Maurice Fatio chose red-brick banding for Casa Eleda

creating one of island’s most identifiable mansions.

It is among the most recognizable houses in Palm Beach, the Maurice Fatio-designed Italian-Romanesque-style house that faces the sea at 920 S. Ocean Blvd.

That’s because when Fatio designed it for its owners — investment banker Mortimer Schiff and his wife, Adele Neustadt Schiff — the society architect gave the 1928 house its distinctive façade that mimicked the red-and-gray horizontal-banding decoration found on some Italian buildings. Instead of marble and terracotta, however, Fatio substituted red brick and coral key stone, and the arrangement resulted in the mansion’s sandwich-inspired nickname: the “ham-and-cheese house.”

It goes by another name, too, the one with which it was christened: Casa Eleda, a moniker that just happens to be “Adele” spelled backward.

Mortimer Schiff died in 1931, and Adele a year later, so the couple didn’t get to enjoy their home for very long.

More than 80 years after it was built, the house today is owned by Charles “Chuck” Becker, who says it has served as a perfect vacation home for his family, which includes his wife, Michelle, and two children still at home — Charles 14, and Elizabeth, 8.

But the family wants to travel more, so the house is listed the house for sale with the Corcoran Group. It’s priced at $22.5 million.

Pristine condition

With 13,171 square feet of living space inside and out, the mansion has nine bedrooms, 11 bathrooms and three powder rooms. Distinctive features are much in evidence — hand-painted cypress-beamed ceilings, ornately carved stonework, five fireplaces and a 165-foot tunnel under South Ocean Boulevard that leads to the beach, to name only a few.

The Beckers are true longtime snowbirds, planning regular trips to Palm Beach from their home in Grosse Pointe, Mich.

“Before buying this house, I’d bring my boat to Admiral’s Cove in Jupiter. After I sold my business, I started looking for a house in Florida. But when we were in Jupiter, we ended up spending our time in Palm Beach, so we decided to look there,” he says.

He’d placed a couple of offers on other homes, but this one came through — and he says he is glad it did. He bought it in from owner and luxury home builder Robert Fessler, who, in turn, had purchased it from John Kent in 1991.

Before that, the mansion was owned for 10 years by James V. Sullivan, who is today serving a 2006 sentence of life without parole for his role in the murder of his wife, Lita McClinton Sullivan, killed at her suburban Atlanta home in 1987 by a hit man hired by Sullivan.

By the time that Becker bought the house, it was in pristine condition, thanks largely to Fessler’s tenure there.

“I love the house and its layout. Mr. Fessler brought the house back to its original beauty, as well as updating the plumbing and electricity.

“People always comment on the elaborate hand-painted ceilings. The rooms are large and have high ceilings, which give them a grand feeling.”

The beamed ceilings

One enters a foyer on the south side of the house by way of a distinctive front door embellished with carved stone. The foyer features a decorative painted coffered ceiling and a tile-and-coral-keystone floor. A connecting hallway, three steps up, has windows in three coral-keystone arches that offer views of the inner courtyard, pool, fountain and loggias.

To the west of the entry, the dining room features a large fireplace and a highly decorative, hand-painted pitched-and-beamed ceiling. A “breakfast porch” and a butler’s pantry connect the dining room to the kitchen, which has an area for staff dining, a staff bathroom, a pantry and laundry. In the basement below the kitchen are a game room and a temperature-controlled wine room.

To the east of the main entry is one of the home’s two main stair halls. This one has a beamed ceiling painted with geometric designs, French doors that open to the courtyard and a floor of Cuban tiles. Just beyond are two powder rooms with dressing areas as well as the doorway to the tunnel that leads to the beachfront cabana.

In the southeast corner of the house, a library is appointed with knotty-pine paneling, a fireplace and built-in bookcases. Just adjacent is the bar, which has a painted ceiling and decorative wainscoting and hand-painted tiles.

