foot rail that came from an Atlanta flea market and once was part of a restaurant's d├ęcor.

In the game room the couple installed a player piano, slot and pinball machines, a remote-controlled jukebox and even gumball machine. The walls are lined with photos of movie stars and family members, and the atmosphere is party central. "We often stage our big gatherings for 200 out on the pool deck where a band can set up," says Nina. "Then people drift into the game room for drinks, and then into the kitchen, where I lay out a big buffet on the trestle table. That table is original to the house, and we both love it."

The Richardsons have their master bedroom and adjoining bath downstairs; upstairs are four more bedrooms and baths for visiting children and grandchildren. Since the house is basically divided into two vertical zones, the homeowners have the convenience of single-story living day-to-day and the luxury of a spacious separate guest suite above.

Off the master bedroom is the couple's study, and it's this room that perhaps best defines Dovetail. Nina's U-shaped desk, which belonged to her father, sits across the room from Jay's family antique roll-top desk. Along the mantel of the brick fireplace and on the walls are arrangements of family photographs, some as new as infant grandchildren and others dating back three and four generations (some with their pets) on both sides. When one looks over this gallery of expanding young families and ancestors, it's difficult to sort out who's related to whom. And that just makes Nina and Jay Richardson smile. Dovetail works.

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