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01/21/03    Builders and interior designers continue to elevate the level of finishes in Southwest Florida homes in response to an increasingly sophisticated homebuyer demanding more attention to detail. Materials and architectural embellishments once considered upgrades are now standard features. And that includes ceilings, which have quickly become canvases for creativity. “People really do like to look up and fantasize about beautiful ceilings,” said Lou Shafran, the lead designer for Landmark Design, Landmark Development Group’s in-house design studio. “It gives the eye something interesting to look at and creates a special feeling by having the entire envelope of a room wrapped in design.” “We’re paying just as much attention to the ceiling as we are the floor,” added Doug Walton, owner of 24K Homes, a Bonita Springs-based builder. “We used to just add crown moldings and that was it. Now, we’re using faux finishes, coffers, groin vaults, multiple groin vaults, a lot of cove lighting with dimmers for dramatic nighttime lighting, and lots of wood and stained beams. People are demanding more.” This attention to detail has resulted in homes that are more architecturally interesting and more memorable in terms of design. Homes that cause visitors to look up in amazement, said Frank Jenkins, president of Harbourside Custom Homes. “Ceilings can add so much detail to a home. We show intricate ceiling details in our model homes because this is what most of our clients are looking for.” As square footages have increased in Southwest Florida, so have ceilings. Soaring heights - some 24 to 30 feet above the floor - necessitated architecture that brings the room down to a more comfortable size, said Gary David Niethamer, owner of Gary David Design in Bonita Springs. “Ceilings that are 18 feet and taller are not unusual in today’s homes,” he said. “Architects are designing these volume ceilings because people want this mammoth space. We have to make that space livable, and the only way to do that is to add detail to drop it down.” Warming and “downsizing” a room is accomplished in its most simple form with paint and texture - faux finishing, crown moldings, even wallpaper and torn tissue paper. Often, however, it means the addition of architectural elements that add movement and intricacy. “I couldn’t sell a home in my price range with a flat ceiling,” said Walton, whose new model in Mediterra®, a 1,697-acre master-planned community in North Naples being developed by The Bonita Bay Group™, will be priced around $4.4 million. “People want more and they’re willing to pay for it.” George Shaffer, vice president of Frey & Son Homes, sees the emphasis on ceiling detail and design as indicative of buyers’ general shift from focusing on the exterior of the home to the interior. “That seems to be where people want to spend the money. People walk into a home, and they look up,” said Shaffer. “Ceilings are very important.” Today, formal ceilings, at the very least, have a single tray with rope lighting. Typically, they’re very intricate with multiple levels and shapes, various types of lighting to create different moods, paint, crown molding, and other decorative treatments. And, detailed ceilings are no longer reserved just for formal rooms. They’re now used from the foyer to the family room and points in between. “A few years ago, a couple of builders decided to upscale and use granite countertops,” said Niethamer. “The same thing happened with ceiling details. Now, everyone wants to have special details. It’s a necessity, a specialty at one time that has become a standard.” Builders and designers are rising to the challenge, incorporating more complex ceilings, some of which take incredible talent and precise calculations to pull off. The groin vault, a compound vault formed by the perpendicular intersection of two vaults, is one of the most difficult to build, but when executed properly, it is simply stunning. Gulfshore Homes’ 6,200-square-foot model home in Savona at Mediterra, features a multiple groin-vaulted ceiling above the space between the home’s wet bar and dining room. The groins culminate at a columned archway into the dining room. Shaffer said Frey & Son Homes incorporated a triple groin vault into a client’s home in Bonita Bay® - the first time the builder had been asked to work such a feat. “I still walk into the house and my mouth drops open, and I think, ‘We built this?’” he said. “We had to frame it three times to get it exactly right. Now that we’ve built one, we can do one with our eyes shut. It’s second nature. When people see that groin vault, everybody