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Design detective: Finding the one thing homeowners most dislike about their home – Sarasota Herald |

Design detective: Finding the one thing homeowners most dislike about their home – Sarasota Herald

But it’s not as simple as it sounds.


Before homeowners Maureen Gebhardt and Len Goldberg hired interior designer Jessica Napoli to redo their fourth-floor apartment at the Kanaya condominium complex on Orange Avenue in downtown Sarasota, the couple had engaged two other designers at different times to help them figure out what was bothering them about their dwelling.

“Those two experiences left us with some new furniture, which we love, and a different arrangement of our things but it didn’t change the essential thing that made me fail to love this place,” said homeowner Maureen Gebhardt. “But, the third time was charm. In long conversations with Jessica, during which she asked the right probing questions, I was finally able to admit to her that what I really disliked about this place was the flooring. Saying that out loud changed everything and I do mean everything.”

Gebhardt said it took her two years to fully come to terms with her dislike because there was nothing essentially wrong with the expensive solid cherry wood floors that the previous (and original) owner had installed throughout the 2,600-square-foot residence. “The floor had influenced all the other choices in the place,” Gebhardt said. “The kitchen cabinets were plum the counters were purple. The design was dramatic and handsome, but it wasn’t us. Also, there were significant dead or empty spaces in the living room that bothered us. And the kitchen had no flow and had never worked for us as a family of four. When I finally admitted how I felt about the floor and said I wanted it gone, Len and I realized that we now had the opportunity to change a lot of things that weren’t functioning for us. But, it took a while to get there because as I said there was nothing wrong with the wood floor. Except that I didn’t like it.”

Once the flooring was identified as the core problem in the apartment, the homeowners and designer got down to creating a floorplan and a whole-house renovation that started at the front foyer as one exits the elevator in this 15-story complex of 35 units.

“Ripping up that floor in every room opened up a world of options that we hadn’t considered before but could go ahead with now,” said Gebhardt. The renovation took six months and for most of it the Gebhardt-Goldberg family stayed at their summer home in New Jersey and at a rented apartment in Sarasota.

The obvious place to begin was with a new kind of floor. The homeowners did not want wood again. They wanted something with a matte finish that wouldn’t pick up glare. They wanted easy maintenance and something that they could install in every room but also on the covered balconies and deep terraces that they consider everyday living space. The designer also thought it a good idea to integrate these outdoor spaces into the overall flow of the home since the family uses the terraces for eating, relaxing and for entertaining.

“The decision process came down to a durable natural slate tile floor that would establish the color palette for the house and satisfy maintenance issues,” said Napoli. “Maureen was skeptical at first because this was a huge design decision so I took her to a residence on Longboat Key that had the same floor and I had her look at it already installed in a residential setting. She liked it and we made the first, biggest and one of the most expensive choices in the plan for the three bedroom place.”

The homeowners moved to Sarasota to live permanently in 2012 (Kanaya was built in 2007) but had rented for a while in a downtown condo complex to make sure high-rise condo life is what they wanted. “We had come from a traditional-style home in New Jersey in the suburbs with the typical SUV,” said Gebhardt. “In Sarasota we were looking for an urban experience in a walkable neighborhood in a building with nice views and convenient to local beaches and downtown. We needed three bedrooms because our son and daughter were moving with us. Subsequently, our college-age daughter tried out for the Sarasota Ballet and ended up dancing with the company for four years. She’s no longer in Sarasota but our son is still at home.”

It turned out in consultation with designer Napoli that her clients wanted spaces that are light, bright, contemporary and fun. They were opting for an easy-breezy Florida lifestyle that tended toward a bit of Mid-century modern styling. They were open to bold pops of color which turned out to be tangerine and chartreuse.

Napoli took down walls in the kitchen and expanded the work and living space and totally reconfigured it. It went from dark to white, with a glass mini-subway tile backsplash that pulls its colors from the floor. The centerpiece of the new kitchen/dining space is an island that is five feet wide and 16 feet long. The counter is Brown Fantasy granite. All appliances are stainless steel. During the process, Napoli moved a door toward the living room so that the master suite entrance is no longer off the kitchen. That new doorway previously had been space for a wet bar.

On the other side of the long and sleek island is the living room which had most of the dead space that confused the homeowners. Designer Napoli divided the area into three separate areas for relaxing and entertaining. She did this by moving the sofa to the center of the room. The wall opposite a long gray sectional sofa (which the homeowners already owned and wanted to keep) is the TV wall and under it a 12-foot-long, wall-mounted walnut console.

“It was the only piece I had to custom design,” said Napoli, “because it needed to be extra long to balance the sofa. It has closed storage and a lot of good surface area.” Another part of the living room is for reading and relaxing and a third near the deep and large terrace is for happy hour. Four tangerine swivel chairs are just the spot for enjoying a cocktail and the view. The chairs are lightweight and can be moved when the large room is configured for a party.

The homeowners and designer sourced most of the furniture and accessories regionally and online from Rugs as Art in Sarasota, Scan Design in Tampa, Lightstyle of Tampa Bay, Doma Home Furnishings in Tampa, Crate Barrel, Sarasota Home Collection and from the Woman’s Exchange, which is just a short walk down the block from Kanaya.

The homeowners kept and repurposed a lot of the furniture they already had. An oval contemporary glass table that had been their dining table is now a glamorous desk in the master bedroom. A morning bar was added to that room and the en-suite bath was redone, working around the existing plumbing features. The walk-in shower was reclad in two kinds of tile and new white textural tiling (that looks like damask fabric) surrounds the soaker tub. Blue-patterned wallpaper was the final touch.

Built-ins that frame a chartreuse pull-out sofa in one of the guest rooms converts the space into a cozy lounge area when just the homeowners are in residence. The designer cleverly added a frosted glass pocket door to close off the guest suite for privacy.

Every inch of the the inside and outside of the Gebhardt-Goldberg apartment was upgraded, remodeled, made more functional and more aesthetically pleasing to the homeowners. And it all started with deciding to get rid of a floor, a process familiar to veteran home renovators that starts with five prophetic little words — well, while we’re at it…

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