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by Barbara Hanrahan
photos by Justin Itnyre

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My husband and I built a beautiful house on the beach after working for a year and a half with an architect to finalize all architectural elements,” said Barbara Searles. “We live in Denver, 2000 miles away from our new home, which meant added challenges. Our builder gave us Valerie Lee’s number and, little did she know, but she and her associates would be a large part of our lives for nearly two years. Valerie helped us and handled our project brilliantly.”

Valerie Lee of Anastasia Design Group was referred to Tom and Barbara Searles via John Ruggeri Construction, the builder the Searles had chosen to build their second home. Originally from Denver, the Searles had vacationed in St. Augustine for many years and, after much searching, had decided on Sea Colony as the community within which to build their new home. Started in 2011 and finished in 2013, the Searles house took about two years to build and decorate from start to finish.

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Lee and her firm Anastasia Design Group handles all the decorating for Ruggeri’s high end construction, both residential and commercial. “We meet with the clients to specify their whole house, from the kitchen cabinets to their countertops to the tile,” explained Lee. “With some clients we can do it in the amount of time allotted because they don’t have very particular directions or specific needs. Other clients hire me to do more detailed decorating, which is what the Searles did. The Searles wanted something more unique and different.”

“Before we met Valerie, we didn’t intend to use her services for everything, but because she listened to us, and we realized our tastes meshed, she had a hand in every room of our 15 room house,” Searles elaborated. “She even went to the plumbing supply house with us to help pick out toilets, sinks, faucets and bathtubs. Otherwise we would have been totally lost. Never were our house plans far from her side when she talked with us. Her assistant was also a valuable asset in keeping all of us on track and searching endlessly for items we couldn’t find in person. Now that’s service!”

“I helped them from the beginning, in choosing the exterior paint colors to the interior paint colors, the tile…everything. Then they hired me to do the interior design,” said Lee. “If you are fortunate enough to hire a professional to help you with the interior of your house, particularly your second home, it allows you to have a flow that you can’t duplicate over years and years of living in the house with the things you collect over time. If you renovate and decorate your home one year and then five years later you redo your living room, it’s not cohesive and consistent. That’s what makes a house that’s done from top to bottom look so great. It’s completely done that way.”

“Valerie was patient, professional and possesses a unique eye,” Searles testified. “Our first sit- down meeting to get down to the nitty-gritty of our home came with me showing up with over a foot high stack of folders filled with design ideas pulled from magazines, design books, and pictures of ‘looks’ we wanted for each room and our outdoor spaces. “

“We do everything from the furniture to the rugs to most of the art and accessories,” Lee said. “New accessories are incorporated with the clients own accessories. The Searles travel extensively throughout the world so they are always collecting things. One of the things they did that started the entire process, the direction of the coloring for the interiors, was the living room rug. It’s got some great burgundy tones and other unique qualities to it. They bought in turkey and when they came back they said, “Oh, we bought a rug.” I said ‘OK. What does it look like?’ It was huge and I thought, ‘Oh my. I hope it fits.’ Fortunately it did; it fit perfectly! So that became kind of the direction. The styling kind of derived from that Turkish rug and the colors in it.”

“Valerie took those one-dimensional ideas and helped us create the whole house look,” Searles added. “We even went to Turkey somewhere in the process and purchased a large Turkish rug (unbeknownst to Valerie until I sent her pictures). This rug had to become the centerpiece of the great room, which she helped us turn into a gorgeous, yet comfortable gathering spot for family and friends. “
“In the Searles kitchen they wanted this very particular granite that looks like stones,” Lee continued. They wanted the whole kitchen done in that but it was just too overwhelming so we just ended up doing the center island that way.” Searles agreed. “Valerie also has forged excellent relationships with key partners in the home building process like the plumbing supply house, lighting suppliers, the builders’ subcontractors, etc., and tolerated my quest for a special piece of granite that I just ‘had to have’ for a kitchen island, which I’m proud to say we found and has become a great talking point when showing people the house.”

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Lee observed that “people have a tendency to like the same tones. It’s interesting, though, especially when we have clients who have moved from up north or out west, they tell me they are just so sick of the darker warm tones and winter colors. Those are the people that end up going completely the opposite way. Their idea of beach décor if they have lived in Denver or Minnesota might be white painted furniture or palm trees so when people tell me they want a coastal beachy look I say, ‘Well lets figure out what your idea of coastal really is. What does a particular genre mean to you?’”
Searles described that “Valerie also helped incorporate some fairly strong ideas my husband and I had about certain rooms and outdoor spaces, even incorporating some of our own beloved artwork that had either been in storage, or in our Denver house, and worked it into the already finalized color schemes throughout the house. Lee described her design style and philosophy as timeless and classic. “Even if some color waves are super popular, I tend to gravitate away from them. Having been in this business for twenty-three years, I have seen certain trends and color schemes become popular and then fade out and then become popular again. In this way, we get to see trends fade away and come back again consistently, so we try to do is something that we will still like ten years from now. Then we know that it is classic. We try to stay more with the classics.”

Searles concluded, “Many of our neighbors, family and friends have been to our house and all they can say is ‘Wow, this is fantastic!’ My husband and I couldn’t be happier. We will eventually happily retire in this home. ”