The living room can be accessed through the bar as well as through the north and south stair halls. As in the other rooms, Fatio’s love of painted beamed ceilings is in evidence, this one decorated with geometric designs. The floor is covered in wood planks, and the fireplace features a key stone mantel. On the ocean side, arched windows offer water views; and to the west, French doors — with clerestory windows above them — open to the covered dining loggia and central courtyard.

The guest suites

In the northeast corner of the house on the first floor are two guest bedroom suites and a sitting room off of the north stair hall.

Outside, running the length of the courtyard to the north, is a loggia that invites relaxation, with its bar and large fireplace.

On the second floor’s northeast corner, the master suite includes a bedroom with windows capturing water views and pairs of bathrooms and closets. There’s also a sitting room with a pitched ceiling, herringbone-patterned wood floors and a fireplace with ornate mantel.

In the opposite corner are two second-floor guest suites with fireplaces and a sitting room with a breakfast bar. A balcony connects the master-suite wing with the guest wing and is nicely positioned for sunbathing.

Back on the ground floor, the home has a gym and two offices and a three-car garage in the northwest corner. Above the garage is a staff apartment with a living room, two bedrooms and a bathroom.

User-friendly house

Although the rooms are beautiful — the Beckers worked with Smith Architectural Group on the interiors — it’s the home’s setting that they have especially enjoyed and will remember.

“This house has been a great family home and holiday house. It’s user-friendly,” Charles Becker says. “My older three daughters and five grandkids visit, and actually, one of my daughters was married here a few years ago. We had the ceremony on the ocean, and we ended up having the party in the house and courtyard. We covered the pool with a dance floor.

“We love the pool area and the loggias. We are not really sun-worshippers, but we use the pool a lot, and my wife and her friends and family walk the beach in the mornings.”


I want one of these

Yesterday, when I went to take some photos of Palm Beach designer Stephen Mooney’s staircase, he showed me his “personal space,” a library that he created from a guest room, because he loves books.

personal space 2a
Stephen Mooney’s library, a book-lovers’ visual delight

The bookcases are handsome, detailed, and although custom, were certainly affordable, he said — I want the name of his fine cabinetry maker!

Reading lamp well placed
Wow, a reading lamp placed in just the right spot.

The room already had the nice wood floor, but Mooney added wainscotting, giving the room a traditional look, sheer drapery at the windows and good reading lights in intelligent places.

He covered the floor with a nice natural-fiber nubby-type rug, overlaid with a zebra skin.

Furnishings are simple, an unpretentious but quality antique desk and chair,

side table

a mini-loveseat for one and comfy armchair with a variety of pillows and let’s not forget the ottoman!

Just last week or so, I saw chairs stacked with books (on purpose), and alas, Stephen already knew about that little trick, and I love that he left the chair, as is.

chair with books
A chair makes an extra spot to put an overflow of books, or are these Stephen’s next reads?

Note the variety of textures, fabric mixes and silver accessories — especially that magnifying glass on the side table for reading that fine print, and is that a stuffed puppy-dog sitting in the armchair? Stephen? Did I get that wrong?

Take it up a Notch

Yesterday, Palm Beach interior designer Joseph Pubillones was kind enough to allow me to take some before and after photos of one of his projects.

The question was, how can you create the most impact with a smallish budget?

Well, he told me, he had just finished such a project. His client has redone her apartment, and although it was pleasant, it was too “matchy matchy,” and she wasn’t happy with it.

With many windows, the unit does catch some lovely Intracoastal views. Furnishings are traditional and nice quality and the green and coral color palette are quite Florida. Pubillones, though, was asked to add some pizazz. So, he added pillows, put a huge floral arrangement on the sideboard, changed out a few accessories, placed a sculpture on the coffee table, and tilted a chair…

A taste of wine, and a lampshade change
A taste of wine, and a new lampshade!

He also changed out lampshades.

close in cc
Make those colors pop!

