When Sam Sahagian retired from Ford Motors in 1980 he came to Florida to play golf. For years Sahagian had been visiting the Tampa Bay area with a group of golfing buddies to play at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Resort in Tarpon Springs. "I fell in love with the area and decided to make it my home," he says. He bought a house on a Countryside golf course and settled into retirement, but there were complications. The U.S. car industry plunged, reducing the value of his Ford stock, and he was making payments on three houses. To make extra cash, Sahagian and his wife started a cleaning service for home builders.
While getting one house ready for occupancy, he met its owner, a builder named Richard Geiger. Sahagian and Geiger struck up an instant friendship. It was Geiger who encouraged Sahagian to start a new career as a home builder.
Today the two, along with Craig Burley and Jerry Gottlieb, are partners in a 14-homesite community called the Reserve, off Curlew Road in Clearwater.
Among oaks, palms and pines and behind a brick wall and security gates, the developers are building big, expensive homes.
While the community is a group effort, the home building is not. Sahagian builds his homes one at a time, creating his designs from ideas he's seen in magazines or come up with on his own. He has a draftsman put the details on the plans.
His model is an imposing structure with balconies and custom columns and 6,231 square feet of living space. "Walls" of windows mark the entry foyer and the formal living room. Almost 19 feet wide and 37 feet long, this area seems more lofty because of its 23-foot high ceilings.
The foyer's floor is bleached oak with jade green Italian marble for dramatic accent. The elegance of this entry sets the tone for the rest of the home.
Stylized columns frame the opening between the foyer and the living room. At one side of the living room rises a staircase made of the same bleached oak used for the floors. On the opposite wall is a formal fireplace. The elaborate moldings around the ceiling are practical as well as ornamental: They hide indirect lighting.
To the right of entry is a powder room and the den. Both are bright and airy, with 15-foot-high ceilings.
The master suite is also to the right of the living room. It has high ceilings as well, in addition to a fireplace and two walk-in closets. Using the volume of the ceiling, the builder has created "attic cedar" closets above the walk-in closets.
The master bath has a separate room for the toilet and double sinks in the marble-countered vanity. A raised marble platform surrounds the tub, providing room for bath accessories and decorative objects. Glass block provides privacy as well as light in the shower. French doors open from the master suite to the pool and lanai.
To the left of the living room is the formal dining room with a butler's pantry, plenty of counter and cabinet space and a wet bar.
Also in this wing is a laundry room, adjoining the three-car garage. (There's another laundry room upstairs.) It has handsome cabinetry _ almost too nice to be used for laundry purposes.
Just beyond the dining room is the U-shaped kitchen. It too has bleached oak floors. The counters are marble-topped. A breakfast nook with bay window takes up part of the room.
The kitchen opens into a large family room with wet bar and fireplace. Double doors open onto the lanai, pool and spa, which also has an entertainment area.
Beyond the family room is a smaller room that Sahagian calls the "rec room" _ for the pool table, he says. There is also a powder room at this end of the house.
From the rec room, back stairs take you to the second floor bedroom wing. Far removed from the master suite are four other bedrooms, all along one hallway. Three of them are grouped together. Two share a full bath; one has its own bathroom. All three have walk-in closets. Two of the rooms have balconies, which overlook the pool.
Another large, open room, separate from the bedrooms, can be used as a children's playroom or another rec room.
Beyond this grouping is another bedroom suite with a sitting room, full bath and bedroom.
A long, narrow corridor runs along the staircase and overlooks the living room.
Sahagian already is planning a house for across the street, on another half-acre lot. He is also planning to build several homes in the Boot Ranch section near East Lake Woodlands.
As for the golf, "I still play with the remaining guys in my group when they come down each winter," Sahagian says.