How one designer created a home that rises up to greet you

photography by Tina Sargeant

Let me be honest. I love to remodel. It’s my creative sweet spot. It’s my passion.
At no point in my career, however, has a client hired me and said, “Go do what you do. You have a free hand.” That is, until now. When my client gave me the opportunity to take his house and turn it into a home with a living soul, my heart soared with excitement.
When we found it, this house had been empty for five years and had gone unloved for far too long. It wasn’t a home with a soul that would rise up and greet you, but it did have great bones and the potential to become something wonderful. My client didn’t see the potential, so my first job was to convince him that this house was indeed a diamond in the rough. To his great credit, he took a complete leap of faith, trusted me, and bought the house. Luckily for me, the architect, Cliff Scholz with CMSA in Sarasota, saw everything I saw in this house, too.
Cliff came onboard to help with the design improvements. He and I immediately shared a vision for the home that would carry through the entire project, which we thought would be a six-month journey. In reality, six months turned into two years. A two-year remodeling project is not something I would recommend for everyone. In this case, however, it worked to our benefit. The client was in no hurry to move in, and we wanted to go old school with the design elements and furnishings. This project had to be thoughtful, and each decision had to have meaning.
We decided to execute this project as a one-man job. Yep. One guy. Following the “heavy lifting” of plumbing, electrical, and concrete/stucco, one artist/craftsman was on the job: Joe Kanable. Joe and I have worked together for several years, and I knew he was the man for this job. He can read my vision and understand what I try to accomplish. He knew this was my dream job, and he completed my remodeling dream team: Cliff, Joe, and me. Together, we set out to make this house my client’s dream home.

When we found it, this house had been empty for five years and had gone unloved for too long.

The house was built in 1985 and was a reflection of the ’80s: not unique, nothing special. It hadn’t been updated since the year it was built. This house’s positive features included high ceilings, good room sizes, right square footage, and a beautiful piece of property. It also had quite a few imperfections: the wrong-size windows and doors, doors in the wrong spots, wall-to-wall carpet, ’80s’ finishes, and a whole lot of outdated Formica. Everything right with this house we couldn’t have recreated with a simple remodel: location, ceiling heights, flow of the rooms, and square footage. Fortunately, everything wrong with this house was completely fixable.
As we set out to give this house back its soul, I wanted to be sure that at the project’s completion nobody could tell exactly when it was built. I didn’t want visitors to walk through the front door and immediately think, 1985. My vision for this house was for it to have a timeless, low-country Louisiana feel. We started with the exterior. From the roof, to the color palette, to the New Orleans gas lanterns, to the custom front doors made from antique Mississippi heart pine, bathrooms, and kitchen, every decision was made with purpose. We traveled to New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah, and countless stops along the way. We studied shutters, gas lanterns, exterior paint colors, front doors, floors, garden containers, and landscapes for our inspiration and direction.
As we figured out the tone and feel for the outside of the house, we developed a plan to carry the same emotion to the interior in order to create harmony in the home. (The exterior and interior should always tell the same story and evoke similar emotions.) The first step in our plan was to work with the house’s positive elements in order to make them shine. A coat of paint helped us do just that and set the tone for the entire project. It gave direction to all of the finishes, furniture, and fabrics that followed. I chose Benjamin Moore Misty Gray. I painted the entire interior this color with the exception of the master bedroom. I wanted a color that was soft so the art, furnishings, and wood floors would stand out.
After paint, came flooring. I actually decided on the floors the first time I saw this house: antique heart pine. Of course, this meant a road trip to find them. We took off to Mississippi and loaded a U-Haul truck with 2,800 square feet of antique pine flooring. While in Mississippi we located a custom cabinetry shop and arranged to have antique pine doors built for the front courtyard entrances. Now, every time I drive up to the house I fall in love with those front doors and the wood floors that give this house its soul.
While my passion is home remodeling, a close second is in vintage furniture. Scouring the world and pursuing vintage pieces is the best part of design. This project provided me the opportunity to engage in the hunt. My client wanted to create the feeling of a lifetime collection, but he started out only with books and a few family pieces. To achieve his vision, I mixed vintage, antique, and new furniture to create the feeling of a lifelong collection. In the end, this home is filled with 60 percent vintage, 10 percent antique, and 30 percent new furniture.
My favorite design “secret” is to find a $20 chair and splurge on the fabric and upholstery. With an investment of a couple hundred dollars, the chair will look like it cost $1,000. My second “secret” is paint; it’s inexpensive yet can change the feel of anything and everything, both walls and furniture. For example, on one of my furniture expeditions, I found a vintage dresser that, with the right lacquer paint, became the master bathroom vanity. Another example of how to use paint can be seen on the back terrace. I had collected rattan furniture from around the Southeast, but none of it matched. The simple solution was to paint it all in a cohesive palette to trick the eye into thinking it was all the same. Paint and fabrics will give many vintage, estate, and yard-sale pieces new life and can elevate a piece to being more beautiful than it was at its creation.
We removed the wall between the kitchen and dining room to open the area and create one large room. It also presented the room with an open, spacious floor plan. The dining room wallpaper was original to the house but lent a certain formality to the space. So, I placed an old shoe cart to use for crystal in order to offset the formality. It’s unexpected and fun. I also hung a contemporary art piece above the cart and a transitional chandelier over the dining room table.
When Joe, Cliff, and I started discussing the kitchen cabinets, the dining room influenced those decisions. The kitchen had to have the same weight as the dining room; they needed to be balanced. Also, the two rooms had to flow seamlessly. We decided to use four design elements to bring these spaces together. First, the custom coffered ceiling runs between the dining room and kitchen, making it a continuous space. Second, the kitchen cabinets are a close match to the background color of the vintage dining room wallpaper. Third, instead of constructing an island in the kitchen, we found an old shirt table that came out of a men’s clothing store and put a piece of marble on it. The old shoe cart in the dining room and the antique shirt table in the kitchen tie these spaces together. Lastly, the open shelves in the kitchen reflect the open shelving of the shoe cart. The crystal and china are displayed at both ends of the space.
I love what I do, and I loved working on this house. My goal is to now convince the client to sell this house and do it again! Life is fleeting, and there aren’t many times you can go slow with purpose and thought in recreating a home’s soul. I relished every moment of this renovation.
I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to share my latest project with you. I’m also grateful to The Lakelander for the opportunity to be the new Shelter Editor. What a gift to be given at this time in my life and career. What I know for certain is I will give it my best, give it with love, and search high and low to share the best of Lakeland and how Lakelanders are living in their homes with soul and how their homes rise up to greet them.