The Five-Star Lifestyle

By staff June 1, 2006

Let's face it--we want it both ways: personal amenities in hotels and resort amenities at home.

This spring's 2006 Parade of Homes, sponsored by the Home Builders Associations of Sarasota and Manatee counties, proved that interior architecture for resorts and year-round homes have become inextricably intertwined, with differences fast disappearing in the million-dollar-plus category.

The parade, which ran from late February through mid-March, also demonstrated that homes in our region are not just getting bigger, they're getting better-with builders attempting to re-create vacation experiences in everyday living and entertaining. Outdoor rooms provide lavish party space; kitchen equipment rivals that in California-style restaurant open kitchens; and bathrooms, gyms and game rooms are much like you'd find in a hotel. Master bedrooms are self-contained enclaves not unlike presidential suites in the finest hotels, with sitting areas, gentleman's studies, mini-kitchens with microwaves, refrigerators and coffeemakers, ultra-luxury baths and outdoor saunas and showers.

One of the country's leading hotel designers, Stephen Perkins of ForrestPerkins in Washington, D.C., says his firm is now sought out by residential redevelopers to bring a hospitality look to projects like the co-op conversion of the Watergate Hotel in the nation's capital. Conversely, Perkins says top hotels now offer more elaborate bathrooms with upscale residential fixtures, luxury bedding and residential furniture styling in guest rooms.

"Shelter magazines and the Internet have helped consumers become more sophisticated," Perkins says. That kind of sophistication is evident in the 34 entries in the Parade of Homes' million-dollar-plus category (up from 24 last year).

The winner in the $1 million to $1.35 million category is the Monaco by Special Edition Custom Homes, which has a knockout outdoor environment, with a backyard view that focuses on water enclosed by the Silver Oak community's columned stucco walls and hotel-like manicured roads.

Although most parade entries sported common amenities, they were creatively applied so that each home provided a sense of one-off individuality, a commodity that's highly prized at The Founders Club, where no roofline or home exterior is the same. Every home features elaborate ceiling details, with new trends such as oak or white painted bead board inset into coffers or oak, mahogany or even wenge wood grids.

No longer simply faux-finished, ceiling niches are Venetian-plastered in gold streaked with veins of black or sky-blue crusted stucco reliefs. Ceilings are carved into ellipses and various permutations of the polygon. In John Cannon's Elanora model, many of the rooms feature these geometric shapes, sometimes with the ceiling polygon echoed in custom rugs or stone floor insets.

Since it would be tough to improve on last year's opulent home theaters and second-story bonus rooms outfitted with game tables, extra-flat-screen TVs, kitchenettes and patios, designers this year concentrated on simple refinements. Fireplaces are added to the upper-floor lanais, and theaters are enlarged to accommodate tiered rows of butter-soft leather seating. Theater aisle stairs are carpeted and lit à la the local multiplex. And the newest built-ins are customized with shallow shelves for easy access and storage of CDs and DVDs.

One section of the home heretofore neglected, even in luxury models, is the garage entry and laundry. Todd Johnston's Villa Carina model proved that a laundry area can make a lifestyle statement of its own, with windows or French doors lighting the once darkest part of the home. Other models also used windows to brighten the day of homeowners as they leave or enter their homes, typically through a garage entrance instead of the front door. Other garage hall-laundry area trends include banquette-seating niches for shoe removal and built-in storage cabinets for backpacks, purses, mail-anything to get you organized and prevent junk from entering the home.

And who would have guessed that garages would don their own status gear? We were pleased to note that one of the four garages at Villa Carina (air-conditioned, of course) showcased the trend-setting new Gladiator GarageWorks line by Whirlpool, with its tire-patterned stainless steel components like the modular garage refrigerator that holds 170 cans of beer, the Freezerator convertible refrigerator/freezer, a compactor, workbench and scads of gear boxes. And you thought white melamine was a step up!

Builders continue to raise the bar with outdoor rooms and summer kitchens. Seamless transitions from great room, kitchen or living room to patios are de rigueur, and homes in the million-dollar category often come with disappearing sliding glass doors and no view-obstructing corner column for support. Lee Wetherington's St. Andrews model at The Founders Club proffered screened windows to finish off its summer kitchen. And most million-dollar-plus models upgraded this year to outdoor grills by Wolf and Viking, status brands most people covet for their interior kitchens.

We were impressed with "colonnading" surrounding the pool area and lanai at Pruett's Mir-A-Lago in Lakewood Ranch. And no one topped the hand-chipped marble kitchen and outdoor patio floors in the $4.25 million Bellagio II by Arthur Rutenberg/M. Pete McNabb. That model is still the only one we've found that provides an outdoor pizza oven.

