Who doesn’t love sunflowers? From Georgia O’Keeffe, to the huge fields that draw visitors searching for the next Christmas photo, sunflowers have been a staple of the garden.
At the end of a quiet street in Clarence, New York, is an extraordinary home that creatively mixes the old with the new and says "Bienvenue" (Welcome) to all who enter.
A majestic stone eagle greets visitors as they make their way past the generous front lawn and up the curved driveway to this old-world marvel.
Then, a surprise: An offer to remove one's shoes upon entering is quickly dismissed by the homeowners.
"Oh, please, leave them on. You can't possibly hurt these floors."
And there you have it. This is a home that is meant to be lived in, not merely admired. Indeed, the couple who own it had a unique design plan when they built it on a large piece of property they purchased years ago, just waiting for the right time to build their dream home.
"Everybody congregates in the kitchen, so when we designed our floor plan, we decided to eliminate a dining room and have our eating area in the kitchen," they said. "In our former home, we only used the dining room four or five times a year. We're just not that formal, and it's worked our perfectly. Plus, as soon as summer hits, we are eating outside until the fall."
Built on an ultra-private lot of more than five acres with hundreds of trees, the home has two floors but functions primarily as a ranch: The master suite and a guest room are on opposite wings of the first floor, with two additional bedrooms and a bath upstairs to accommodate friends and family.
Dotted with antiques and filled with framed photos of loved ones, it's large and spacious but feels warm and intimate, according to the interior designer, Mark Taylor Interiors of Buffalo.
"This home is over 6,000 square feet but it doesn't feel that way because it's so intimate, even with 25-foot-high ceilings and room upon room," Taylor notes. "My clients live in every square inch of this house."
It's not the first new-build for the couple but it's the most special. Lessons learned from their previous experience came in handy this time around: Don't rush the process. Take time to get things just right. Pay as much attention to elements for summertime "outside living" as the inside.
"We took our time for every step of building this house. Once we found the right land, we hired architect Jim Bammel. Everything was looked at in detail," they said. "We had a lot of fun and did lots of homework. We thought, 'We don't want to do this again so we need to do it right.' "
The result? A so-called "lifestyle" home that effectively combines luxury and function to meet their needs now and many years down the road.
"Most people live in their kitchen, so why not have that as the center of the home?" Taylor notes. "Everything branches off that central kitchen – the great room, the sunroom, the guest room, the laundry, the pantry. It is truly the nucleus of this house." Every element was carefully thought out for a one-of-a-kind kitchen that features custom cabinetry in varying tones of maple, hickory and cherry. On the neutral walls is a late 1800s documentary print wallpaper by William Morris. The natural flooring, called "Medieval Castle Stone," flows beyond the kitchen to other areas of the home.
An oversized island incorporates a nice element of black to the décor, with a granite top and distressed wood finish – perfect for buffet-style entertaining.
"We were looking for an old-world look, a look that's timeless.… I love to cook so I wanted a kitchen that had all the tools I would need to cook for a crowd or just for the two of us." That keen attention to detail carried over to every other room – the spectacular great room with oversized plaster fireplace and post-and-beam ceiling; the adjoining sunroom that's bright with natural light; the pillared foyer with a custom-designed door; and a charming powder room featuring a reclaimed terra cotta floor from an older home in the south of France.
"Everything is custom, custom, custom," Taylor says. "They chose wonderful finishes and fixtures and products, and I love the way it all goes together."
Summertime adds a whole new dimension, with an elegant stone patio and ready-for-entertaining lanai that opens up to the pool area. "We have busy lives and we enjoy having a place that is comfortable and inviting," the homeowners said. "Again, we didn't want something formal. This is a put-your-feet-on-the- furniture kind of house. After a long day or busy week, it's so nice to come home and relax."