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Design Happy

For Richard Geary of Naples’ Geary Design, the “aha!” moment came in his eighth grade Latin class. “My teacher told us she had designed and built her own home,” he says. “I knew the house because I delivered papers to it. I thought to myself, wouldn’t that be cool to actually design your own house? For everybody I knew, a house was just something you moved into. I decided that at one point in my life, sooner rather than later, I would design my own home.” So he did—and as his lifestyle and design experience have grown and evolved, so has the house. With two major renovations completed, he’s now thinking about the next.

One’s home, he says, is never really finished.

When geary first designed his Golden Gate home, it was with some concessions. The majority of houses at the time were being built with 8-foot ceilings, a height that—when ceiling fans were added—Geary describes as “oppressive.” But for the then-28-year-old designer, it was the only affordable option, so he put himself to work devising other architectural elements that would compensate for the lack of height standard-sized walls typically afforded. The result was a scissor truss, which created volume throughout the home and enough height to safely install ceiling fans.

The home has since undergone two renovations. The first, he says, was to upgrade materials. Basic carpeting gave way to Spanish terracotta tile; granite countertops replaced Formica; and higher-quality kitchen cabinetry was installed. The second renovation, pictured here, was a chance to “get rid of all the aggravations from the original house,” Geary says. “As my exposure to design grew, and my trips to Europe grew, I began to think more about what I could do to clean up all of the little things and simplify the architecture.

“All the air-conditioning outlets suddenly lined up with the lighting, and the lighting was pulled up into the ceiling with the same size openings as the air-conditioning outlets. The fireplace became this architectural element rather than a flat wall. I always thought the seat we had done with the fireplace was kind of clumsy. So I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to leave the fireplace up this high so people could sit on the hearth, but make it something sleek and elegant?”

The architectural furniture, Geary’s own designs, carries the room’s streamlined look, as does the flooring, which, he reveals, is actually made of cork. “It looks like concrete, but it’s easy to live with and maintain, and it’s terrific to walk on.”

As their lifestyle evolved, Richard and his wife, Gail, discovered their original Pullman-style kitchen wasn’t an ideal fit. “We realized how important the kitchen had become,” he explains. “Cooking became a bigger part of our lives. When we invited people over, everyone was in here. And that’s pretty typical when you’re entertaining. Everybody wants to be in the kitchen.”

In the renovation, that space, too, opened up to become an extension of the living room and dining room. “We wanted a kitchen that didn’t look like a kitchen,” Geary says, so he designed cabinetry and a large, 11-foot-long island using matched veneer panels and smooth stone that would look more like furniture than the standard kitchen outfitting. “The only thing that’s there,” he says, “is a sculptural-looking sink spout. We even had the sinks specially made so they were oversized, but they fit into the grid of this perfectly.”

Geary knew that when he opened up the kitchen, the end wall would become much more prominent. “I wanted to make it as clean as possible and do something fairly dramatic, and that’s where the artwork comes in,” he says. “We used the artwork almost as an architectural element, because in many cases, I think of artwork as adding a window. It just has a different view.”

It was important to him to have an unobstructed view of that artwork from the living room and dining room, and also to avoid ruining the ceiling’s “star” truss by putting holes in it for lighting. Rather than installing a chandelier, Geary strung minimalistic lighting—just wide enough for two-inch light bulbs—between the headers on the kitchen cabinets. “They’re gimbaled, so you can put the light anywhere you want it to be, and they essentially become almost invisible,” he explains.

The 10-foot dining table was also strategically chosen. While walls originally defined the spaces between the rooms, Geary decided to instead use furniture for that purpose in his redesign. “The house, from the front door, is very layered,” he explains, a concept he picked up while working in Mexico, where houses are built with layers to create a sense of time and procession when entering a home. “So you have this area which is the living room, and then this long table, and then you run the chairs around. That creates a kind of barrier, so the table and chairs become a space maker and a separation point, as the island does in the kitchen.”

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