Two models at the Parade of Homes premiered "beach disks" built into their pools-raised areas meant to hold beach chairs with their feet in the water. One of them, the Villa Solivita II by Pruett Builders, also displayed Mister Chair, an indulgent chair that lets you mist yourself at will as you soak up the sun.

Now that the million-dollar homes' ubiquitous granite and marble countertops can be replicated quite easily through Home Depot, custom builders are opting for exotic marbles and onyx in rare colorations and with names you're not likely to recognize at big box stores. Designer stones are appearing on counters in unlikely places like the laundry room and morning room (a mini-kitchen off the master bedroom suite, which this year is typically completely self-contained.)

New for 2006 are glass mosaics, fabricated "pebbles" and tumbled marble set into plain stone or marble floors to define traffic patterns, outline furniture or seating areas, or just for architectural interest. Desks are built in at unexpected places-sometimes in hallways of guest quarters, other times off the kitchen so parents can keep an eye on kids surfing the Internet. The traditional "lady's planning desk" in the kitchen area remains, but builders are now acknowledging career women with his-and-her offices, each at opposite ends of the house.

In addition to Lakewood Ranch and The Founders Club, the parade featured million-dollar homes at University Park, Silver Oak in Palmer Ranch and Country Club Shores on Longboat Key. Consistently, kitchens at this level feature fully integrated appliances (that means every knob and button is hidden from view behind elaborate cabinetry). Most homes in this category feature larger refrigerators (one was 72 inches wide); a few introduced a newer amenity: refrigerator drawers.

Everywhere, the trend of contrasting tones and wood finishes within kitchen cabinetry is evident, as is the mixture of furniture pieces with traditional cabinets. Habersham Plantation's distressed furniture was used as a kitchen island and breakfront at Pruett's Villa Solivita II at the Founders Club and interspersed throughout the house as well.

Bathrooms are more opulent than ever before. Some of the most extravagant touches are outdoor showers concealed from view with walled gardens. Roman showers inside are wall-length and inset with niches. Rare and exotic marbles in unusual tones like burgundy, some with natural textures that look like fossil-embedded stones, were points of difference for million-dollar homes.

If Parade of Homes attendance records can be considered a bellwether, Sarasota is indeed a region of dreamers. On just one Sunday afternoon during the event's two-week run, Sharon Ross, director of sales and marketing for The Founders Club, reported 600 visitors to its models, all eager to be herded on buses to multimillion-dollar sand castles. Lines were so long that Ross's team had to use the white picket fences lining the stairs and ramp to their sales office as makeshift theater ropes. "We had no experience with crowd control," she says, "so we borrowed a solution from Disney World."

Discovering these nuances and visualizing which of the many new ideas might be incorporated in your home is part of the pleasure of a Parade of Homes tour. And best of all, the parade is free, fun-filled family entertainment-just ask the two kids who would not be extricated from a master suite closet in one of the Lakewood Ranch models. They wanted to live in it, they said, because it was prettier and bigger than their room at home.


Here are the judges' picks for best luxury entries.

$1 million to $1.35 million

Special Edition Custom Homes, Monaco, Silver Oak at Palmer Ranch: Curb Appeal, Kitchen, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Best Overall

Anchor Builders of SW Florida, The Charlton, Country Club at Lakewood Ranch: Master Suite

$1,358,000 to $1.45 million

Pruett Builders, Mir-A-Lago, Country Club at Lakewood Ranch: Curb Appeal, Kitchen, Master Suite, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Best Overall

$1,495,000 to $1,726,000

Peregrine Homes, Sevilla IV, Country Club at Lakewood Ranch: Curb Appeal, Kitchen, Master Suite, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Best Overall

$1.8 million to $2,106,000

Lee Wetherington Homes, Villa Natalia, Country Club at Lakewood Ranch: Curb Appeal, Kitchen, Master Suite, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Best Overall. This home is also a winner in the subcontractor competition for interior design

$2.3 million to $2.5 million

John Cannon Homes, The Elanora, The Founders Club: Kitchen, Master Suite, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Best Overall. This home is also a winner in the subcontractor category for landscaping.

Pruett Builders, Villa Solivita, Country Club at Lakewood Ranch: Curb Appeal

$2.3 million to $2.7 million

Pruett Builders, Villa Del Mar II, Country Club at Lakewood Ranch: Curb Appeal, Kitchen, Master Suite, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Best Overall

$3 million-plus

Todd Johnston Homes, Villa Carina, The Founders Club: Curb Appeal, Kitchen, Master Suite, Floor Plan, Architectural Detail, Best Overall.

This home is also a winner in the subcontractor category for pools.

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