Made in Sarasota

By staff October 1, 2006

Tony Pugliese’s house is in a typical upscale Sarasota subdivision, with a manicured garden, imposing entryway and front-facing garage. But beyond the big wooden doors is a breathtakingly unexpected interior, one that transports visitors to a lush, Mediterranean-inspired tropical courtyard with warm tile floors, a pool banked by profuse plants, a rustic wooden cupboard that conceals the grill, and a gorgeous backsplash of two cheeky toucans against glossy green leaves and a black tile and glass background.

The backsplash is one of Pugliese’s ceramic and glass mosaic creations, and word of mouth has clients piling up for them.

“One of the things I like to do when we do a design job is to look at it as an opportunity to make something special and personal,” says Pugliese, who takes on projects with his wife, Carole, an interior designer with 30 years of experience. “I don’t consider myself an artist who does art for art’s sake. I see myself as a designer who does art for solving creative problems.”

In a Siesta Key condominium with a lot of bare walls, Pugliese was inspired by the carpet to create a muted tropical mural of white cockatoos (easily identifiable because Pugliese conscientiously researches his subjects before creating them) against a sage green and black background, to which Carole added a mirrored server to continue the theme.

Another client who had spent time in India needed help for his condominium in Jupiter. The Puglieses designed a tawny beige carpet bordered by amber, gold and amethyst, inspired by tigers and gemstones. To complement the carpet, Tony created a tile table of amber and gold yin-yang tigers.

In a Casey Key powder room for which the owner wanted an underwater feel, the couple took their inspiration from the turquoise-edged cream vessel sink, creating a mermaid’s grotto with a wave effect created by faux painting and a mirror that disappears into textured walls studded with shells and stars.

Beyond their custom tile furniture and backsplashes, the Puglieses  provide, says Carole, complete service from to-scale room layouts to finding fabrics and lighting, to designing and making the upholstery and lighting, always with an eye to ending up with an interior that uniquely reflects the client. For a safari-themed bedroom he conjured up for a little girl, for example, Tony not only painted a savannah backdrop on the wall, he designed and painted a zebra-striped daybed and a set of leopard-printed drawers with pewter animal pulls.

Born and raised in White Plains, N.Y. (where he met Carole in high school), Pugliese was a senior vice president and creative director at Gray Advertising in New York City, directing campaigns for such big names as Canon, General Foods and Proctor & Gamble. Carole worked from home and raised their two sons and later had a decorating shop in New Canaan, Conn. Now they work out of a joint office in their home, which overlooks their pool and doubles as a guest room for when their children and grandchildren, seven and two, come to visit. Pugliese sketches by hand (he feels computer sketches are too cold and institutional) on a lightbox, and then scans the drawings into his computer. He cuts the tile and glass and assembles the mosaics in his garage.

An art and design graduate of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and a former instructor at Parsons School for Design, Pugliese displays his eclectic work throughout his home—paintings, drawings and hand-colored architecture photography. Their home is a testament to a couple that loves art, travel and has been together a long time—gourmet appliances and gleaming pots and pans for Carole, who loves to cook, an African spear serving as a curtain rod in the family room, collections of jadeite figurines, 1930s pottery, Japanese screen paintings, Art Deco and Art Nouveau-inspired furniture and an Indonesian screen with its feet removed and piano hinges attached serving as a TV cover for their bedroom. There are also dining table chairs they bought for $3 each when they first set up a home together and a hutch they’ve had throughout their married life, which has held everything from their crockery to candles in Carole’s shop and now holds her prodigious collection of cookbooks.

Theirs is a collaboration that has worked well throughout a lifetime. And for Pugliese, life has come full circle with him being able to concentrate on art again.

“What I used to do was aesthetics in service of marketing,” says Pugliese. “What I’m doing now is pure aesthetics.”

You can see samples of Pugliese’s work at, or contact them at (941) 355-7475.

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