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HOMEOWNERS — Sandie and Donne Pitman

LOCATION — Tulsa, Oklahoma

STYLE — Mediterranean and Spanish revival

INTERIOR — 6,200 square feet

BUILT — Completed 2002

BEST-LOVED ROOMS — Kitchen, club room, and outdoor fireplace area

HER FAVORITE PASTTIMES — Cooking and sewing

HIS FAVORITE PASTTIMES — Hunting, fishing, and golfing

HOUSEBUILDING TIP — "Find a builder you love. Look at things he's done, talk to the people he's built for. Speak with them and see if they're still friends."

WHY FRONTGATE? — "I'm a longtime customer. Frontgate has the scale of items a larger home requires, and I love their textiles." — Sandie Pitman

Dining Room

Kitchen

ARCHITECT/BUILDER
Michael Dankbar (918-298-2299)

INTERIOR DESIGNER
Phil Long, Inc. (918-747-9934)

LANDSCAPE DESIGNER
Steve Williams (918-583-7772)

Tulsa, Oklahoma — If Donne and Sandie Pitman had one overriding priority in building their new home, it was this: to create a sense of warmth and comfort. "I want comfort over design," Sandie told both their architect and decorator. "A lot of homes you see in magazines look beautiful, but they're not comfortable and inviting. I wanted every room to feel like it would be comfortable to sit and lounge in."

Her ultimate goal was to make people feel at ease, both physically and psychologically. "That was my whole purpose in decorating the house. I didn't want anyone to feel 'I better not touch this or put my feet up on that.'" Sandie says her friends were somewhat skeptical. As they watched the house take shape, "they'd see all this stone on the floor, all this massive sheetrock on the walls, and say, 'I don't know how you're going to warm this up.'"

But Sandie made the pursuit of comfort and warmth — without sacrificing beauty — the chief criterion in every selection she made. If she found a chair that looked right but sat wrong, she let it go. She chose a cheery palette of colors, a pleasing variety of textures: animal-print area rugs, reclaimed timber beams, distressed alderwood cabinets, fabrics of chenille, leather, and brocade. "I'm a brown-eyed blond attracted to warmer colors. I just couldn't see myself in a purple or blue room."

Sandie is satisfied she accomplished her goal. "I'm not fond of wall to wall carpeting, so I selected limestone to cover most of the floors, then a soft palette of antique and custom rugs. There isn't one room that doesn't feel inviting," she says. Her friends second the opinion. "They've come to me and said, 'It feels so warm and comfortable here!'" I think Donne and I are much happier than we would be having a lot of decorator rooms that are pretty but aren't comfortable to live in."

CREATING SOMETHING FROM NOTHING

Building a house wasn't at all what Donne and Sandie had in mind when they decided to downsize following their daughter's graduation. "We had a big house and a lot of acreage, and we didn't want all that upkeep on the house and lawn anymore."

Their first move took them a house in a gated community — and too far in the opposite direction. "The house was much too small," explains Sandie. "We opened up the attic and enclosed some outdoor living space, but it was still too small." At that point, they began looking at "everything in town. We weren't sure what we were looking for, but there always seemed to be something wrong with whatever we came across. The homes that appealed the most to us were the older homes. They were built better, they had such good bones, and they had more character. But the rooms were small, the ceilings were low, and the kitchen was too far away from the rest of the living area. We wanted higher ceilings, bigger rooms, more openness." Their house search also took them to newer, larger homes, "but they didn't have a lot of what we wanted."

"I wanted every room to feel like it would be comfortable to sit and lounge in."

And then they found a house that did. Just one of seven one-of-a-kind homes in a large estate that had been subdivided, the house wasn't exactly right, but Donne and Sandie were confident they could remodel it to their liking. Meantime, as a back-up plan, they'd purchased a lot nearly a year earlier in the same community, a piece of land at the end of a cul-de-sac that was very private and very quiet. So when the owners of the house they intended to buy reneged on the deal, Donne and Sandie immediately went into action. "We thought we'd wasted enough time. We decided to go ahead and build."

