September 30, 2014

Light on the Subject

La Luce is a sumptuous new lighting and home décor gallery in downtown Naples. It's brilliantly and beautifully focused on lighting solutions-everything from tea light candles to big Murano glass chandeliers, wall sconces, table and floor lamps, pendant lights and illumination whimsies (actually original art that happens to contain light bulbs).

Even if you have no intention of buying a light fixture, check out La Luce for its wonderful plush silk-velvet Susan Unger throws, area carpets, tabletop sculptures, woven ottomans, sofas and chairs, side tables and a collection of unique pottery botanical bowls and freestanding "flowers" by local artist John Serrin. Some are for hanging on the wall; others are for placing on a table. All are worthy of admiration. I'm also wild about the candlesticks that Molly Ryan of Vermont sends to La Luce. Her sister, Dez Ryan (who works in New York), is the artist who fashions the sassy glass sconces and small table lamps you'll see throughout the store.

La Luce is owned by Beverly and Stephen Pascucci. He's a physician, and she spent 25 years as a surgical nurse until last year, when she decided they both needed a life change. The couple had been vacationing in Naples for six years but delayed a permanent move until their daughter entered college. When baby bird started classes at Villanova, the parents flew the Pennsylvania coop and headed south.

"I wanted a complete change from what I was doing," says Beverly. "I love contemporary design, and I was interested in retail; so I talked my ambitions over with Lynn Goods, the Naples interior decorator who did our two homes in Pennsylvania and one here. Lynn saw a need for a high-end light-fixture boutique that would show how contemporary and transitional lighting could be used in almost any home setting." Table lamp prices range from about $175 to nearly $2,000. Chandeliers top out at about $4,000, and pendants start at about $180.

Lynn Goods (owner of Goodmaker Inc.) is now the buyer for La Luce, and she helped Beverly install the gallery. The space is organized into a series of comfortable residential vignettes so a client can see how different light fixtures can work in a variety of spaces.

Also on the La Luce team is store manager Gavin Oihus, a lighting consultant with nearly a decade of local experience. If you want a cluster of pendant lights over your breakfast table in, say, your Mediterranean or postmodern home, Oihus will ask you how high your ceilings are, what's the diameter of the table and what else is in the room. You'll leave with the right fixtures and excellent advice about what kind of light bulbs you should have. And just to be sure of your selection, you can take pieces home on trial. Oihus says the biggest mistake homeowners make in choosing a hanging fixture or a table lamp is picking one too small for the space. Apparently we make the same mistake with area rugs. So when he tells you the size you need, believe him.

About 60 percent of the inventory at La Luce is contemporary; the rest is transitional, which means it will complement a vintage home, your eclectic beach condo or a home newly designed to express old-world chic. But often the staff will suggest that a buyer put a modern light fixture into a traditional room. "It takes the edge off the formality with a dose of the unexpected, and it injects personal style," says Oihus. "Sometimes all it takes is a lamp or chandelier to give a room that certain something." It also takes a dimmer. All your lights should be on a dimmer, he advises, so that you can control the amount of light to suit the occasion. Mood lighting matters, you know; but so does being able to read the paper.

The creative upgrading of the Pink Shell Beach Resort at the northern tip of Fort Myers Beach indicates what's on the horizon for that whole island. The newly refurbished resort is casually glamorous, totally inviting and family-friendly. Best of all, it has a gift shop called Audrey's, with so many appealing tropical clothes and enticing gift items that year-round residents as well as tourists are shopping there for quality things you won't find in department stores at area malls.

Gift shop staffer Colleen Hission tells me that some of the biggest sellers are the shampoo and soap that are placed in the bathrooms of each of the resort's rooms. The eucalyptus-based soap is invigorating and refreshing and only $2 a bar. Sea salt, body wash and shower gel are also available in the same scent. Another huge hit with guests and locals is the plush Pink Shell logo beach towel ($49.95), which is patterned in bold pink and white stripes. It's a nice addition to anyone's pool cabana. You'll want at least a pair.

The Kate Lord straw hats (about $38) are exceptional. When Colleen asks if you want the accompanying hatbox, say yes. The box is deep and square with a nice rope handle. You'll find lots of uses for it besides holding your hat, because a hat this good-looking needs to be out on display on a cute hook when it's not on your head. The Kate Lord visors are something you want to check out, too. The brims are extra-wide to fully shade face and ears, and some styles have fat, feminine bows attached to the back. Adorable and practical, the visors come in several colors and sizes. I bought the one in sage green and natural straw with a bow, but there are plenty left for you.

The Mistral brand shea butter soaps are easy to tuck into a suitcase and have transporting titles and fragrances. Who could resist melon-pear or grapefruit-red currant or one called South Seas? Just $6 for a luxury bar. A whole basket full in a guest bath would be dreamy. Each bar of soap has a matching body lotion, too.

