When Elizabeth and David Samuelson started planning the house they built six years ago on Snell Isle, the couple envisioned a West Indies look with masonry stucco walls and a metal hip roof. As they moved forward, it evolved into something they describe as coastal contemporary.
With distinctive details and views of the water and downtown St. Petersburg from almost every room, the house is stunning but somehow manages to be low-key and inviting. Perhaps it should be tagged as "comfortable, coastal contemporary."
"We wanted to keep it very casual. You can dress it up and make it elegant, but you can also take your shoes off," Elizabeth said. "We wanted a place we could entertain and also have our kids and their friends hang out."
The casual, inviting feel is influenced by the home's distressed wood floor and two dogs, Stanley and Blu, running about. But it's also in the design of having one big, open space right when you walk in.
The Samuelsons loved the character of the historic Old Northeast house they moved from but were careful not to replicate some of the features they didn't like. They felt it was too chopped up, with numerous smaller rooms. Now, their kitchen, dining area and living room flow into each other with no walls, doors or arches separating them. Even the floor-to-ceiling glass pocket doors surrounding the first floor easily slide out of view so there is no barrier between the outside and inside.
The house doesn't have a separate dining room that's saved only for special occasions. Instead, there's a long farm table between the kitchen and living room.
"We didn't want any wasted space," David said.
When it's just him, Elizabeth and their teenagers, Aidan and Aliyah, the family eats around the zinc-top kitchen table. When they entertain, everyone sits at the big table or adults convene there and the younger crowd is in the kitchen.
Art, most of it with a coastal component, adds elegance to the casual feel. There is framed artwork created by Aliyah, a budding artist, as well as Elizabeth's aunt and grandfather along with artwork found at Mainsail and Gasparilla art festivals and on their travels.
When the Samuelsons moved in, every room in the house had a view of the St. Petersburg Pier except the guest room. So when they saw a painting of the inverted pyramid by local artist Marc Levasseur with an old headboard as the canvas, they bought it for the guest room.
"Now it's the only room where you can see the Pier," Elizabeth laughed. (The Pier was razed in 2015 to make way for a new design.)
The Samuelsons commissioned Levasseur to create a large painting of a blue school of fish to hang in the two-story entryway next to a chandelier of about 400 dangling clear fish.
David, a radiologist by day, became an artist by night to create the striking piece.
"We had seen this amazing fish chandelier in Steamboat (Colorado) and really wanted something like that," Elizabeth recounted. They found something similar with porcelain fish online and almost ordered it until she realized the price was in pounds, not dollars, and cost more than they wanted to spend. So David decided he'd make it himself.
"I made a fish out of that Sculpey clay you get from Michaels and made a mold out of that," he explained. He poured blue silicone over the clay fish to make the mold then poured clear polyester resin into the mold to make a fish. "When I really got the hang of that I made a bigger mold that could make 15 fish at one time."
He made most of the fish while they were still living at the Old Northeast house and had almost 400 produced by the time the Snell Isle house was complete.
"After we moved in, he would sit up there on scaffolding at midnight every night and thread the fish," said Elizabeth, a physical therapist. Sometimes, he had a glass of wine up on his perch, she added. David formed a spiral out of malleable track lighting then tied about 40 strands of fishing line to it. He threaded 10 or so fish on each strand.
It's not so surprising that the couple would come up with a way to make a chandelier of 400 dangling fish. At their previous home they were fierce competitors in the Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood Association's annual Halloween decorating contest.
Over the years, the Samuelsons' 1917 Craftsman style home had a life-size shark protruding from the front door, a huge Indiana Jones boulder dangling off the roof and a troupe of choreographed dancers re-enacting Michael Jackson's Thriller routine the year he died. They won the contest when they created "Night of the Living Apps" with Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies.
(Since moving away, the Samuelsons have teamed up with friends who still live in the Old Northeast to create more haunted scenes including Ghostbusters, The Hunger Games and one paying tribute to Disney World's Haunted Mansion ride with 20 ghost dancers made of dry cleaning bags.)
Theirs was the first house in Florida to have energy-efficient LED lighting from St. Petersburg's LumaStream. The company has been installing low-heat commercial lighting for several years but this was its first residential project. The ceilings upstairs and downstairs are dotted with recessed LED lights that give off no heat.
They have already seen savings compared to the power bill in their former house.
The couple tried to use environmentally sound products elsewhere. The distressed wood floors are made of engineered hardwood, with multiple layers of recycled wood topped with a layer of new hardwood.
The floor of their wine cellar is made out of cork — hundreds of circles the size of wine corks.
Other details set the home apart. Their master bathroom tub sits on a rectangle of stones surrounded by tile embedded with shells. Water pours out of a faucet in the ceiling to fill the tub.
Not only do the refrigerator and freezer have doors that look like antique kitchen cabinets, so do the pantry and coffee station. When Elizabeth recently hosted a fundraiser for the Museum of Fine Arts, the caterer had to keep asking her where the secret door to the pantry was, like Scooby searching for the hidden passageway in the bookcase to recover Shaggy.
Their contractor, Windstar Homes, had an interior designer at every planning meeting. Elizabeth liked her idea of putting a freestanding china cabinet in the kitchen instead of wall-to-wall cabinets but couldn't find one the right size until she was at Blue Moon Trading Company. While picking up the zinc-top kitchen table with a rustic tree trunk for the base, she spied a white distressed wooden cabinet just the right size. Someone in Tampa had the piece custom-made but then decided against it so it was on a fire sale. Elizabeth took in a few aqua tiles from the pool to Blue Moon's in-house artist so the cabinet matches the home's watery color palate.
Right off the kitchen is a large office/mudroom with three desks, two computers, a dog bed and a 4-foot high chinchilla cage, which is home to Moonlight.
"This is where we store our life," Elizabeth said. And life is lived everywhere else.