When Nancy and Frank Sansone were decorating their Broward County, Fla., condo, they became the talk of the oceanfront high-rise.
While most residents were decking out their digs in luxe materials, the Sansones were going lodge - with antler chandeliers and bearskin rugs. Imagine the reaction when the neighbors saw a workman on the balcony cutting logs to put on the walls.
"I'm sure this was the most-visited unit in the building," says Ben Fretti of Southwest Sensations, the home-furnishings store that found much of the custom design used to decorate the condo. Other owners would stop him when they saw the company name on his shirt and ask if they could see the condo that everyone was talking about.
"All these people were bringing in granite slabs from Italy," Fretti says. "Not one of them was decorating with logs and slate like we were. That was part of the fun. We were doing something different, something special."
Visitors don't have to go inside the condo to know that this is no contemporary castle or sea-theme getaway. It's obvious as soon as they step off the elevator to the Sansones' private entrance.
Logs line the walls. A saddle that used to belong to Nancy's uncle sits between the doors. Double doors, with antler handles, sport carvings of a cabin, deer and pine trees. And a single door bears a large Clydesdale horseshoe and the inscription "Our Tropical Cabin."
"We do a lot of vacations out West, and we also like the beach, so we thought we would combine the two," says Nancy Sansone, who came up with ideas for decorating the 3,100-square-foot space.
Although she isn't a professional designer, she has a knack for envisioning how furnishings will look in a room.
"She told us she would lie awake at night thinking about how she wanted this thing to come out," Fretti says. "She would find her inspiration and describe it to us, and we would try to find it. A lot of this stuff was custom-built for her."
Custom meant carving 1976, the year the Sansones married, into the oversized headboard. It also meant constructing furniture from reclaimed pine or oak barn wood, such as the cabinets in the family room and den. Many of the furnishings came from manufacturers in Arizona that have only five or 10 employees.
The biggest challenge was making sure everything they were having custom-built would fit in the condo because they started ordering pieces before the building was finished.
"We knew there was not going to be a freight elevator, so we had to spend a lot of time talking to architects and the builders, to make sure what we ordered would fit," Fretti says. "We told ourselves if it didn't fit [in the passenger elevator], we would have to take it up the stairway to the 17th floor. Luckily, we didn't have to do that, but the bed had only about an inch to spare."
The condo was built to be "decorator ready," which means it contained finished bathrooms and a kitchen so the certificate of occupancy could be granted. But the floors were bare; the ceilings had no lights. Not a towel rack or toilet-paper holder anywhere.
No matter. Typical condo decor would have been ripped out anyway to create the Western-inspired design. Some of the walls were faced with stone. Others were covered with logs cut in half. Ceilings were finished with wood planks. Walls were faux-painted to look like leather. Electric fireplaces were installed in the living room, dining room and bedrooms. The concrete floors were covered with slate.
Southwest Sensations installed the detailed wooden fronts on the entrance doors. The other log work was done by Randall Kidd from Winfield, Tenn., who took a month to complete the job.
Every detail of the furnishings is Southwestern in style - from the ceiling fans to the pool table to the stone sink in the guest bathroom.
In the area with the pool table is a Mark Rohrig print, In the Shadow of Giants, which depicts American Indians saddened by the loss of their land and traditions.
The Sansones have lived in their condo for two years, and the joy hasn't worn off.
"This is a fun house," Nancy says. "We are blessed with good family and good friends."