Men gravitate toward the Tori Richard tropical shirts (made in Hawaii) and Bermuda shorts, and the swim trunks with a handy zippered pocket that keeps money and keys from getting lost. The silk shirts, lightweight and colorful, range from about $80 to $125. There are several lines of women's clothes and shoes as well as children's beachy togs and gift items, including a line of little-girl bracelets, headbands and totes, and dolls.

Audrey's also stocks some artful items from local artist Nora C. Butler. A fanciful beach cover-up or nightshirt (with pocket) features a glam wildly patterned flamingo on a white background. It sells for $28. If you're only going to get one thing for yourself, it probably should be this comfortable shirt, since it's so about our area and Butler is such a respected artist. Audrey's sells Nora Butler matted framed prints, too, for $17.95. And one of the biggest sellers in the shop is a box of Nora Butler note cards. You get eight in the set (each different) for $15. Use them as whimsical stationery or slip one or two into ready-made mats and frame to hang on the wall of your bath, kitchen or a child's room. Every time you pass by one of these prints, you'll smile and remember what a brilliant shopper you are.

The market for plus-size women's fashions has never been stronger, nor have buyers ever been so savvy and style conscious about what they want-which includes top-quality easy-care fabrics, a range of colors and good tailoring. That's because 60 percent of American women today are a size 14 or larger, instructs Judy Dearborn, owner of Plusperfect. According to a recent report by the National Center for Health Statistics, the average weight for women has increased from 140 pounds in the '60s to 164 pounds today. The biggest average weight gain for women (29 pounds) has occurred among those in the 20-29 bracket.

No wonder competition to attract and keep the plus-size woman is keen, with department stores and national chains such as Talbot's and Eddie Bauer getting into the plus business. But what sets specialty boutiques apart from department stores and catalogues are constructive private consultation and personal service, along with luxury brands not seen in mass-market venues. This is where Plusperfect excels.

Judy Dearborn is a plus size herself. After majoring in fashion merchandising in Minneapolis and then working for other clothing retailers in Southwest Florida, she was ready to establish her own business for the client she calls "the forgotten woman."

She explains: "When I was working for other retailers, I would literally see myself come through the doors every day and be disappointed by the kinds of clothes being offered. Proper fit is so important, and the right fabrics crucial to making a plus woman feel and look terrific. I knew I could do better, so I went to the bank with my plan and opened Plusperfect in Fort Myers in 1996." Recently she opened a second boutique on Sanibel.

Dearborn's employees are plus size, too; one of them, Kathy Vargo, has 30 years experience in wedding and events planning. She understands that when a plus-size woman is coming in for a weekend of wedding-party attire, for example, a staffer needs to spend time in conversation before bringing out the first outfit to show that client.

"I want to know the tone of the wedding, where it will be, how many events my client will need outfits for, the time of day, and time of year," says Vargo. "From there, we can move into actually trying on clothes." Vargo says the biggest need she sees in the plus market is for glamorous after-five attire. "Dinah Lee and Harari are our glamour brands," she says, and although a three-piece Harari outfit can cost about $1,000, "the client walks out of here with something really high fashion."

When Dearborn goes on buying trips, she'll only order five items of any one style. This, she says, keeps her inventory special and ensures that women will never see themselves coming and going in the fashions they select at Plusperfect.

Other brands regular clients look for (and 75 percent of Plusperfect clients are repeat business) include Paradiso for fun tropical separates in lightweight rayon, Tenini for comfortable cotton sportswear, and both Due Per Due and On The Rocks for more sophisticated ensembles. The Roni Robb knit suits fly out the door. Tops are about $150, and the slacks average $85. Judy says the most popular fabric is Tencil, followed by silk, cotton and linen.

Besides clothes, Plusperfect stocks accessories from body shapers to evening bags, a wide array of jewelry, scarves, fashionable reading glasses and such. The faux flowers are fabulous; some are rendered in fur and others in a combination of leather, velvet and feathers. At about $28, the faux flower pins and belts are extraordinary.

The shop keeps hours until 5 p.m., but Dearborn notes that clients can come in later than that if they make arrangements in advance. "We have some ladies who routinely drive two hours to come to us for help," Dearborn says. "And we have other clients in far-off cities who leave standing orders for four or five outfits a year in specific brands and colors. When the clothes come in, I select for the client and ship off the outfits."

Plusperfect stocks clothes from size 12 up to 4X, which is a 24-26. And while the store doesn't specifically serve the petite client, many outfits at Plusperfect can be made petite perfect with slight alterations.

La Luce

837 Fifth Ave. S., Naples. (239) 263-5823.

Audrey's at Pink Shell Beach Resort

275 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach.

(239) 463-6181.

Plusperfect

13550 Reflections Parkway (Reflection Lakes Commons), Fort Myers. (239) 433-3799. 2055 Periwinkle Way (Forever Green Shops), Sanibel. (239) 472-8110. 

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