Interestingly, Pubillones chose to add some pillows in a shade of wine, muting the color scheme, but adding some nice contrast at the same time.

Makes me want to take a closer look at my own home, for sure! I’d get rid of my granny collection of pillows, if I could, but i can’t…they are gifts, and what else would I do? Paint that darn table, for another thing! And would I really be able to add some plants  in those wonderful French wire antiques my mother gave me, and keep them alive? Perhaps I should try…

Interesting June for real estate in South Florida – and this is only June 8

Jimmy Buffett sells his 1925 Palm Beach mansion at 540 S. Ocean Boulevard for $18.5 million. The priciest sale for 2010, it was not listed, sold to a Delaware company with offices in New York, Via Marina, and was appraised for $23.3 million… we wonder – are his stone parrots that top the gates to his drive included in the deal? And that little duplex that he owns on Root Trail? Renters were told the lease will not be renewed.

A UK business school is opening in Miami. Starting with 30 part-time students, it has plans to grow to 600 students over the next three years…

Green Now’s plans to build a recycling facility in Sunrise were voted down in February by commissioners who said it did not meet city code. It also was protested by residents, who cited traffic congestion, noise and pollution as reasons. Principals of Green Now have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to force the city to reconsider.

And a $6 million plan to expand the Delray Beach retreat center of Opus Dei is being opposed to residents who see that, down the road, it may well end up as a drug rehab center.

So, I see, I have not been the only one protesting.

Foreclosures Palm Beach

No matter the size (and label) of the pocketbook, it’s been a tough year for rich and poor alike. To date this year, foreclosures have been filed on 13 single-family homes in Palm Beach, with 5 of them sold, according to Wilshire International Realty broker owner Christine Franks.

In addition to the foreclosures noted by Franks, RealtyTrac lists 6 more, bringing the total to 19.

“I’ve seen some foreclosures and short sales that you generally don’t see in Palm Beach,” she said. “There were foreclosures in the early 1990s and in the late 1990s when the dot-com era collapsed. There are pockets of times when you see foreclosures in Palm Beach, but generally speaking, you don’t see people having financial difficulties that would result in short sales or foreclosures in Palm Beach.”

The five properties sold include:

1. Short sale: 271 La Puerta Way was bought in April 2006 by 271 La Pueta LLC for $2.8 million. The property sold in September 2009 for $3,550,000.

2. Deed was given back: 264 Country Club Rd. was bought in October 2007 by 264 Country Club LLC for $1,650,000 and the deed was given back to Lydian Private Bank in June 2009 for $1,243,077 in lieu of foreclosure, and then sold in June 2009 for 1,180,000.

3. Auction: 269 Pendleton Avenue was bought in September 2004 for $3,100,000 and sold at auction in February 2009 for $3,550,000. (This house was owned by Thanos Papalexis, who was sentenced to life in jail in September by a British court for the murder of Charalambos Christodoulides,)

This home on Pendleton was sold at auction February 2009

4. Foreclosure: 1431 N. Ocean Way was sold in April 2009 for $900,100 to Waterfall Victoria REO LLC and then sold again in May 2009 for $1.5 million.

5. Foreclosure filed, but sold and auction canceled: 2 Via Las Incas – Richard W. and Marjorie Fuscone sold 2 Via Los Incas for $4,610,000 following a foreclosure action by Northern Trust Bank. The Fuscones bought it for $6,850,000 in January 2003. In February 2009, Northern Trust filed a judgment against the Fuscones scheduling a court-ordered auction for August 6. On July 24, the court cancelled the foreclosure auction.

In addition, homes sales, which numbered five closings in the first quarter, were off to a slow start in Palm Beach this year.

“Sales normally take place in the season, with some that go under contract at that time, closing in May, June or July,” Franks said. “But, this year, that didn’t happen. People weren’t even looking.”

The winter months are considered the height of Palm Beach’s season, when out-of-state “snowbirds” return to their Florida homes.

