Some homes are filled with love. Some homes are made with love. Some homes make you fall in love.
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I just left a home that was all that. Casa Feliz, a well-known historic home in Winter Park, Fla., is so romantic that I’m glad I toured it with my husband or I might have gone off with the gardener.
Built in 1929 by architect James Gamble Rogers, the home resembles a Spanish Cortijo or farmhouse, and looks a century older than it is — on purpose. The Casa is so romantic that more than 100 couples celebrate their weddings there each year.
As the architect’s granddaughter showed us around the weathered brick estate, a catering staff was preparing for a wedding. Love was in the air, and weakness was in my knees.
What is it about this place? I wanted to know. And could I bottle some of it and bring it to my house?
I called architectural historian Susan Sully, author of 12 books on Southern architecture, including “Casa Florida,” a look at romantic Spanish architecture in the region, to talk generally about romance in architecture and specifically about how to get more in my house.
“Talk about a place that invites love and happiness,” Sully says about Casa Feliz. “It has every element a romantic home should have. It tells the story of a different time and place. The architect used old materials to cast a spell. And it was made out of passion.”
The original owners asked Rogers to build a 5,500-square-foot, Spanish-style farmhouse while they traveled for a year. Beyond that, Rogers could build the home as he wished. It was an architect’s dream and, you can tell, Rogers poured his heart into the place.
“But what about those of us who can’t commission an architect to build a Spanish Cortijo,” I ask Sully. “Is it too late for romance for us? I mean, for a house, that is?”
(Anyone who got married in a year that begins with 19 knows that after a decade plus of babies and their 3 a.m. colic bouts, of finding someone else’s hair in your shower every day, of having made the bills and income come out even only to find you need a new carburetor, knows that romance easily flies out the window, gauze curtains or no gauze curtains.)
“Any style home can be romantic,” she assures me.
“But where does romance come from?” I ask.
She takes me literally. “The word ‘romance,’” she says, “comes from the root word ‘Roman,’ and refers to something that has a lost and beautiful past.”
“So wait! It’s not flowers and chocolate and candles and diamonds?”
“It’s a richly storied past.”
“To think, I’ve had the wrong expectation all these years!”
“It’s an antique silver tea set that has graced a home, and that layers of loving hands have carefully cleaned over years.”
“Think of all the relationships that might have been saved if people only realized.”
To help me better understand, Sully explains what a romantic home is not. “Unromantic spaces are static environments with no views of the outdoors, all synthetic materials, and the air conditioning or heater running non stop.”
“Like my office,” I say.
“Unromantic homes are perfect and pretentious,” she continues. “They put on airs rather than tell stories. They don’t invite you to sit down in your nightgown and daydream.”
“Romantic interiors beckon you to let your hair down and surrender to your senses.”
Ahh romance. I surrender.
Here, says Sully, are the qualities romantic homes share:
Access to nature. “A romantic home has to be sensual, and part of that means seeing the outdoors,” Sully says. Many romantic houses have center courtyards, which the house wraps around. They have French doors that open to gardens, and balconies, terraces and big windows that open up the house and connect you to nature. “Being in a room with French doors opening to the outdoors and the sound of a fountain is very romantic.” If you can’t pull that off, try putting a small garden or fountain outside a window.
Age. Romantic houses are old or look old. “All of us resonate with history and the past,” Sully said. “That’s why old houses feel romantic in a way that new homes don’t.” When Casa Feliz was built more than 80 years ago, the architect endeavored to make it look a century older by using distressed materials. He re-used brick before that was fashionable. He deliberately added crumbling outdoor arches. In newer homes, furnishings with patina, antiques and heirlooms can introduce that dreamy dimension.
Romantic windows. Long, flowing panels of white gauze are Sully’s favorite window treatment. “They catch the light and bring it in.” Homes are more romantic when they’re filled with natural light.
Natural materials. Reclaimed wood, chipped ceramic tiles, worn handles, faded fabrics all exude a sense of a “lost and beautiful past.”
Imperfection. Materials crafted by hand also feel nostalgic. The curved Spanish roof tiles at Casa Feliz are beautifully inconsistent because they were shaped by peasant workers molding the clay over their thighs.
Older, natural, imperfect with stories to tell. Romance, I think it’s possible.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.