A hurricane catastrophe encourages a couple to start a new life in a new place
When Hurricane Sandy ripped through the New Jersey shore town of Manasquan in October of 2012, homeowners Tom Piccoli and David Wagner were inland, safe in a condominium while their quaint old two-story Tudor home on the ocean’s edge was being shredded. Later when they viewed the devastation, they agreed they would not live there again. “Even if we could have, the insurance premiums would have been impossible,” said Tom Piccoli. “We talked about moving to Sarasota, a place we had visited along with other cities in Florida over the past 20 years. But, we weren’t retired yet and the timing didn’t feel right.”
Instead, the men moved into a 4,000-square-foot, Colonial style home on high ground. “We bought it new from the builder,” said Piccoli, “and it was on a hill in a nearby neighborhood of year-round homes. It had what we wanted but we knew it wouldn’t be forever.” He was right, the following year, they retired and could seriously consider moving to Florida and becoming permanent residents in a city they chose for beaches as well as for the arts and culture that the city is known for.
“We started making short trips down to Sarasota to look at homes and neighborhoods after we connected with Mark Singer, a patient real estate agent who quickly became a good friend,” said David Wagner. “We wanted something already built that had a pool, three bedrooms, nice outdoor entertaining space, close to a beach and had a water view but was not on the Gulf. We wanted modern and preferred an open floor-plan and something low maintenance because at the time we had three big dogs.”
After several unsuccessful house and neighborhood tours with Singer, the Realtor suggested that the men take a look at a new community on Palmer Ranch called Hammock Preserve. Lots there offered a variety of views and there were several models in this DiVosta enclave that he thought would appeal to the couple. The men were open to the idea and took a drive down Honore Road to Hammock Preserve where they did indeed find a lot overlooking a lake and a three-bedroom three-bath, three-car garage, 2,800-square-foot model home that they agreed upon.
“We picked the Pinnacle model from eight different designs,” said Wagner, “and then customized it to our tastes. There were 120 possible upgrade options and I think we took 118. Crown molding, coffered ceiling, a longer kitchen island, quartz counters, under-counter wine fridge, a polished stone feature wall in the master bedroom, things like that. But, this was going to be our permanent year-round home and we wanted it to be just right. We also added a summer kitchen to the lanai because it was our intention to entertain visiting friends and family. We have four children and five grandchildren. Needless to say with COVID-19, travel and entertaining haven’t happened yet. We moved in during February of 2020 just ahead of being forced to spend a lot of time in isolation.”
Hammock Preserve is a gated community of about 400 new homes with benefits that include clubhouse, tennis courts, dog park, walking trails and low maintenance since HOA fees cover exterior maintenance of homes and common areas. It is not yet built out. The community has natural gas and the Piccoli-Wagner home uses gas to power the pool heater, dryer, grill, range and hot water heater.
Through mutual friends the homeowners met interior designer Terrance Leaser and commissioned him to select all the furniture, accessories, window treatments and lighting for the house and outdoor spaces. It was a challenge because the kitchen and bathrooms were already done and the rooms were already painted with the same color palette that the homeowners had used in New Jersey. Leaser had to work within limitations.
“What I could tell from asking them a lot of questions is that Tom and David like soft, light colors and they appreciate dog-friendly fabrics, low maintenance furniture and a look I call soft contemporary,” said Leaser. “But, they have an eye for design and definitely wanted everything to be relaxed and uncluttered but quite stylish.”
Since the men were pretty much living in an empty house, they didn’t want to spend a lot of time pulling everything together, so Leaser suggested they eliminate going the custom route and just get into the car with him and go shopping. The designer pointed out furniture that would work in terms of size to make sure everything was in proportion and scale for the rooms where the ceilings are 11-feet high. The biggest mistake homeowners make is buying the wrong size furniture, thus throwing off the balance in a room.
