Life has been a bit of an adventure for Hap and Sue Brakeley. While raising six children (three boys and three girls, Brady Bunch style), they roamed the world, collecting years of memories and mementos along the way. So it felt natural their new Boca Grande beach home would reflect their globe-trotting journeys. Yet despite the property’s stunning location on dunes overlooking the water, the house’s bright, cottage- like interior felt flat.
“I remember Sue saying, ‘Everybody else is making everything white and gray. But I want it dark and romantic. I want it to feel well traveled, with history and character,’” recalls designer Abby Hetherington. Having previously designed the couple’s vacation home in Montana, she understood their wealth of worldly references and was recruited to inject more soul into their Florida property.
Reflecting on their favorite places, the Brakeleys gravitated toward the moody ambience they encountered in old Anglo-Indian homes, known for warm wood tones and ornate decoration. “In India, the houses were dark—a respite from the searing heat,” Sue explains. These rich interiors seemed like a sanctuary, with spaces “that felt warm, comfortable and cozy,” Hap adds. Wanting to incorporate this visual depth into the home, Hetherington collaborated with architect Holly Mumford (now at Bright Architecture), who fortified the interiors with richly stained walnut floors, columns and beams. These additions infuse grandeur into spaces such as the main bedroom, home to a vintage Italian four-poster bed. Mumford introduced heavyset beams to emphasize the room’s new pitched roof—“Those ceiling details really helped to bring those darker elements into the home,” she says—while architect Timothy A. Krebs contributed exterior changes where needed.
Thanks to general contractor Kirby Outerbridge’s deep well of unique suppliers, the team also sourced some serious craftsmanship from local and international woodworkers. Hap is known for his delectable cocktails learned from youthful stints as a bartender, “so the bar area was very important to him,” Outerbridge notes. With this in mind, the general contractor tapped artisans to construct the opulent walnut bar, reminiscent of watering holes the couple enjoyed abroad. Other intricate moments include hand-carved Moroccan doors, which brought artistry to the most ordinary corners of the home, from the kitchen cabinets to the powder room door featuring mother-of-pearl inlay.
The structure’s plethora of warm wood detailing creates a sense of intimacy, especially in the newly expanded living area, where the team remodeled the screened porch to form a formal dining space connecting the living area and the kitchen. The open layout never feels too vast or vacant, as Hetherington carved out welcoming nooks with sumptuous furnishings. These pieces mix the new and familiar, like modern light fixtures with traditional seating and family heirlooms from the clients’ home in Massachusetts. Between lively parties and visits from the Brakeleys’ extended family, people are drawn together around the marble dining table or in the jewel-toned living area, filled with silk, velvet and leather upholstery and treasures from the couple’s travels.
“The home goes from two people to 25 on any given day, so one of our main goals was to create an environment that feels cozy and inviting, whether you have a small or huge number,” Hetherington explains. Nothing embodies this more than the revamped outdoor space, which the couple wanted to connect to the second-floor living area. The solution: a multitiered deck that corrals movement indoors and outdoors, offering gathering zones along the way. There’s the lovingly dubbed “Tahiti room” under a pergola with curved seating around a fire pit. Then there’s the sunbathing deck, with four chaise lounges made for Sue and her three daughters in mind. Grandchildren can convene along the steps to watch Hap jump off the third-story balcony into the new 10-foot-deep pool. The entire space is nestled in an oasis of palms and tropical flowering plants like crinum lily, hibiscus and dwarf bird of paradise that “really helps create that Caribbean estate look,” says landscape designer Stephen Hazeltine.
Grounded in memories of the places they love, the Brakeleys’ new home radiates a certain magic. The couple perhaps feels this most when the day winds down, standing in their dining area with bifold doors open wide to the sea. “The chandelier sways in the breeze,” Sue says of those dreamy moments. “Hap blows a conch shell every night as the sun goes down. And we all stand and toast the sunset.”