Transformative touches turn new Ritz condo into dream retirement home

 In Press

By Marsha Fottler
Special to Sarasota Herald-Tribune USA TODAY NETWORK

The journey to their new Sarasota Ritz-Carlton 4,000square-foot condominium took nearly three years for owners Steve Dexter, a recently retired institutional money manager, and Bill Schroeder, who traveled the world working on mergers and acquisitions. The men met 35 years ago when they had Wall Street jobs and have been together since, owning and re-envisioning several residences along the way. Both are graduates of the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Their Sarasota experience began when they walked into a sales gallery in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and studied plans for a new tower of condominiums. “We knew people who had moved to Sarasota either seasonally or full time and so we came down from Boston to check out the city and the housing market,” said Steve. “We were both approaching retirement and didn’t want to stay in the northeast. We liked the size of Sarasota, all the cultural amenities, proximity to an airport – it seemed like an ideal place to buy a home and become Florida residents. Also, Bill and I have lived in Ritz-Carlton properties before and we appreciate the amenities and service. We were confident purchasing pre-construction, but we always knew we would customize the whole place once we moved in. That’s just the way we are. We always customize and personalize.”

The new Ritz-Carlton Residences consists of 73 condominiums in an 18-story waterfront tower located adjacent to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and within the Quay.

The men bought on the 16th floor and chose an end unit because they wanted to maximize windows, views and the amount of natural light coming into the rooms. For a floor-plan, they chose the Armands model which is three bedrooms, three and a half baths and a den. During construction of the condo tower, Steve lived in their city condominium in Boston at Millennium Tower and Bill lived in a St. Petersburg condominium he’s had for 15 years because it’s often a convenient landing pad when traveling. They have since sold the St. Pete residence and the condominium in Boston is on the market. The men are both full time in Sarasota now.

Some months after purchasing the Armand model in the Ritz-Carlton Residences, the men decided it was time to connect with a Sarasota interior designer to start on the changes in design at their new home. They searched online and settled on the firm of Chic on The Cheap and then interviewed senior designer Jill Geisdorf. They knew it was a good fit from the beginning.

“Jill is experienced, practical, has excellent relationships with suppliers and she understood our style and what we wanted to accomplish,” said Steve. “As the three of us spent more time working together, it became obvious to Bill and me that her personality made this process extra rewarding. She never got stressed, she remained flexible, offered us lots of options but never got upset if we rejected them. She definitely pushed us out of our comfort zone a few times as if to test us and she never minded if we pushed back. Overall, she improved upon our ideas.”

The design team decided not to take down any walls because the floorpan was open and the rooms were already spacious. But they needed a contractor and made Jeff Francola’s J&K Building and Remodeling their choice. Change got underway.

“One of the most dramatic things we did was customize the private elevator foyer,” said Jill. “These areas tend to be a bit boring with maybe some art, mirror and a table. But we focused on the front door and removed what was there and replaced it with a five-foot wide pivot door which was crafted by Real Woods. Then Doudney Sheet Metal added polished chrome trim on all sides and I had the door clad in taupe-gray upholstery. It’s a wow factor before you even get inside the apartment. We finished it off with a chandelier from Hubbardton Forge and a rug from Rugs As Art.”

The team also opted for a drop ceiling in the great room so they could add custom overhead lighting. Above the dining table in this open space is the focal point of the large room, a modern chandelier of swirling, shimmering objects that look like abstract fish (or maybe birds) from a distance.

“I was in Sarasota sourcing a light fixture for that space and Steve and Bill were doing the same thing in Boston,” said Jill. “Independently we happened upon an art chandelier from the company Ochre. It was really expensive and I hesitated to bring it to them. Then I realized they had picked the very same one and that was that. The fixture is a subtle nod to the fact that the apartment has views of Sarasota Bay. Steve and Bill did not want a beachy look at all, but this modern art light acknowledges the home’s location in a witty and modern way.”

The Ochre light fixture (called Moonlight Murmuration) is such a dominating feature in the dining area, kitchen and great room, that the homeowners opted for recessed lighting in the kitchen instead of pendant lights over the white quartz island. They did not want to disrupt the space around the chandelier with other hanging objects.

Next to the sleek white and gray kitchen (appliances concealed behind cabinetry) was a large walk-in pantry. The homeowners didn’t need it and so they had it converted into a wine room. In a transition area between the dining and great room was a wet bar. The homeowners didn’t need it since they had a wine room. So that niche could be anything. Jill came up with the idea of a custom designed blue velvet bench with deep drawers underneath wired for docking stations for electronics and for general storage. It’s a dramatic and unexpected piece of built-in furniture that is both functional and highly glamorous.

The men’s taste in design and furnishings is what they call Contemporary European, but they asked their designer to source American-made and American- manufactured furniture, appliances and cabinetry whenever possible.

“My clients had furniture in their Boston apartment that they had left there to style the rooms for showing,” said Jill. “So five months after they hired me, they took me to Boston to see the apartment because they wanted to bring key pieces to Florida after the Boston place sold. I took photos, measurements, noted the color palette and when we shopped for the Sarasota condominium I left space for what would be coming from Massachusetts. Some of the Boston apartment art we reframed and we chose new things that would complement the existing pieces.”

In furnishings, the homeowners lean slightly toward minimalism. They don’t care for accessories, won’t tolerate a throw pillow, don’t display collections, avoid a lot of table lamps or stacks of books masquerading as decor and they severely restrict the number of end tables allowed in any room.

“One of the things we love about this Ritz-Carlton apartment is the size of the rooms,” said Steve. “They are big and open. We want to enjoy them so our approach is to avoid cluttering them up with stuff.” Their wall-mounted television is concealed behind artwork that disappears when the set is turned on. In the customized den a handsome paneled wall of concealed storage options accommodates the TV at its center.

The homeowners don’t like a lot of bright color or busy patterns but they like the color blue – a deep, strong blue, not a pastel. So their designer focused on texture for extra visual interest using leather, boucle, linen, and silk in drapes and upholstery. The tall headboard in the owners’ bedroom is a custom-crafted wood installation from Lambright Construction. All the area carpets are a hundred percent wool. All the closets have been customized and the window treatments are automated.

The entire process of working with their Sarasota designer has taken two years. All three say it didn’t seem that long since they had a good time discovering new products and considering various options. With patience, consultation and deftly working around the COVID inconveniences of sourcing materials, Steve and Bill reinvented a new condominium through targeted construction and design projects. They realized their vision for their ideal Sarasota home and made something generic into something unique and personal.

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