“Tom and David had brought with them a bed, dining room table and chairs, two leather wing back chairs and their paintings,” said the designer. “Most important to me in understanding their taste, was a handsome golden mirrored sideboard meant for the living room. It was sophisticated but useful and had a bit of a wow factor. Since it was one of the very few things they brought to Florida, I knew they liked it a lot. So that sideboard became the inspiration for all the lighting in the house and for our metallic accent color, which is gold. Burnished gold, hammered gold, matte finished gold and a bit of shiny gold are expressed in table lamps, pendants and chandeliers throughout the house. Gold tones unite all the rooms and provide a touch of glamour in all the spaces.”
The lighting fixtures, all of them functional art, were sourced at Bee Ridge Lighting in Sarasota and Matter Brothers Furniture. “Nearly all the furniture in the house came from Matter Brothers and was selected off the floor in about two days of shopping time,” said homeowner Tom Piccoli. “We worked fast and focused with a single sales consultant who has since become a good friend. We actually had a really good time and with Terrance’s guidance were able to furnish this home and the lanai in record time. We’re happy with every bit of it.”
The window treatments were a bit trickier. “The windows and the bed linens had to be custom,” said designer Leaser. “Investing in the right window coverings in Florida is essential because of strong sunlight. And custom drapery and custom shades are a way to establish unique character while getting maximum efficiency. The material I sourced and the fabrication of the window treatments were from two places that only work with design professionals. What Tom and David ended up with is absolutely unique to their home. Besides drapes, the windows have hidden blinds that can be drawn to further control sunlight. Bed linens match the drapes.”
The Piccoli-Wagner home is now pretty much complete. The homeowners say they want to customize the laundry room but are not in a hurry. It’s functional and they are still working out a scheme of what that space should include. And, they continue to collect art which is their pleasure. A new piece, a horse portrait that hangs in the master bedroom, came to them as a surprise while they were having dinner at Cafe Barbosso, an Italian eatery that hosts artists working at their easels on a platform in the dining room.
“A Vietnamese artist, Ha Pham, had done a beautiful painting of a horse’s head and it looked just like Sadie, a gentle old horse our family had when I was growing up on a farm in North Dakota,” said Wagner. “I absolutely adored that animal and just seeing that painting brought back so many good memories of those childhood days I knew I had to have it. I was able to buy the painting off the easel from her. Went for dinner, came home with art. That’s Sarasota. And I’m glad to say that our designer was pleased with the purchase too. The background of the painting has lots of gold and references Terrance’s style scheme perfectly.”
Designer tips for personalizing a model home without committing to all custom-made furniture and accessories:
• Shop local furniture stores that can deliver what you select within a week.
• Reupholster a favorite chair or sofa to match new pieces bought from local furniture sources. Also, think about painting an existing piece of furniture to coordinate new things you purchase.
• Rely on the power of paint and choose a color palette for the whole house that personalizes the rooms.
• Paintings, drawings framed posters or sculpture help define the personality of the homeowners and establish the character of a home like nothing else.
• Lighting is a practical way to customize with something you need anyway. Choosing unusual lamps, pendants, sconces and chandeliers for each room unite rooms visually and give each space its own wow factor. Pick online or at local lighting galleries. Pay attention to size and scale. Most homeowners go home with something too small the first time around.
• Area rugs can unite a color pallete in a room and create visual harmony making furniture and accessories relate to one another. Some homeowners like to start with a rug and be guided by the colors and style of that carpet when they shop for furniture. Others wait until the end of the project and hunt for a rug to be the bow on the ribbon that ties everything together. Before you buy, measure the space where the rug is to be placed. A quality rug emporium will let you take two or three home, experiment and return what you can’t use.
• Window treatments are tricky. In most cases, it’s best to go custom and realize you’ll have to wait weeks for what you want. But, in the longterm, attractive, efficient window treatments are a must in sunny Florida and because they are expensive, you want to get it right the first time. Many blindes, shades and drapery side panels (and even hurricane shutters) are motorized and operate on remote control.