Southern Comfort

By staff October 1, 2006

Manatee River, Riverview Boulevard is a step back in time to a slower, more well-mannered, afternoon-tea-on-the-back-porch time.

Not much—and everything—has changed in this grand old neighborhood where the cream of Bradenton society has lived since the turn of the last century. Many of the old mansions, set back from the street on big, heavily treed properties that slope to the river, are being meticulously restored, or demolished to make way for new ones that, refreshingly, don’t look a whole lot different.

Instead of flaunting overly decorative architectural doodads, homes here are restrained—“honest architecture,” our architecture critic called it in a story last year.

Case in point is longtime Bradenton businessman Wayne Rickert’s new two-story Mediterranean Revival home, designed by architect Clifford M. Scholz. Constructed of dignified, deep terra-cotta stucco with a tile roof and imposing entryway, the home is ample enough to accommodate visits from Rickert’s four children and seven grandchildren, but not so imposing that you feel lost in its public rooms.

The acre-and-a-half property could double as a botanical garden, and indeed, the longtime former owner (a Mrs. Hampton, who was part of the Warner family, for which an offshoot of the Manatee River called Warner’s Bayou is named—that’s the way people are identified in old Bradenton) was a naturalist who had let the land around her circa 1861 wood-frame Cracker house go completely wild. Rickert hired Hazeltine Nurseries to tame it—but not too much; the front yard, with its abundant coconut palms, bamboo stands, mango and crepe myrtle trees, conveys just the right old-Florida feeling for the neighborhood.

“It’s a comfortable house; it’s not overwhelming,” says Matt Overstreet, Rickert’s longtime friend and interior designer. This is the third home Overstreet has designed for Rickert over the course of 30 years, including one in Costa Rica, where Rickert likes to spend time fishing. (Overstreet also designed the interior of Rickert’s yacht.) When a creative relationship is that longstanding, the designer and homeowner understand each other well enough that they communicate in a kind of shorthand. “Wayne gave me only one request,” Overstreet says: “Make it fabulous.”

And that he did. Throughout the residence, the designer employed a disciplined color palette of toffee, caramel and cream on upholstery, paint and fabrics, punctuated by flashes of red, gold, coral and deep terra cotta. The colors play beautifully off the polished wood antiques—bookcases, chairs, armoires, an old grandfather clock—that Overstreet uncovered during his frequent jaunts to Europe.   

In the living room, a plump couch draped in Scalamandre silk is a perfect foil for elegant Italian silk drapes that fall in volume across the length of the room. The drapes are tied back with oversized bronze leaves ingeniously repurposed by Overstreet from a bronze door he found in Paris. A circa-1840 bookcase, found in Liverpool and beautifully refinished, fills another wall. It’s a far cry from the traditional notion of a bachelor pad: all black-leather Barcalounger and big-screen plasma TV.

Overstreet paid special attention to the chandeliers in each room. Every one of them came from Paris, one of his favorite haunts; he takes groups of clients on shopping expeditions there several times a year.

The guest bedrooms, at opposite sides of the house, are as different as night and day. The east bedroom has deep coral walls and bed and wall fabrics covered in a Chinoiserie design. The west bedroom has an attractive red and green mixed-print cotton fabric from Clarence House on bed and windows. In both bedrooms are handsome 18th-century French armoires, and on the walls are botanical prints and art from Rickert’s frequent travels around the world.

The upstairs is all master suite, with a large bedroom, study, closet and bath and sweeping terrace overlooking the Manatee River. The walls are faux-painted a lustrous toffee with flecks of gold that play off the dark wood floors.

 The kitchen is well equipped with all the latest conveniences, even though Rickert admits he’s not a cook. He is a sentimentalist, however; he saved the rippled old glass from Mrs. Hampton’s pre-Civil War Cracker house and used it for the cabinets in his butler’s pantry. It’s a subtle but effective tie to the property’s history.

Rickert’s favorite room is the library, and it’s easy to see why. The dark mahogany-paneled room, with its overstuffed furniture, exudes masculinity and comfort. The crowning glory, literally, is a brilliant blue ceiling embellished with gold painted astrological symbols, representing the signs of the zodiac under which Rickert and his four children were born. Master faux finisher Aaron Crussemeyer created the ceiling, which was inspired by an old compass.

Overstreet says the house is a work in progress. “If you’re lucky enough that you work for somebody for 30 years, you don’t really finish it,” he says.      Up next: Overstreet is redoing the small study off the exercise room, and starting plans for Rickert’s next Costa Rica vacation home.

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