In the first part of 2009, “people were experiencing financial fears,” Franks said. “Financial institutions and insurance companies had problems and the government had to inject funds to keep them afloat. The stock market had a downturn and people lost money in 401Ks and IRAs. The auto industries had bankruptcy problems – some closed and some, the stocks were worthless – and the government had to intervene with funds.

“The fears were based on what they had lost and they were afraid of what else was going to happen.”

In the first quarter of 2009, 12 homes went under contract, with five closing in that time frame. By the end of the third quarter, according to Franks, there were a total of 48 single-family homes sold, and as of September 30, 427 single-family homes were listed for sale.

“We have not had a normal year since 2002 and 2003,” Franks said. “Last year, 2008, after three quarters, we had 410 homes on the market with 68 sold.”

Here are Frank’s numbers from earlier years for comparison:

2002 – 446 single-family homes were on the market with 112 sales.

2003 – 483 single-family homes on the market with 127 sales.

2004 – 449 single-family homes on the market with 188 sales.

In the first half of 2009, four single-family homes sold for less than the prior sales price, and, through September, three transactions were variations of trades. Franks also saw more financing with a purchase money mortgage.

The majority of this year’s sellers, excluding the foreclosures, were not in trouble, believes Franks. “Some people’s portfolios may have been hit. Others might be selling their second or third home. Some just wanted to move, from the Intracoastal Waterway to the ocean, for example, or downsize or upsize.”

This year’s buyers will reside in their new home, but they were looking for a good investment, Franks found. “In 2005, they were buying to flip, but that’s not who I see buying today. Buyers are looking at lower prices and not bashful in making what they consider realistic offers based on their assumption of what the current market is.

“When the buyer and the seller agree on a purchase price, that makes them the experts on the current market values.”

Franks anticipates an improvement in 4th quarter sales. “Last year, we had very weak seasonal rental activity with most people wanting one- to two-month rentals. This year, there have been many more calls in general and the people are looking for longer periods – 3 to 4 months, which is a more normal market.”

Casa Juanita – Historic Palm Beach Spanish Mediterranean-style home

Casa Juanita, a landmarked 1925 Spanish Mediterranean-style estate by society architect Marion Sims Wyeth, offers a true taste of the early grandeur and graciousness of Palm Beach’s resort lifestyle.

A showplace, it was built by yachtsman Sterling Postely of New York City and Oyster Bay, and his wife Jeanne, for whom their home was named.

The 8,000-square-foot estate includes spacious living and dining rooms, five fireplaces, eight bedrooms, six full and three half baths.

Textures and detailing of this home have endured beautifully. On the exterior, it boasts a cast-stone Romanesque portal and brightly colored tiled entrance passage. An interior arched doorway with a wrought-iron gate leads to a wide loggia that opens to the private courtyard, covered terrace, bubbling fountain, gardens and pool.

Architectural features in the living room include an intricately detailed ceiling of Moorish pattern, massive stone mantel and French doors that offer views of the gardens. Just next to the living room, through a handsomely carved door, is an intimate library with a beamed ceiling.

Architectural features include the stenciled ceiling and stone mantel.[/caption]

At the south end of the loggia is the dining room, which features mahogany shutters at the windows, a Cuban tile floor and a carved-stone fireplace.

Cuban tile floor, shuttered windows, massive stone fireplace ” width=”195″ height=”300″ /> Cuban tile floor, shuttered windows, massive stone fireplace[/caption]

An enclosed circular staircase leads up to the wide second floor loggia that overlooks the courtyard and provides access to the master suite, guest rooms and staff rooms.

Cielito Lindo – Palm Beach – Historic Homes for Sale

Cielito Lindo’s original owner, Jessie Woolworth Donahue, may have come from dime-store money, but she had lavish tastes. Her luxury home. completed in 1927, the 45,000-square-foot Cielito Lindo, was designed by Palm Beach architect Marion Sims Wyeth, and while not as large as Mar A Lago, it was palatial, with a four-story tower, 30-by-50-foot living room, six master bedrooms, 10 staff rooms above the garage, houses for the chauffeur and gardener and a tap room.

