By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
Published October 22, 2004
DAVIS ISLANDS - Steve Miciak, a.k.a. the South Tampa Orchid Professor, lures visitors into his home with a waft of the exotic.
"Have a sniff," he offers, holding out a blush pink and white bloom known as "Sherry Baby."
Walking in Miciak's front door is an experience in hyperstimulation. Miciak, 47, a retired Navy chief, recently put his green thumb to work. For a fee, he will come to your house and care for your orchids. He might also offer a tip or two on cultivating a thriving art collection.
Known for his own vast collection, largely by Florida artists, Miciak has been haunting street fairs, galleries and artists' studios for more than two decades.
In fact, Miciak, and his wife, Nancy, a dental hygienist, are so crazy for art that they've turned their Davis Islands home into a sort of living kaleidoscope.
Orchids abound. So does color.
"We have very similar taste," Miciak says. "We don't believe in white walls."
The couple met 18 years ago on a blind date in the South Florida town of Hollywood. He wore a Hawaiian shirt and brought an orchid. She told him about her collection of works by Sadie Rosenbloom, the Miami Beach folk artist.
The rest is, well, art history.
"If it hadn't been for her," Miciak recalls, "I'd probably be living alone in a trailer in St. Augustine somewhere with my art collection. She is definitely my muse."
The pair combined collections and energy and now display their passion for art everywhere from the hallways to the back yard, where sculpture, orchids and fruit trees mingle around a 7,800-gallon koi pond that Miciak dug by hand. The side yard is roomy enough for an orchid greenhouse for Miciak, a lifelong orchid lover who grew up in South Florida traipsing through Orchid Jungle with his orchid-collecting father.
"Orchid lovers and art collectors seem to go hand in hand because there's so much color involved with both," he says. As proof, Miciak doesn't just hang orchids from branches. He suspends whimsical art fish from the trees and paints vintage metal garden chairs wild tangerine.
Even the Miciaks' 14-year-old son, Jed, a freshman at Plant High School, hangs original art in his bedroom. "I just like how it looks," he says.
Somewhere along the way, the Miciaks' two-story, 3,000-square-foot house purchased in 2001 for $357,000, became a work of art, too, but it's hard to know exactly when. The high ceilings, rangy floor plan and generous natural light already set the scene for a gallery-style space.
"It was open, bright and airy and we decided, "Let's go to town," recalls Miciak of the house built in 1998.
The secret to decorating with paint, Miciak confides, is "if you don't like it, you can repaint it."
They painted the exterior a shade of mango and trimmed it in cobalt and sky blue. Inside they experimented, transforming the walls into shades from a hallucinogenic color wheel: magenta pink, tomato red, Popsicle blue, Gator orange, grapefruit yellow. In the kitchen, Miciak designed and installed the colorful mosaic tile back splash. He decked out the counters with reproduction 50s-style appliances in the bright colors that many people admire in the stores before they settle for something safer.
"We love color, we've always loved color," Miciak explains. "We wanted an interior that was a great place to show art."
Instead of jarring, the effect is happy, even soothing, with one color flowing harmoniously into the next. Miciak, an artist himself who sells painted glass plates at Artsiphartsi on Kennedy Boulevard, even painted an old golf bag and clubs in wild colors. He then decorated them with polka dots and jewels and displayed his creation in the landing of the stairs.
"I had seen an expensive one at a gallery in Asheville and thought, "I can do this myself.' So I went out and bought a used pink golf bag for a couple of dollars and painted it," says Miciak, a self-described "Dumpster diver," garage sale fan and eBay aficionado.
Miciak also created his own inexpensive wine cellar inside a coat closet, papering one wall with wine labels soaked off empty bottles. He covered another wall with the tops of discarded wine crates. Cubbyholes fashioned from attractive terra cotta drainage pipes keep bottles cool, though the cellar is big enough for his small refrigerated wine cooler as well.
Making something from nothing is Miciak's motto. He found two solid oak classroom chairs from the University of Tampa in a trash heap outside a moving company near Brandon. He sanded off the graffiti and painted them purple and blue. "These chairs are the most comfortable chairs in the house and all they cost me was materials," he says.
The couple acquired most of their collection together, a feat accomplished often on a tight budget and with zest.
"We have a rule that we both have to love the piece; otherwise we don't buy it," he says.
Their respective tastes run close. Miciak describes his own art preference as "abstract and bold" and his wife's as more "figurative," but adds, "we're both very colorful."
Their collection includes Florida artists from around the state, though they've acquired work by a cadre of other well-known artists, including pop artist Peter Maxx.
"Friends tell us we live in an art gallery," Miciak says. "And we do."