| Majestic oak trees, a lake afloat with swans, incredible views, a superb location overlooking a highly rated golf course: Hal and Megan Morris loved everything about this property — except the house itself. Though built in 1995, lack of proper maintenance had left it vulnerable to corrosion and decay. "Florida homes age more quickly because of the intense heat," Megan explains.
At first, the couple thought the home simply needed updating. Under scrutiny, however, it became obvious that more was needed, and their options narrowed to one: blow out the back of the house, take it down to the foundation, and start over using the original footprint. "Once you begin," says Megan, "you want the newest and the best."
With capitalizing on the views a high priority, they installed windows and glass-paned doors in every feasible location. Equally important was minimizing enclosed spaces, establishing an easy flow among the rooms, and making the outdoors readily accessible. The kitchen, bath, and master closet were completely rebuilt, a weight room added,
and the balcony shaded by extending the roof.
A FLORIDA HOUSE WITH EUROPEAN FLAVOR
"I wanted an old French Provincial look," says Megan, a designer by profession. "My husband is more contemporary — that's why some things are more streamlined. Keep in mind everything was made in Milan, and it's more contemporary there."
And how did everything come to be made in Milan? Before things got underway, Hal went to a friend of his, Luca Bonacina, and asked for his input. "Luca is an architect in Italy," Megan explains. "He loves details. Everything he does is just perfect. And his family has a furniture business there — they can make anything.
"At this point, we realized we were going overboard, so we decided we might as well not cut corners." That's when she and Hal began turning to Europe for the cabinetry, marble, much of the furniture, and many of the appointments.
Luca soon became an integral part of the project, traveling back and forth between Milan and Windermere to measure and remeasure. "He made all the furniture and did all the cabinets," says Megan.
"It's hard to find artists that will still handcarve things like that, the little finials and corbels and other elements. Even the marble countertops in the laundry room were his idea. Once you start, it's hard to stop."
Megan's one complaint about their former house was lack of storage. Here as elsewhere, Luca's expertise was invaluable.
Known in the Riviera for designing space-efficient yachts, he made sure that every nook and cranny in the Morris household was put to good use. The boys' bunk-bed system, for example: steps leading to the upper bunk have built-in drawers where shirts and underwear are stored.
There are secret compartments like these everywhere, including little cubicles for wine (and a hidden storage panel behind them) and a cabinet for toys that will one day be converted to a niche for the kids' computers.
"There are so many places to put things," says Megan. "I just didn't want to waste an inch of space."
NEW-WORLD DESIGN, OLD-WORLD CRAFTMANSHIP
Megan particularly admires the artistry that went into the cabinetry. "All of it was handcarved by Italian craftsmen. The whole media room is done in burlwood — it's very delicate the way they carve it. Anyone who has an eye for burlwood would recognize it in the valances, the bar...it's very exotic looking. I'd never seen anything like it in the States." So exceptional is the media-room cabinetry that it won Best of Show at a design competition in Milan.
Luca's masterpiece, and the home's crowning glory, is the library. "I wanted wood paneling and black leather floors," says Megan, "but at the same time, I wanted it to look contemporary. I can get leather floors here but not in the pattern I wanted."
Luca to the rescue: he tracked down a place that could reproduce the patter Megan preferred. While she wouldn't recommend leather flooring for high-traffic areas, Megan loves how warm and soft and supple it is. "For an office, it's perfect. It ages so beautifully. Arnold Palmer has a leather floor in his office, and it's 15 years old." The door to the office bathroom is also leather, and several of the square wood panels are — what else? — secret storage compartments.
A JOINT VENTURE
Megan was often the creative force behind many of Luca's projects. "I'm a designer," she says. "I knew what I wanted." Luca, on the other hand, was the make-it-happen guy. When Megan wanted a beautiful old fountain she'd photographed in Europe, Luca had it replicated in France.
When she designed a 20-seat sectional sofa for the kitchen, Luca had it made by his family. (Secured to the floor with cleats, the sofa can be quickly reconfigured to accommodate the kids' friends for sleep-overs. "And it's all in leather, so it's washable — the kids tend to get peanut butter and jelly on everything." Practicality is another of Megan's strengths. "As pretty as everything is, it's very sturdy, very user-friendly. There's nothing that can break. I've had a party for 100 kids, and I didn't stress about it at all.")
The marble floors were another collaboration. "The whole interior is done in hand-chiseled cream of marfil," says Megan. "Every piece looks different. Luca brought over some samples, then we went to Spain to pick out the slabs we wanted. We had so much of it, we did the balcony floors as well." All in all, she and Hal imported eight containers from Europe — two from Spain, two from Italy, and four from France — filled not only with marble but with French limestone pots and urns, benches, fountains, and fireplace. "I was so particular," says Megan. "That's why we imported so much ourselves: by going directly to the source, we got exactly what we wanted." Adds Hal, "Luca and the other craftsmen did a great job."
A FEAST FOR THE EYES
Megan's design-and-decorating philosophy includes making sure there's something pretty to look at, no matter where you are. The house abounds with touches like the little putta (a marble statue of a young boy holding an urn of real flowers) just outside the office window. "I didn't have anything to look at, so I wanted to create something nice," says Megan. An enclosed rose garden off the master bedroom fulfills the same purpose — and creates a delightful getaway. "It's a good place to sit and read the paper...in my dreams. I try!"
A multitude of windows allow Hal and Megan to take in the beauty of the passing scene. "Today, the house is light and airy and open, but it originally had really small windows on this big, beautiful view. So we blew out the back of the house and put windows everywhere, even in the bedroom. We can lie in bed and enjoy the view...it's very private."
The two of them love sitting in the kitchen or living room, watching the egrets, herons, and pelicans, the six swans paddling around the lake, the golfers putting and driving on the adjoining course. "A lot of professional athletes play here," says Megan, "most of them professional golfers. It's such a tough course they like to practice here."
HAPPY AT HOME
"This home is definitely built for entertaining," she says. "Everything opens up in this house, and the inside and out flow really well together." Beneath the backyard pergola is an outdoor kitchen, BBQ, and pool table, and it's here guests naturally seem to congregate. "We've had some big parties: dinner parties, art parties, lots of birthday parties...a little bit of everything." Hal says he goes along with the entertaining, but what he love best of all is spending time with the family, watching the golfers, and sitting in the rose garden.
It's these simpler things that he and Megan value most. They love the beautiful setting, the old oak trees, watching the children ride their bikes in the courtyard. And Megan is never happier than when organizing an assembly line of neighborhood kids to bake gingerbread houses.
Their home suits the family perfectly. "It was a lot of work," says Megan, "but a lot of fun. We had a lot more room to add on, but we didn't want to get to the point where we didn't use all of the home. Besides, if the house were any bigger, we might lose the kids and never find them again!" As it is, there's plenty of usable space, from the playroom off the kitchen to the upstairs movie theater.
For those considering a similar remodeling project, Hal has this to say: "Have confidence in your designer — ours was Megan — and your architect. Had I not trusted them, I wouldn't have been convinced to make all those changes. I don't think I would have had the conviction to do it myself. It just seemed too hard to work within the existing perameters." As it is, he couldn't be happier. "When it all came together, I was just thrilled with the structural changes, the color scheme, everything. It's a very inviting space. We really enjoy it."