wants one.” The box-coffered ceiling - a series of recessed square panels - is another favorite ceiling treatment in a library or study and provides the perfect canvas for rich wood moldings. Landmark Development Group’s Turnberry, a 6,412-square-foot model home in The Estates at TwinEagles™ in North Naples, features a 20-foot tall box-coffered ceiling with wood paneling in the living room and an architecturally similar ceiling in the library that is warmed by faux painting that resembles brushed velvet. “We do a box coffer with crown molding in just about every house we build,” said Shaffer of Frey & Son. In their attempt to introduce new elements, builders, interior designers and buyers are revisiting the past. “None of this is a new trend,” said Niethamer. “It’s no one’s brainstorm; it’s all historical. It goes back to the classics. And it’s really exciting the way architecture has evolved here the last 15 years. Almost 15 years ago there was nothing being built that was worthy of being around for a long time. Now, we have a lot of designers, architects and resident house designers borrowing concepts from the classics.” Visitors to Harbourside’s newest model at Mediterra, the five-bedroom, five-bath Villa Trissina, walk right into a stunning display of ceiling detail. A 40-foot high cupola soars above the foyer and is clad in stained cypress and punctuated by windows below. Cypress is repeated in the soffit underneath. The family room of the $5.9 million home also has coffered ceilings with veneer wood wallpaper accented by lighted crown molding. “It’s something different, and it’s beautiful,” said Jenkins. The ceiling detail is extended into the covered lanai right outside the family room where beams intersect a coffered cypress ceiling. A.R.B.C./Arthur Rutenberg Homes’ Tuscany II, a model home in Shadow Wood® at The Brooks® in Bonita Springs, has a three-tiered tray ceiling over the master bedroom. An abstract wagon-wheel design above the living room is fashioned from wood beams stained to match the Barcelona cherry cabinetry below. The kitchen of the four-bedroom, five-bath home hearkens back to a turn-of-the-century farmhouse with a pressed tin ceiling that ironically complements the room’s stainless steel appliances, warm cherry cabinetry and green slate backsplash. Keevan Homes incorporated popular wrought iron scrollwork and faux finish into the three-step coffer of the dining room in The Abaco, its 3,993-square-foot model home in Shadow Wood at The Brooks. A perimeter crown floats with rope lighting for soft illumination, within the two circular forms of the highest steps and the square of the lowest coffer. Lighting is an important design feature that adds drama. The family room ceiling of Hunt Construction’s Ariana model in Shadow Wood is backlit in a halo of light. The ceiling’s mid-section seems to float in light, suspended by soffits and beams. Beams and wood ceilings are especially popular in family rooms and outdoor areas. Tongue-and-grove cypress is a popular option above outdoor kitchens and outdoor living rooms. “Wood ceilings outside give the area a warmer, indoor feeling than cold stucco,” said Walton. “We place such a big emphasis on making the outdoor lanai area an indoor living room, you don’t want to skimp on the ceilings. You coordinate them with the interior, and that means faux finishing, anything that will add texture.” Adding texture is also achieved by using handmade wallpapers and torn tissue papers. The hexagonal ceiling above the sitting area in the master suite of La Bellucia, 24K Homes’ first model home at Mediterra, is accented with white moldings and handmade wallpaper accents. Frey & Son took the dining and living room ceilings of its Casa Linda at Mediterra to a fourth dimension - four-stepped coffered ceilings. “They’re really quite something,” said Shaffer. “We also have fancy ceiling work in the master bath - a square tray in the middle with three diamonds around it. The shower makes the fourth side.” Shafran said the Mizner-influenced architecture Landmark tends to emulate lends itself to detailed ceilings. “Ceilings were very important in Mizner-style homes. A lot of the detail is on the ceiling rather than the wall.” Landmark Development Group has adopted a true Mizner-style ceiling for its newest model home, The Montecito, in the Padova neighborhood at Mediterra. Painted, aged and waxed, Shafran calls the ceiling “fun.” She predicts the future of ceiling design to soar even higher. “We’re going to see more painting, more wood, and most decorative cast molding and rosettes. Anything that adds visual interest.”

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