Not-so-Empty Nesters

Contributing Writer

When Marsha and Mark Riggle bought their property in Gardiner Park of Eastern Jefferson County a year ago, they could have built pretty much anything they wanted.

They were Empty Nesters – their two grown children and grandchildren living elsewhere. They were building the French Manor-style house from the ground up, so they could guide the architecture and design. Marsha is co-owner of Tassels, so they had access to the very best resources for furniture, decorative and design capabilities.

“We wanted less land and less maintenance,” Marsha said. “We wanted a big, open living space that would accommodate lots of entertaining but be comfortable and livable when we were alone. And we wanted the grandchildren to have the room they needed when they were here.”

Check. Check. And check.

Gardiner Park is a retirement community that provides all the house’s maintenance: landscaping, mowing, raking, shoveling, mulching, trimming bushes, the entire four seasons’ gamut.

“I built exactly the house I wanted,” Riggle says. “I saw a Florida home on the internet that I loved and had it replicated.”

The 3,300 square feet of living space are almost without interior walls. The entryway flows left into an open-though-formal dining room, and then into the big kitchen and adjoining great room.

“We love to entertain,” said Marsha, “but we want it to be easy. I had 50 people here for Christmas last year, but it never felt like 50.”

The design intent of the house is a muted, neutral palette. The dominant wall color is Porter Paints’ Revere Pewter trimmed with white. The dining room is a similarly elegant large-pattern medallion damask wallpaper from Anna French.

And the Christmas decorations that now deck the halls have the same graceful approach to color and texture. Kevin Coleman, Tassels’ visual coordinator and Marsha Riggle’s right hand, did the single tree in the house plus all the wreaths and garlands in a muted monochrome of the same beiges, browns and grays that fill the house.

“There’s lots of texture to the ornaments, if not color,” said Riggle, pointing out natural woven materials, pine cones with sparkles and ribbon embroidered with glitter.

“I don’t just go in and produce a Christmas décor for clients,” Coleman said. “I like to coordinate the tree with the environment it’s in. In this case, we’ve gone for a more formal, unfussy feel.”

In some homes, Coleman admits, he might go the other way – with colorful lights, ornaments and ribbons – but he admits that in this case, as in so many other cases, his taste mirrors that of Riggle.

“We’re of one mind,” she says of the man who has worked by her side for 17 years. “I call him ‘my work husband.’ I spend as much time with him, if not more, as I do with my real husband.”

Though Riggle loves to entertain, Christmas or otherwise, she doesn’t welcome guests invading her kitchen. But instead of building a wall, she has marked her territory with a 50-square-foot island topped with a massive slab of Carrera marble that she sourced from Triton Stone on Plantside Drive.

“It weighs 1,200 pounds and took 10 men to carry it in,” Riggle says, and only after it was in place did anyone ask if the basement ceiling was reinforced. “We haven’t had it fall through the floor yet,” she shrugged, with characteristic good humor.

It has a built-in stovetop, cabinets and bar stools and serves as a divider to keep people on their side of the room when they venture into “my space.”

On the ceiling are heavy handscraped wooden beams that are actually made of a polyfilament resin from – super lightweight, but they look like the real thing and add to the old look and feel Riggle and Coleman strove for in the house.

Other elements include the weathered-looking wood floors that are actually engineered hardwood from Carpet Specialists; and light fixtures throughout the house that look old, worn, crackled and layered with paint that is peeling off, but are actually new reproductions.

“I wanted everything to look old,” Riggle said.

Similarly, the great room – “where we live” – is full of comfortable, “loungy” furniture. Two comfortable Century sofas covered with a durable striae velvet face each other across a big ottoman of metallic smoke pleather “that is best thing I’ve ever done.”

When it’s not a landing place for Marsha’s and Mark’s feet, or for the visiting grandchildren, it’s the domain of Izzy, the Riggles’ six-year-old Boston terrier.

Finally, there are two recliners covered in chenille cut velvet. “We went to war over those,” recalls Riggle. “The only way my husband would move is if he had a recliner.”

Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune