An island home gets a refreshing wash of white.
Many people cull decorating inspiration from books, but homeowner/interior designer Melinda Graham derives her inspiration from an iconic author.
“I think of Ernest Hemingway’s Key West home, which reflects a relaxed island style combined with the mementos and treasures he collected along his life’s full journey. But it also has a lovely hint of romantic sophistication from the marble mantels, exquisite tiles and crystal chandeliers,” Melinda says. “My home does not have the same specific elements, but I do see the overall feel as being shared from a kindred spirit separated perhaps by years but not time. My home is a true representation of all the things that I not only find beautiful but are also reminiscent of another time and place.”
The events that led Melinda from her home in West Virginia to her current home on Sanibel Island, Florida, have another literary connection for her.
“My family had vacationed here for more than 20 years; it is where I always found peace,” Melinda explains. “It was a dream to someday move here, but that was in the 1990s and early 2000s, when the market in Southwest Florida was insanely high. I thought I could swing a financial move if I could find a dual-use building that could function as both home and a retail shop, but Sanibel has very few properties zoned that way. After a busy holiday retail season in 2007, my Mom and I escaped for a last-minute getaway to Sanibel. I saw a property while visiting that was in need of TLC—which is a plus in my book—and met my working and living criteria. Before our mini four-day retreat came to a close, I was under contract to buy the building. It was an ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ moment.”
The house, built in 1991, is the kind of stick-built stilt home commonly found on islands, with white siding covering five split levels. “The first level is the retail space that houses my little shop,” Melinda explains. “The upper levels are home. First you enter the living area, which is open two stories to expose the next level of kitchen and open decking. The next level consists of two bedroom suites and full baths. The top floor of the house is my favorite: the loft. It serves as master bedroom, studio, sewing room, drafting area—and in case I am so inclined, there is a porch swing that looks out the top-floor windows.”
Once the building was structurally sound, so Melinda was able to dive into the redesign phase. “The ‘bones’ of the house drew me to it immediately: There are reclaimed hardwood floors throughout, old columns frame the doors and vintage corbels anchor cove lighting in the living area,” she says.
To enhance the architectural details, Melinda opted for a clean, monochromatic color palette. “I embraced a white palette long before it was in style—1991 to be exact,” she says. “It came out of sheer necessity and ingenuity. I was in my first apartment, graduating from design school—and broke. Every furnishing I owned was given to me or found at yard sales. Nothing matched. The most affordable fix was to paint everything with the most inexpensive paint—white! My personal style has evolved into what I like to call ‘casual opulence,’ comprising a neutral palette, Ironstone china, vintage linens and seashells with hints of farm ware sprinkled throughout.”
Melinda describes her favorite area—the loft—with the same attention to detail as her muse Hemingway would have. “A narrow staircase leads up a handful of stairs to my enchanted haven,” she says. “The high ceilings are painted a very appropriate pale sky blue, the slanted ceiling walls mimic the roof-line peaks. The walls are a pale peach finished with a topcoat white wash. A green porch swing takes center stage. Large windows offer the perfect view. But this is not an area to rest…it is meant for inspiration.” Melinda’s drafting area, desk, antique-vanity-turned-sink and sewing table stand at the ready. Bookcases house gardening and decorating books. In the center of the room is the elevator, surrounded by glass-panel French doors. “Take one step up and you will see my nest,” Melinda says. “My bed has a simple cream vintage headboard, loads of pillows and a white comforter. The old recliner is one of my first dumpster dives. This beast-turned-beauty took on a new look when I recovered it with vintage quilts. The palette is pale blue, green and cream, reflected in the McCoy pottery and old, painted furnishings.”
Melinda purchased the home from the original owner, who was also the builder. She later invited him to see how she had redesigned it. “Bryce was quite a character, a very creative, clever man. His style was full of color, and I am pretty much void of color, so I was so uncertain as to how he would react,” she says. “At first he was quiet, then a bit emotional. He shared stories about where he found the old farm sink and laughed as he remembered some of his follies. Before he left, he thanked me for the invitation and for giving the house a new life. He said: “This is just what the old place needed…to be loved again.”
For more information on Melinda Graham, visit surroundingsbymelinda.com and surroundingsbymelinda.blogspot.com.
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By Meryl Schoenbaum
Photography by Jacqueline deMontravel