SPRING HILL — When Delores and Murray Smart signed into a time-share apartment in Aruba several years ago, they became friends with the building manager.
It has turned out to be a rewarding relationship.
The manager moved on to the Aruba Beach Club, and when the club's 200 units were to be redecorated, Delores and her daughter Kim Backman were asked to make a presentation. They won a piece of the project, supplying sofa beds.
"People saw the quality of the furniture and asked where it came from," Delores recalls. The answer, of course, was Smart Interiors, the family-run operation with stores on Mariner Boulevard in Spring Hill and in Lecanto.
They touted such island-friendly materials as rattan, wicker and sea grass, along with hardwoods, sun-worthy fabrics and weather-resistant patio furniture. With a history of Florida living, the Smart family also is cognizant of a preference in an island setting for light and pastel colors, designs leafy, flowered and of shells.
All of this was quite eye-opening in Aruba, a small Caribbean resort island that is part of the Leeward Islands in the Netherland Antilles. Furnishings there tended to favor dark teak wood from Indonesia, not to everyone's taste and often of cookie-cutter design.
When the Smarts recently bought into a 95-unit condo project on the beach, Delores applied her taste and credentials from the Allied Society of Interior Designers to furnish it.
"The developer saw it and said, 'You must do my unit,' " Delores said. "People saw it and wanted it."
Delores has now decorated and furnished two condos at Oceania Residences on the beach. Daughter Kim took on turning a pair of two-story houses into homes. Daughter-in-law Lauri Capozza, who manages the Lecanto store, outfitted a bare condo into an Art Deco retreat.
All of these units are second homes for their owners, most of whom are from the United States and some from Venezuela, only 45 miles away.
In some instances, the owners gave the Smart Interior personnel free rein to decorate. Others picked major pieces and had the decorators add their touches.
Some buyers leafed through Smart catalogs, while others visited Smart's stores in Florida. One buyer spent three days touring the Smart stores to make selections.
Smart also offers what Delores describes as "total turnkey," right down to selecting linens and making up the beds. "Everything but the toothpaste," Murray noted.
In one such instance, Delores wouldn't allow the buyers in until she was finished. When the wife entered, she burst into tears, saying it was more beautiful than she ever imagined.
The Smart group doesn't charge a fee for consultation or design. "Service is included in the purchase," Delores said. The cost to buyers is for furnishings, shipping and customs duty.
As for customs, Delores rolled her eyes. "That's a story in itself," she said.
Only a few ships deliver to Aruba, the closest out of Miami. Shipping containers, 40 feet long and 9 feet high, arrive from Miami on a Wednesday. The sellers have only two hours to load the goods. "I want my men to pack it so I know there will be no damage. We jam pack it."
The containers are locked and sealed, and manifests filled out in detail.
The ships reach Aruba the following Monday or Tuesday. Delores or another Smart staffer must be on hand to receive the shipment. Maneuvering through customs takes anywhere from 48 to 72 hours. After duty is paid, the items are delivered to their destination by customs agents, lock and seals only then broken, and agents observe the unloading to ascertain the products match the manifest.
Then the Smart people begin unpacking, placing and arranging. "It's hard work," said Delores. "It's not glamorous. But it's so rewarding."
Because the local company doesn't yet have a business license in Aruba, all sales must be conducted through Florida. It's not difficult to get such a license but "takes forever," the couple said.
Back here in Hernando County, Smart Interiors has contracts to decorate model homes for several builders. Each builder offers a package of furnishings from Smart to meet a buyer's budget.
Smart's showroom is lush in luxury and elegance. A unique Oriental tile, artfully framed, carries a price tag of some $300. So does a tabletop arrangement of breathtaking design in silk florals and greenery. An inviting dark wood king-size bed is on sale as a floor model for a little more than $1,000.
The company has grown from three people at its inception in 1982 to 35 today. "I believe it's customer service" that made the business grow, said Delores.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]