Luxury Interior Design for a Coastal Florida Family Home

Rising star designer Bennett Leifer heads south from his base in Manhattan to create the perfect family home for his clients in Florida

Photo credit: Tara Striano

Behind every masterwork – like this beautiful coastal home in Sarasota, Fla. – are equal parts natural talent and hard work, which is why Bennett Leifer’s steady rise in the highly competitive world of interior design comes as no surprise.

From a young age, Leifer was encouraged to explore his penchant for art by his father, a New York City-based financial advisor with a love of photography. “He lived on the Upper East Side and would often take me to the Met and to galleries and encouraged me to enter art competitions,” recalls Leifer.

After growing up amid the cultural riches of New York City and the architectural gems of Great Neck, Long Island, Leifer went on to study art history and business upstate at Skidmore College in Sarasota Springs, majoring in both topics.

“In college, my double major satisfied both my interests. I’ve always been drawn to the more business side of art and the more artistic side of business,” he says of his career leanings.

Post-graduation, Leifer’s jobs ran the gamut from a year in public relations to a stint as a store designer for Ralph Lauren to positions at design firms working on various projects, both commercial and residential.

But he credits his senior design duties for the renowned Juan Pablo Molyneux and Robert A. M. Stern with really honing his interior design sense, business acumen and perfectionist tendencies.

When he launched Bennett Leifer Interiors in 2013, the ambitious young designer – who has worked in the design industry for nearly 12 years and yet is still just 34 – was well aware of both the benefits and drawbacks.

“I was patient before deciding to start my own firm,” he admits. “Hiring employees, setting up billing and an office – I needed to wait until I was ready to handle all of that with the right influx of projects coming in.”

From his Madison Avenue office, and using his accumulated connections and showroom savvy, Leifer has already posted an impressive portfolio of work.

Much of it is based in New York City, but he has also designed for a weekend retreat farmhouse in Connecticut and is currently traveling to Los Angeles frequently for West Coast clients.

The burgeoning entrepreneur, honored with a “Rising Star of 2015” award from the New York Chapter of International Furnishings and Design Association (IFDA), is quick to note that his approach is not limited by geography or style.

“I don’t have just one aesthetic that appeals to me,” he contends. “Clients hire me for my well-rounded design style. I love working with people and the process of getting to know them, how they live, what they see out their windows and what’s going on inside their homes.”

One of Leifer’s first solo projects took him from Manhattan south to Sarasota, Fla., where previous clients and friends, Leslie and John Korff, purchased a home two years ago. Leifer had worked with the Korffs a decade earlier, managing a fireplace renovation that turned into a full New York City apartment renovation.

After living and working in Manhattan for many years, the Korffs decided to change gears and seek out a new home base for their family of three young children: Jacob and fraternal twins Jonas and Josie, now nine and seven years old respectively.

“Our kids were getting older and we wanted to raise them in a different environment. We thought, why not a beach town?” Leslie explains.

She scoured a variety of communities, and after spending time in Sarasota’s Longboat Key, fell in love with the “incredible beaches and their white powdery sand.”

After touring a variety of homes, she found herself drawn to a brick house built in 1937. “I probably liked it because it reminded me of the Northeast and our Manhattan apartment,” she admits.

“It’s a historic home for the area with transitional architecture. Over the years, there had been a lot of additions, so a large part of what I did was cleaning up what had been done while honoring the original bones,” explains Leifer, who oversaw the entire renovation, working alongside Sarasota-based architect Mark Smith.

“Our goal was to keep the architecture as clean as possible and maintain a focus on the interiors,” adds Leifer. “We also wanted to do something appropriate for the location and the family’s lifestyle.”

Starting with the foyer – designated a more “adult” space, particularly for entertaining purposes – Leifer incorporated a variety of both subtle and eye-catching elements from Venetian plaster on the walls to silver leaf on the ceiling.

The Patterson Flynn Martin sisal rug is reminiscent of a geometric stone floor – “The sisal is appropriate for Florida but the pattern evokes New York,” Leifer says – while the Paul Ferrante light fixture is formal but slightly whimsical with glass bubble detailing.

Off the foyer, the living room is child-friendly but also satisfies more formal entertaining needs. Here, Leifer opted for outdoor influences, particularly the blues of the home’s pool and nearby ocean. He also introduced botanical elements, such as the metal accent tables by Odegard and white plaster branch lamp from David Sutherland.

In the dining room, a custom de Gournay wall covering depicts magnolia trees, an homage to Leslie’s favorite flower. It is a statement choice that contributes not just pattern but also luster to the space.

The kitchen’s breakfast nook features an upholstered banquette that doubles as table seating and a comfy window seat. A lineup of accent pillows in a dragon print draws the eye. “Those are very me,” reveals Leifer. “I love animal prints.”

In comparison to their city lifestyle, the Korffs’ Sarasota home offers plenty of outdoor space. For the second-floor balconies, off the master bedroom and daughter Josie’s bedroom, Leifer created individualized “sitting rooms” with B&B Italia furniture.

The two balconies coordinate visually, although the parents received more neutral black and gray accent pillows while Josie’s pop with a bright pink and orange pattern.

From their new pool house to a spaghetti sauce stain on a living room chair – “We’ll just clean it; I love that everything gets used,” says Leslie – the Korffs couldn’t be happier with the end result and Leifer’s irrefutable hard work.

“I would never think of having anyone else do a project of this scope,” commends Leslie. “I know what I want in my head, and Bennett just brings it to life. He was able to grasp what a family of five needs, and turned a brick house needing a lot of TLC into a spectacular family home. It’s not just a house anymore – there’s a big difference in my head.

“Bennett is such a talented designer,” she summarizes. “He has this star quality and he delivers on it.”


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