PALM BEACH COMES TO TULSA

Since marrying, the two of them had maintained a home in Florida, and they loved the Mediterranean and Spanish revival houses built there in the 1920s by architect Addison Mizner, best known for transforming Boca Raton into a luxurious resort community. And though Mizner's influence spread far and wide, very few houses of that style had ever been built in their locale, yet Donne and Sandie made up their minds to build just such a home. The next step was taking builder/architect Michael Dankbar to Palm Beach so he could see firsthand what they had in mind. Working with a U-shaped floor plan organized around a swimming pool — a Mizner-inpsired plan Donne and Sandie had found in Florida — "he embellished it and customized it to our wants and needs."

Concerned that a house might lose integrity if it were designed by one person and built by another, Donne and Sandie determined to have Dankbar do both. "He designed and built the house just for us. He was here every day. If one of the sub-contractors didn't understand what the plan dictated, Michael would draw it on the sheetrock in 3D. There's another set of plans on the walls beneath the paint! I loved seeing the way everything came together, all the work and details that are involved. You couldn't put this job ahead of that one because it wouldn't work. Our builder was such an organized person. He had this list that went on and on and on, and what didn't get done that day, he put on the next day's list and kept marking it off until everything was accomplished. He was such a pleasure to work with. After we moved in, we had a tiny leak above one of the windows. The forecast called for rain, but since the stonemason couldn't come to repair the problem for a week, Michael came and caulked to make sure water wouldn't get in." With experiences like that, Sandie can easily say, "The building process was just wonderful. I've enjoyed every aspect of it."

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

"I didn't realize how many decisions there were to be made," Sandie says in retrospect. "Every paint color, stone color, fabric color — decisions right down to what kind of hinges to put on the door. It was just mind boggling!"

Choosing a color for the home's exterior proved to be a major sticking point. "My husband is very conservative," says Sandie, "and I'm more flamboyant. I wanted this bold orange-gold color — it's very prominent in Florida but not here in Tulsa — and he said, 'No.' I said, 'What do you want, beige? Look around. Every house is like that. Is that what you want?'" The builder eventually convinced Donne to give the bolder color a try, telling him, "If you'll just stay with this, I think you'll like it when it's done."

When Donne and Sandie first saw the new stucco job, there was no trim work, no terra-cotta tile roof, no landscaping, and it appeared they'd made a colossal mistake. Donne put it this way: "It looked like a big old pumpkin sitting out there in the field." Even Sandie began to have her doubts, though when she'd originally put all the colors on a design board they had meshed beautifully. "I said to my husband, 'If it doesn't turn out the way we want, we can paint it.' That appeased him." The story has a happy ending. "He loves it now! Everyone in the neighborhood loves it. It's a cheery color, warm and happy. Besides, it's kind of nice to be different." There's even a postscript. "We're building a place in Colorado," says Sandie, "and I think we're going to use a similar color."

THE MIZNER INFLUENCE

Donne and Sandie did their homework, leafing through book after book devoted to Mizner architecture. Their home incorporates many key elements of his signature style: flowing arches, gracefully winding staircases, soaring 22-foot ceilings, the extensive use of natural materials — stone, pecky cypress, wrought iron — and, of course, the sunny stucco exterior. Replicating the Mizner style sometimes took some doing. "We'd come across entryways with stone arches and say, 'This is what we want.' You see a lot of that in Florida, but it's less common here." Donne and Sandie also wanted the stone arch to be carved with eagles similar to those on the U. S. dollar bill. "My husband is part Cherokee Indian," explains Sandie, "and he has a collection of eagles." After finding a stoneworks in California to handle the job, their architect drew the arch to scale, and the company in turn sent him a rendering in scale. "He put his stamp of approval on it, and they carved it," Sandie says.


Bold golden-orange stucco, a terra-cotta tiled roof, and arching cantara-marble entry
typify the Spanish-revival style. Shop Outdoor Living.

The 18-foot mantel in the living room and the kitchen's barley-twist columns were products of the same time-consuming, labor-intensive process, all of them carved from cantara marble, a softer, more carvable stone than, say, travertine. "The stonework would arrive in parts. We'd never get the whole finished product at once. One of the pieces might be broken, and then we'd have to reorder. It took forever! I understand from everyone who's ordered stone that's just the way it is." Much of the stonework, however, including the club room's floor-to-ceiling mantel, which encompasses wooden cabinetry on either side, was created by a local stonemason, and the work proceeded in a more expeditious manner.

A PASSION FOR ANTIQUES

Much of the home's charm can be attributed to Sandie's decorating know-how — and her penchant for antiques, many of them treasures unearthed on her shopping trips to Europe. "I went to the flea market in Paris and brought back two huge urns that sit on the front porch, bronzes, and the 25-light chandelier that hangs over the kitchen island. A local antique dealer let me share a space in his container." She also went to the design centers in Denver, Dallas, and Atlanta. How did she know which antique markets to frequent? "I learned from listening to friends and decorators talk."

One telling example of Sandie's ingenuity was the transformation of some old stable doors she'd found in Europe. "We made them into gates to put by the pool," she says. "They have spindles where the horses could look through, and one has a little door where people could reach in and pet the horse or put in food." She also took apart an old transom she'd shipped back and had it refashioned into a gate for the other side of the pool. "They're much more interesting than any gate you could go out and buy or have built new."

Sandie says she sometimes bought things she loved even if she didn't quite know where they would go. But in other cases, she knew exactly what she needed — something to fit a "real tall, real narrow" space in the foyer, like the ten-foot French clock she found. "Donne played golf while I was seeking out antiques," says Sandie. "He never was one to like old things. 'Why wouldn't you want something new with drawers that work?' he'd ask. But now he sees there's a lot of charm to the old things. He's learned to appreciate them."

DECORATING KNOW-HOW

Sandie worked hard to bring the burnished warmth of antiques to her kitchen. Shying away from matching wood cabinetry that all looked the same, she opted for a scrubbed, peeled-paint finish on the island. Here as elsewhere, the scale of the home proved to be something of a challenge. "The kitchen designer was planning to install regular-size cabinets, but I told her they need to be high because the ceiling is high. She said, 'You won't be able to reach them,' but I said, 'Then we'll use a ladder.'" Sandie eagerly sings the praises of Phil Long, the designer who assisted her. "He was instrumental in organizing, timing, and placing orders, as well as making sure that things were shipped when they were supposed to be shipped. He helped me stay on a timeline. I'm traveling and I'm gone a lot, so I needed his help to put it all together and make it work." His eye for color and scale is exceptional. He has worked with me on five different projects, including the interior of an airplane. We work well together and I greatly value his expertise."

"There's not a room here on the first floor we don't walk through or use every day... The house is very utilized."

Yet she also learned an important lesson in decorating from her German maid. Sandie was in the habit of decorating her guest rooms with cast-offs, items she loved but no longer cared to display in the more public spaces. "If you care enough to invite someone to stay in your home, you should make sure they get the best," the maid advised. "I took what she said to heart," says Sandie. "After that, I decorated the guest rooms to the level of the rest of the house. We moved a wall to make one of the rooms larger, and I decorated them with comfortable fabrics and furnishings. Now our guests' rooms areequipped with everything they could possibly want!" So what happened to things she had accumulated "for years and years and years" but simply couldn't work into the new decorating scheme — and couldn't be relegated to the guest room? "It wasn't a total loss," says Sandie. "My daughter and her husband had just bought a house."

HAPPY AT HOME

Since moving here, Donne and Sandie have hosted charitable events for the Mental Health Association, Girl Scouts, and a local museum. "We like to share what we have with others," they say. Theirs was one of four Tulsa homes selected to showcase the talent of local architects, and every now and then they entertain their friends at dinner parties.

The action moves upstairs to the playroom when the grandchildren come to visit. While the room is equipped with plenty of entertainment options for the entire family, from game table and television to VCR and DVD player, its antelope-patterned carpeting, leather sofa, and antler chandelier reflect Donne's interest in hunting. A nearby gun closet and safe keeps his hunting rifles under lock and key.

Some of the best times, though, involve just the two of them enjoying the pleasures of the home they created together. "We designed the house to use all the rooms — and we do," says Sandie. "There's not a room here on the first floor we don't walk through or use every day: his office, my hobby room, the living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom and bath, the laundry room and club room. The house is very utilized."

Do she and Donne plan to stay? A self-confessed nomad, Sandie says, "Once I'm in a place for awhile, I'm ready for something new. I need a project, a creative endeavor. But I love this house, and since it was built just for us, I'm more content here."

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