Palm Island Idyll

By staff May 1, 2008

If you were Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher, retired and longing to give your grandchildren a taste of your blissfully carefree youth, you’d build a home at Palm Island Resort. There would be no bridges connecting your remote paradise to the Cape Haze mainland. Instead, you’d hop a ferry to get there, pretending it was your getaway raft floating lazily across the Mississippi River. From the tiny pier on this unspoiled island, you’d drive a mile through untamed beach foliage to a parking lot, where folks must leave their cars along with their mainland worries.

Ed Biggs of Interior Planning Services of St. Petersburg (he’s the former owner of Sarasota’s Home Resource) designed a Key West-style dream home for a retired couple who wanted their two daughters, sons-in-law and four grandchildren and grandchildren to enjoy this unspoiled island. The couple also owns homes in Delray Beach and Stamford, Conn. The pastel house with white trim and metal roof is designed so kids can be as free and safe indoors as they are roaming through a beach community where only bicycles and golf carts are allowed. At 5,000 square feet, the home offers plenty of room for the whole extended family to comfortably continue their tradition of celebrating holidays together.

“We’ve spent 21 consecutive Christmases on the island with our daughters in a much smaller house, and it’s nice that they still want to come with their spouses and children,” says the wife. The impetus for the new house, they say, was the arrival of three grandkids within a 30-day period. “One of our daughters has a five-year-old and a 16-month-old, and the other daughter has 17-month-old twins,” explains the husband. “That’s why we have a baby gate!”

The two-story house also boasts six bedrooms, five en suite, with enough privacy for everyone. One of two mirror-image master bedrooms serves as the husband’s office. “But we designed the space so that when we’re gone, our daughters and their husbands will each have a private master bedroom suite overlooking the Gulf, if that’s what they choose to do,” the wife says.

The homeowners describe themselves as laid-back and not terribly formal. “We didn’t want to worry about having a conniption any time something spilled,” the wife explains. Indeed, designer Biggs says his mandate was to create the essence of carefree island living. “The challenge was to childproof a beach retreat,” he says, though surprisingly, the only visible evidence of toddlers is the telltale baby gate. The interiors come off as grown-up with a contemporary beach cottage style that is inviting, comfortable and architecturally focused on spectacular Gulf of Mexico views.

Biggs did not have to sacrifice good looks, because he chose furniture and fabrics designed to avoid accidents waiting to happen. For the comfortable great room, he selected soft-edged, generous seating in pale cream and sea-blue brushed cotton. “We double Scotchgarded it just in case,” he confides. Washable Sunbrella outdoor fabrics are a chic but practical option for a plaid ottoman and slipper chairs covered in a beachy fish motif. Finely detailed prints of crustaceans and see-though lamps filled with sea shells artfully enhance the seaside lifestyle.

Sisal accent rugs, woven grass chairs from eco-friendly Padma’s Plantation, carved ceiling fans and British Colonial dining and coffee tables by Artesia support the island theme. “The idea is to bring the outdoors in,” Biggs says. “The clients didn’t want anything perishable, and they wanted to be able to walk in with sand on their feet.” He and building contractor Jack Curley of Boca Grande proposed hand-scraped hickory floors that withstand abuse by grownups as well as kids. “Sand scratches most wood floors,” Biggs notes, “but these have a great patina that doesn’t show anything.”  

The homeowners adapted myriad suggestions Biggs and Curley offered to make the house more livable. “Ed has a wonderful eye and Jack is a perfectionist,” the husband says, citing Curley’s insistence on installing the home’s transom windows upside down so that bars would not be in the 6-foot, 7-inch owner’s field of vision. “Flipping the windows totally opened the view for me,” he says.

“All the decisions Ed made, like the moldings, the floor, even converting a lanai off the master bath into a storage space, were good things,” the husband adds. An extra upstairs sitting room was gained by Biggs’ suggestion, he explains. “Originally we had a two-story entry foyer, but Ed said by adding a lower cove ceiling in the entry we’d get another 8-by-10 room above it,” the couple says. “It made a big difference,” adds Biggs, “and they still have an impressive 25-foot stairwell with skylights.”

The homeowners had two requests: She wanted sea-blue granite for her kitchen countertops, and he wanted a La-Z-Boy. “I know Ed hates it,” the husband says of his recliner, “but I said, ‘Let me win this one thing.’” Biggs covered the chair in1950s-style bark-cloth fabric that complements the tropical zebra-wood custom cabinetry in the upstairs office.

And in the kitchen, a bead-board island, range hood and glass tile backsplash are color-matched to the azure granite, which reflects the Gulf of Mexico on sunny days. “I cook here more than at any other home,” the wife says. “My daughters and I take turns in the kitchen and none of us, especially the grandchildren, wants to leave the island for a restaurant meal.”

Carefree Island Living

Childproof the beach retreat with extra Scotchgard on fabrics and carpets; choose easy-care surfaces like hand-scraped hickory floors.

Bring outdoors in. Practical outdoor fabrics are now stylish enough for indoor use; woven wicker or grass furniture integrates patios and indoor spaces.

Color it cool. Blues, creams and yellows are a cool antidote to island heat.

Dress for the beach. Add seaside charm with flip-flop patterns and sea shells on fabrics, plus a model ship and sea life in artwork and accessories.

Update the cottage. Use white built-ins instead of heavy breakfronts, glass-paned kitchen cabinetry and an eclectic mix of painted and natural wood tones.


Interior design: Ed Biggs, Interior Planning Services, Inc., 572 Second Ave. S., St. Petersburg (727) 898-7400 Custom built-ins: Contemporary Cabinets of the Gulf Coast, 2245 Whitfield Industrial Way, #3, Sarasota, (941) 758-3060 Kitchen cabinets: Redjay Kitchens, Englewood (941) 474-8968 Building contractor: John R. Curley Custom Homes, P.O. Box 644, Boca Grande (941) 964-2889 Custom staircase: Adams Stair Works, Naples (239) 466-8321 Great room: upholstered furniture, Lazar Industries; console and game tables, Palecek; cocktail table, Artesia Dining room: Side chairs, Padma’s Plantation; head chairs, Lazar; table: Artesia Master bedroom: Furniture, Padma’s Plantation; fabrics, Duralee Guest bedroom furniture: Vermont Tubbs Bamboo Window Shades: Skandia; landscaping: ArtisTree Landscape Maintenance and Design.

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