After 38 years of marriage, and several cross-country moves, Mike Tolbert told his high-school sweetheart that he would move anywhere she wanted…as long as they kept their lake house in Minnesota.
“I had a misconception that Florida was where you came when you got old,” Mike remembers of his initial response to Sheila’s choice to move to the Sunshine State. “But we were here two weeks, and I realized I was getting the better end of the deal.”
Sheila initially chose Indian Rocks Beach, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, to be close to her parents. “Indian Rocks has a sort of bohemian vibe,” Mike describes. “People walk everywhere. There are lots of local restaurants and shops. We bought a condo, because that’s initially what we thought we wanted.”
But Mike and Sheila quickly realized they wanted a larger space to host their family and friends visiting from out-of-town. They were referred to realtor Thomas Campbell who helped them find their dream home, less than a mile up the road from their condo in the community of Belleair Beach. While Sheila immediately saw the potential in the property, Mike needed some reassurance. So the couple turned to Susanne Van Selow, of Van Selow Design Build LLC, to tell them if the space could structurally change to meet their needs.
The Flintstones house
Mike and Sheila had a wish list that included four bedrooms to accommodate their two grown children and grandkids that come to visit often and an art studio for Sheila. When they first toured their house it only had three bedrooms, no art studio, and a huge waste of space in the formal areas that the couple knew they would never use. “I saw the potential,” Sheila remembers. “But I had to talk Mike down off the ledge.”
After sitting down with Van Selow, who had also renovated their condo when they first moved to Florida, Mike realized the house had potential.
Sheila recalls having visions of turning the formal dining room into the fourth bedroom with a Murphy bed so it could double as her art studio. It was Mike’s idea to add a second level to the home.
“It was definitely challenging, because the house was concrete… it’s a Flintstones house,” Van Selow recalls. “It was a little intense, but it was exciting.” The team spent three weeks just cutting the concrete, and one massive steel beam supports the second level where the new master suite and art studio are located.
Toning things down
“The home was lovely, with a Mediterranean aesthetic and elegant crystal chandeliers,” Sheila recalls of her first tour of the home. “It just wasn’t our style.”
The couple prefers clean lines and open spaces—with a mix of rustic and contemporary elements. Rather than sticking to one design rule, Sheila says she lets her artist eye guide her. “If I see something I like, I go with it.”
The couple worked with Van Selow to completely overhaul the house, except for the kitchen. While Sheila admits the kitchen isn’t quite her style, Mike likes it—so they decided to make minimal changes to the space. “It is very functional and well crafted,” Sheila adds. They changed the soffits and polished the flooring, but left everything else.
Off the kitchen is a living area. This space is nice for when family is in town, but the couple admits that it’s not their main hangout. That is reserved for what they refer to as The Sports Bar, which is located in the center of the home in the former formal living room.
“I love my sports,” Sheila says. “College, professional, baseball, football… I love it all.” So the couple decided to transform the existing fireplace into a bar. The television is mounted over the bar, and is large enough that it can be enjoyed through the 16-foot doors that lead to the outdoor seating area by the pool.
“Having the two separate living areas is great for when our family is visiting,” Sheila explains. “My daughter and I can sit on the floor and play Play-Doh with the kids while the guys watch sports in the next room.”
Van Selow explains that the construction process was completed in two phases and scheduled around the couple’s summer in Minnesota. The first phase of the project was to renovate the existing bedrooms and bathrooms on the main level of the home. Then the second phase was creating the second level. Meaghan Gonzalez, project manager and designer with McCabinet, Inc. was instrumental in helping the Tolberts select new cabinetry and materials for their new spaces.
Mike and Sheila lived in the house during construction and credit Van Selow’s stellar scheduling skills with keeping them sane. “Susanne, being the great builder she is, gave us a calendar and schedule daily,” Mike says.
“We pride ourselves on communication,” Van Selow says of her company. “Even the worst project, where everything seems to go wrong, can be made better by keeping the homeowners’ informed.”
Because the couple added a master suite on the newly constructed level of their home, they actually have two master suites now – which is perfect for when their daughter comes to visit with her family. “The guest suite is great for the kids because it is right off the pool, so our daughter can take the kids in and rinse them off in the shower after a day at the beach,” Sheila explains. “And they can all fit in that shower.”
“They have the biggest shower we’ve ever done,” Van Selow says of the massive shower in the renovated downstairs suite. “The original space had two closets, glass block, and the tub was in the center. It was a major renovation.”
Despite the transformation, Van Selow describes how they repurposed the original vanity by raising it up on a pedestal and running tile underneath to give it a built-in appearance. The tub surround was built to replicate the vanity, and it pops against the two tiled walls of the space.
When it came to designing Mike and Sheila’s new master bathroom, Van Selow remembers the initial inspiration being a picture of an egg-shaped soaking tub. “Sheila knew she wanted a soaking tub, and it works perfectly in the space because there are no other curves in the room – except in the chandelier,” she explains.
The soaking tub was set away from an angled wall to serve as the focal point of the elegant master bathroom. Like in its downstairs counterpart, the walk-in shower has no door so it feels completely connected to the rest of the room. While Sheila wanted hardwood flooring, porcelain look-a-like tile was chosen to hold-up in the beach air.
The view is the star
Sheila points out that her minimal décor and elegant neutral color scheme are well thought out choices. “The star of this home is the view,” Sheila explains. “Right now I’m looking out at the Gulf of Mexico. There’s not a cloud in the sky, and people are wading in the water.”
Resources: Contractor: Susanne Van Selow, Van Selow Design Build LLC; Windows: PGT WinGuard, Banning Lumber & Millwork; Cabinetry: Kabinart, McCabinet, Inc.; Electrical: USA Voltage; Concrete cutting: Accu-Cut Concrete Services, Inc.