The Mediterranean-style estate was built on a parcel of land stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway, with orange groves, tennis courts, a tea pavilion, lily pond, boat hoses and extensive gardens.

Subdivided into five separate dwellings in 1947 when Jessie Woolworth Donahue downsized to another oceanfront estate also designed by Wyeth, her living room was demolished to make room for King’s Road and the two major wings of the main house became the largest residences on either side of the road.

The tower, on the south side, totally refurbished and on the market, is still a little bit of heaven priced at $8,750,000.

It’s a little smaller than its former self – 12,380 square feet, with five bedrooms – but it still has a jewel-like feel, an ivory façade with red tile bands, red barrel tile roof, and geometric interlaced wood details.

“Of all Wyeth’s work, this house was his largest and most impressive,” says historian Donald Curl. “It was also the most Moorish, especially the tower and the entrance way.

“Wyeth was rather proud of it. There’s no question.”

The entry to the house was originally on the south side of the tower, and on a lower floor. “As you can imagine, it was quite impressive.”

One came through gates that led to a courtyard, with a pond and fountain directly opposite the front door, Curl says.

“When you entered on the lower floor, there was a grand set of stairs that took you up to the foyer, which then led to the cloister,” he describes.

The cloister, delineated by a U-shaped series of columns, surrounded the main rooms of the house. “It started on both sides on the west end, and went across the living room, and partially, it provided a walkway around the house, but it also provided shelter from the western sun,” Curl says.

Now one enters the main foyer from the north side of the tower, through glass and iron doors. With stenciled ceilings, impressive columns and marble floors, it was at one time the landing of the main stairway and overlooked the living room, Curl says.

“The entire floor on that level was the stairway, a foyer, a taproom and a library, which has been used as a living room over the years.”

The present living room, to the south of the foyer, overlooks the pool and gardens. This room used to be the stairway, Curl says. The kitchen and dining room are to the south of the foyer and living room, along with a guest bedroom suite.

To the east of the foyer are the taproom, library, a powder room, elevator and stairwell to the tower rooms.

The hallway to the powder room features a tromp l’oeil tile mural in blue and white as well as a red tile floor with painted tile insets. The library has pecky cypress paneling and a fireplace. The taproom features a stenciled ceiling and paneled bar, tile floor, painted tile bar and patterned tile chair rail. All of these rooms open to a terrace that wraps around the rear of the house.

On next floor are two bedroom suites and on the top floor is a lookout room.

The master bedroom has French doors that offer gorgeous views. Architectural features in the bedroom include layers of molding and a fireplace. Other rooms in the suite include two bathrooms and closets, an office, a balcony terrace and a covered terrace. The second master suite opens to a terrace, as well. Also on the second floor, and accessed from another stairway are two bedrooms and a bathroom.

Crowning the tower is the lookout, which features a stenciled ceiling, tile floor with painted tile insets, a fireplace and multiple French doors that open to small balconies to the east and south and a large terrace on the west, all offering spectacular views.

All in a day’s work. Really, it took that long.

I was looking for foreclosure numbers last month, and found myself with a daunting project. How many homeowners are there in the United States, and how many are in, or going into, foreclosure? How much is that number up from previous years?

(I’m sorry, but I have to tell the back end of this story, first. If you aren’t interested, just skip down– I’ve put the basic info in red, so you can find it easy.)

I thought finding those numbers on the net would be a simple process. Well, it wasn’t.

Then, this Sunday, while standing in line waiting to vote (it took four hours) I read Time from cover to cover, and saw that I’m not the only one who has trouble with foreclosure numbers.

As Time pointed out, when Congress, Wall street analysts, the US Treasury, the FDIC, the FBI, a few Federal Reserve banks, a dozen states, even some lenders, want numbers on foreclosure, they use RealtyTrac.

