The Rosendahl Home on Bookter
- story and photography by Ellis Anderson
Not many people would attempt a full-scale renovation of a historic house long distance. And if they did, chances are the results would be disastrous. Yet Ron and Vicki Rosendahl say they couldn’t have imagined a better outcome for their Bookter Street home.
Of course, it helps that the contractor was their son, Matt. In addition, Ron, who spent most of his working career as a high-end builder, made trips to the Bay when he was able, to lend his son a hand.
For instance, Ron worked out structural details for the back of the house, where an add-on porch became a vaulted, light-filled living area. It’s a stunning showcase for an enormous art collection featuring many pieces by the couple themselves – both are noted artists. Ron’s primarily a sculptor, while Vicki sculpts and paints.
At Home in the Bay
The Rosendahls’ appreciation of art is apparent the moment a guest enters the door. It’s hard to move quickly through the house — fascinating visual tidbits insist that visitors stop at every step and take a closer look. The walls of the wide center hall are hung tightly with old photographs, family portraits, and landscapes by friends, nationally known artists.
Open hallway doors reveal a guest room, Vicki’s studio and a lush master suite, each enticing the eye. Inside the studio, one of Vicki’s creations — an extravagant, glittering alligator made from beads and baubles — lounges on a countertop. Compelling and vibrant Haitian art beckons from the guest room walls. The first thing that grabs the eye on entering the master suite is a stunning landscape by the Rosendahls’ daughter, Kerry. She obviously inherited the creative genes. A graduate of UNO’s fine art program, she also attended the Ringling College of Art and Design.
Toward the back of the original cottage, the hall opens up into a vaulted and vast living area. One of Ron’s recent sculptures stands at attention in a corner of the great room, seeming to guard the floor-to-ceiling-lit shelves displaying more of their work. To the side is a contemporary and well-appointed kitchen. This is clearly a home where cooking is a priority and entertainment is a regular feature of life. The tropical landscaping outside seems as if it’s a part of the living space too. Sets of jumbo glass doors open onto a side deck and a screened porch.
When the two began their family, Ron focused his business savvy on construction, which was booming in the ’70s and early ’80s. Although his primary business eventually evolved into consulting on large-scale development projects in the Caribbean, Vicki and Ron worked on many upscale residential homes together. Ron would design and build the house, while Vicki — who had studied further and obtained licenses as an interior designer and a real estate broker — would create a custom and complementary interior. The team developed a reputation for “making space work.”
Vicki’s art background gave her a knack for discovering standout work by local artists — pieces that would become focal points in luxe Naples homes. Ron, who’d followed his artistic muse despite his busy career, found that his own sculptures were in demand throughout South Florida. Since he worked mostly in stone at the time, he also had opportunities to design and create award-winning stone altars and fonts for well-known churches.
Katrina changed those plans, along with those of everyone else on the coast. Afterward, nothing remained of Matt’s Bay St. Louis house except a single piling. To complicate matters, Ron began battling a grave and extended illness. In the coming years, Vicki often wondered if the active life they’d shared was coming to a close. They downsized from their large Naples house into a small cottage near Cedar Key, Florida, waiting to see what the future would bring.
In 2011, the future delivered, big time. Matt, who’d continued building and renovating in both New Orleans and in Bay St. Louis, went to Bay St. Louis on the behest of Vicki to check out an abandoned house that she’d seen on the Internet. Although the interior was wrecked and the structural integrity dubious, the team of three had the vision and experience to make the purchase. They began the renovation with enthusiasm.
“Matt’s always got great ideas,” says his mother. “Most of the time, if he suggested something, we said, ‘just do it.’”
“The three of us brought all the knowledge we’d learned from decades of building to this project,” says Ron. As an example, he points to a hidden steel beam that added strength to the back structure. A distinctive feature they collaborated on is the bead-board wainscoting throughout the house: it’s made from wood salvaged from the original ceilings that had been collapsing when they made the purchase. Vicki insisted on leaving the original paint colors of taupe, turquoise and ivory, with lots of natural wood showing through the layers.
At 2000 square feet, the house is smaller than the Rosendahls are accustomed to, but they say it fits them “just right.” Their experience with designing well-thought-out spaces shows throughout. Although it’s three bedrooms and three-and-a-half baths, no space feels cramped. The high ceilings contribute to the sense of spaciousness. Comparing them to the lower ceilings common in Florida, Vicki says “it’s opened us up.” Her studio, outfitted with built-in cabinetry, gives her both room to create and ample storage. Ron, whose work requires a larger studio, may eventually build one on the home’s large lot, but for now, he’s content with a small cottage in the neighborhood that gives him room to work large.
The couple have settled happily into their new home, often sitting on the front porch to listen to music coming from Depot Row or watching events unfold on the Depot park lawn. The entertainment features of the house come in handy. Matt and his wife, Lauren, divide their time between Bay St. Louis and New Orleans. Daughter Kerry, who lives in the Bay, along her rescued black Lab Louie (short for Bay St. Louis) comes over often. Oldest son Chris (who, no surprise to anyone, sculpts as well) and grandson Rider still live in Naples, but they visit several times a year.
Even with a revolving roster of family and guests, the Rosendahls admit that their home is a still work in progress.
“Come over next time,” says Vicki, “and we’ll have everything all changed around.”
With two such talented artists in the same household, who makes the final decisions on décor? Vicki begins to laugh. “We don’t always have the same opinions,” she says. “But in the end, I get my way.”
Ron smiles in response and then winks. “We work it out,” he says.
Al Lawson - On Design
The other thing that artists do in their homes is collect or acquire things that energize them and help them to find inspiration and new influences for their own art. Artists' homes can also be fascinating self-portraits about the art they wish they could have done or are hoping to involve in their own art. The secrets and revelations to discover in artists' homes are limitless - just like the unending expressions artists may depict. Artists' homes are their safe place set apart from a world that may not understand them.