A Mediterranean Muse

Palace-Homes Of Southern Spain Inspire The Ambassador To Portugal's House of Dreams In Fort Myers

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Located on the shores of the Caloosahatchee River in the Fort Myers community of Gulf Harbor Golf & Country Club, the 13,000-square-foot home of Am­bassador Alfred Hoffman and wife Dawn is a Mediterranean muse. Named Casa de Suenos, which translates as "House of Dreams," the residence mirrors the palaces of southern Spain with its whitewashed facade, red-tile roof, outdoor terraces and private courtyards.

Not surprisingly, authenticity was key to the design — both inside and out. "This home captures the feeling of a home in Andalusia that has been added onto as the family and fortune grew," says designer Joan Simonsen-Hickok, who has worked with the Hoffmans on five other projects. A summer spent in the south of Spain visiting palazzi in the countryside and churches in Seville and Cordoba was the inspiration for Simonsen-Hickok's design.

In fact, the home appears so authentic that many guests, whom the Hoffmans have entertained or those who have attended charity and political fundraising events at the estate, have incorrectly guessed its true age. "People think the home is 100 years old," architect Rick Gonzalez says. And that's exactly what the Hoffmans wanted.

In addition, Ambassador Hoffman, who founded renowned builder/developer WCI Communities, Inc., wanted to build a home in which he and Dawn could live comfortably and entertain. Appointed by President Bush in July 2005 as the ambassador to Portugal, Alfred, along with Dawn, "wanted room for entertaining without it feeling like an auditorium," Gonzalez says. "They wanted the indoor and outdoor spaces to flow."

The interior design of the home evolved over two years. Simonsen-Hickok and senior designer Wendy Klingensmith spent much of that time immersed in research, shopping for antiques and overseeing custom reproductions. Such excursions resulted in a collection of 16th- to 19th-century European antiques and furnishings that convey the feel of having been passed down through generations.

Despite its size, Casa de Suenos exudes warmth and intimacy with its gentle unveiling of spaces, beginning with the majestic foyer. Historical accuracy was so important, that the design team brought in Wm. Thorning Little, a Sarasota architect known for his expertise in Mediterranean motifs, to design the turret and incorporate the floating stone stairway. "I also worked with them on the ceilings, proportions and the connection of spaces," Little says.

A rope banister swags along the stairway wall — "a feature in many European homes," Simonsen-Hickok says. The first of many antiques sits in the center of the space — a 17th-century Span­ish brazier from the San Simeon collection of William Randolph Hearst. Moorish-patterned terracotta flooring, the hallmark of Spanish de­sign, enhances the Andalusian flavor of the estate.

The colors for the living room were pulled from an antique Oushak area rug, whose field of ocher, blue and raspberry hues inspired the fabrics on the chairs and sofas. Two conversation areas are defined by back-to-back sofas — one facing an Italian limestone fireplace, the other facing a 16th century-style Italian cabinet.

"The living room is the heart of the home," Klingensmith says. "The vibrant warm colors and patterns of the textiles and finishes create a warm candlelit glow. The furniture, accessories and lighting are like jewels — each one is special and can be admired individually or as a whole. The living room is luxurious but inviting and livable at the same time." Adding to the room's collected look is a carved Portuguese armchair, a century-old Steinway piano and Got­hic lantern light fixtures. Lustrous hand-finished walls further the room's Old World patina.

This aged patina transitions to regal elegance in the dining room with rich, burnt-sienna walls. Similarly hued velvet draperies with gold-leaf stenciling and cut-velvet chairs add to the room's stately demeanor. Two custom-designed wrought-iron chandeliers hang above the hand-planed Spanish table.

In addition to the formal dining room, the Hoffmans enjoy two other areas that afford exquisite views. French doors line the inviting dining area of the family room, which overlooks the Caloosahatchee River. Furn­ished with a Spanish table and hand-painted, gilded Portuguese chairs, the room provides a less formal space for family gatherings.

Also light and airy, the breakfast room features a hand-painted pedestal table and iron chairs, where the Hoffmans enjoy their morning coffee with the sunny courtyard, complete with fountain and koi pond, as their backdrop.

The gallery leading to the first-floor master suite offers a fitting prelude to the bedroom with its collection of antiques. In the master bedroom, 16th-century putti watch over a carved-wood, Italian-inspired bed. Such cher­ubs are traditionally found in Seville and Cordoba churches. Gothic touches in the bedside chest and painted wall tracery add another layer of Renaissance influence to the design.

Old World motifs further char­­acterize the master bath — from the hand-stenciled, pewter claw-foot tub to the decorative wall tiles and terracotta flooring. A Moorish arch to the shower completes the cultural blend of elements.

"Entering this house feels like you're stepping back in time," Simonsen-Hickok says.

Interior Design
Joan Simonsen-Hickok and Wendy Klingensmith, Simonsen-Hickok Interiors, Naples, FL

Daniel A. Newcomb, Palm Beach Gardens, FL

Rick Gonzalez, REG Architects, Inc., West Palm Beach, FL

Architectural Consultant
Wm. Thorning Little, Sarasota, FL

WCI Communities, Inc., Bonita Springs, FL

Text by
Nanci Theoret