Who is RealtyTrac? The company was started by Derek White, a real estate agent, and Michael Keane, a computer programmer, in 1996. They got the idea to gather, then sell, a list of addresses of repossessed houses to Santa Barbara Calif. real estate agents.  James Saccacio, a one-time corporate banker, took over as CEO in 2000, and he decided it would be a good idea to offer foreclosure information on a national level.

Not such an easy job he found out – each state has its own laws about how the three steps of foreclosures (default notice, court judgment and sheriff’s sale) are made public, and to wade through all that is time consuming and labor intensive.

According to Time, RealtyTrac has 150 contractors collecting data in 2,200 counties, which covers some 90% of households.

And although RealtyTrac has been the go-to (and, by the way, cleared $40 million in revenue last year), the company has also been gone after. In 2007, after RealtyTrac came out with numbers putting Colorado near the top of the list of states with foreclosure problems, Kathi Williams, director of the Colorado Division of Housing, called RealtyTrac’s numbers “ridiculous and irresponsible.”

The Mortgage Bankers Association’s chief economist (who wasn’t named in the Time article) complained that RealtyTrac was “damaging the industry.”

As a result, RealyTrac has changed its methodology (it now counts “unique” houses, what does that mean?) and since its business is to sell addresses of foreclosures to real estate agents, investors and homebuyers, it gives data to any government entity that wants it.

Note that RealtyTrac’s measure of foreclosures as a percentage of all households, while, if you measure foreclosure rates as a percentage of households with a mortgage, you’d get a different (and higher) figure.

With that said, let’s head on over to RealtyTrac and see if we can find the numbers…

“Through August of 2008 more than 2 million properties nationwide received a foreclosure filing, up more than 50 percent from the same period in 2007, according to the RealtyTrac U.S. Foreclosure Market Report. If foreclosure activity continues at the same pace for the remainder of the year, close to 1 million homeowners will lose their homes to foreclosure in 2008, up from about 400,000 in 2007.”

Nationally, here are its numbers on properties with foreclosure filings for Sept. 2008.

39,892 with Notices of Default, 58,606 with Lis Pendens, 61,442 with Notice of Trustee Sale, 24,780 with Notice of Foreclosure Sale, and 81,312 properties that have been foreclosed on and repurchased by the bank
Total is 265,968, up 20.98% from Sept. 2007 and a rate of 1 of 475 housing units.

Florida foreclosures total is 47,965, with 1 of 178 housing units and 43.78% more than last year.

Other numbers I’ve gleaned from Google:
Homeownership in the United States was at about 66.2%, according to the 2000 census, and a ratio of 2 to 3 US householders (69.8 million) owned their homes.

Between 2005 to 2007, 22 million Americans purchased a new or existing houses (Paul Krugman, New York Times, 6/23/08).

And here are some other numbers – these from CBC, Oct. 31, 2008:
“About 7.63 million properties, or 18 percent, had negative equity in September, and another 2.1 million will follow if home prices fall another 5 percent, according to a report by First American CoreLogic. The data, covering 43 states and Washington, D.C., includes borrowers nationwide, even those who took out mortgages before housing prices began to soar early this decade.”
The article goes on to say, “About 68 percent of U.S. adults own their own homes, and about two-thirds of them have mortgages.”

Hey, I’m just trying to figure out the numbers here. Overall population in the United States = 300 million people. Households = 112,362,848 (that number is from ).
Use the CoreLogic figure of  68% households owning their own homes, and that comes to 76,406,737 households. Take 2/3 of that and it comes to 50,937,824 householders with mortgages  (I just did the math on that one, and what’s going on with the 22 million who purchased in Krugman’s two-year period? How are those figured in?) Now, think about one million of those families losing their homes this year…

Well, that’s the closest I can get. Am waiting to hear back from RealtyTrac to see what numbers they use for householders owning homes and what a unique house is, anyway.