Northern decor and no basements plague new Florida transplants

Naples, FL (June 26, 2015) When Lynn Pitochelli moved to Naples from Rhode Island, she couldn’t part with her dark brown leather chairs, cinnamon-colored dining room set and heavy draperies.

But after three years in the tropics, she’s given away almost everything. “It didn’t work out,” said the 58-year-old art and business consultant. “What looked beautiful up North looked out of place here.”

Each year, thousands of Northerners move to Southwest Florida, bringing along the trappings of their former lives amid snow, cold and relative darkness. But once they arrive, they learn many of their furnishings don’t fit the sultry light or lifestyle. Other possessions that don’t need to be displayed every day, such as Christmas decorations, are hard to store in a region without basements.

That can create “a fair share of headaches,” said Naples interior designer Diane Torrisi, who recently tackled the issue in a seminar called “From North to South: Solving the Design  Dilemma” at the Miromar  Design  Center in Estero.

“Moving here can be exhilarating and exciting, and begins a new chapter for many of us boomers,” she said. But while some people jettison all or most of their Northern furnishings completely before they move (a solution she endorses), others bring down at least part of their old homes, driven by nostalgia for Aunt Sally’s antique sideboard, or simply a need for a place to lay their heads when they arrive.

But ultimately, she said, adapting dark formal furniture to a lighter, more colorful Florida palette will require having it professionally painted or reupholstered, a decision that might or might not be worthwhile depending on the value of the piece.

Otherwise, she said, it’s worthwhile to live with your old furnishings for a while to see how they hold up in intense Florida light, which is very different from the more consistent Northern light. Before deciding on a color scheme, bring paint and fabric swatches into the home and watch how they change with the light from morning to evening, she said.

Transplants may well discover that the teals and burgundies that looked rich in their Northern living rooms seem faded here; but colors that would have seemed too garish there, like hot pink and poison green, seem right at home.

Meanwhile, Torrisi said, think of slipcovers to make formal sofas look more casual, and replace thick drapes with light linen panels, plantation shutters or perhaps no window coverings at all. But don’t feel under pressure to adopt an animal-print-and-bamboo Tommy Bahama look if that’s really not your style, Torrisi said.

“If you never loved monkeys up North, you won’t like them here,” she joked.

When it comes to dealing with the lack of basements in Florida, Torrisi said it makes sense to rent air-conditioned storage space for the things homeowners can’t part with, or consider air-conditioning the garage so precious photos and other mementos aren’t ruined by heat and humidity.

Storage is becoming a big must-have, not only for boomers but for first-time buyers who are now beginning to enter the housing market, according to a survey released in January by the National Association of Home Builders. Both groups are looking for small, affordable places, which is why home sizes, after rising for four years, began to shrink in 2014 — to 2,642 square feet, from 2,662 square feet in 2013.

But as home sizes shrink, buyers need more space for stuff. That’s why, the survey said, garage storage, a walk-in pantry and a linen closet all outranked glitzier items such as a wine cooler and a wet bar on its list of most-wanted features.

It’s also why, even though home sizes are shrinking, the share of homes with three-or-more car garages inched up to 23 percent last year from 22 percent a year earlier. Bill Bullock, senior vice president of Minto Communities, said his company is meeting the demand for more storage space in Southwest Florida not only by building three-car garages and offering flex space but by building mini-closets under stairwells, putting golf-club cubbies in laundry rooms and elevating garage ceilings so cars can park under overhead storage racks.

His-and-hers master suite closets are giving way to a huge, single closet that holds more, and that Minto can customize with furniture-finish cabinets. The option is “definitely in demand,” he said. H.L. Burkley, the owner of Total Garage Concepts of Naples, said when he first started in the closet and garage storage business a decade ago, clients paid an average of $2,200 per job to makeover a master bedroom closet.

Now, the average price is close to $4,000, and customers are adding secondary closets, pantries, laundry rooms and garages to their orders. Buyers aren’t just content with the average 8-foot closet system, he said, instead opting for systems that soar as high as 14 feet. Some use upper cabinets for luggage and other rarely used items, while others add high wardrobe rods that pull down to allow homeowners to hang out-of-season clothing.

Burkley also has noticed that more customers are seeing their storage systems as design statements. Some are even asking him to rip out perfectly functional systems in dated colors such as honey oak and replace them with more modern colors such as driftwood.

“This is Naples, after all,” he said.

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