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Bringing in the great outdoors

A wildlife mural decorates a lakefront Odessa home, along with an antique canoe and a Kodiak bear skin.


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000

ODESSA -- If first impressions were cast in stone, Shelby Dugan would never have bought the house in which she now lives.

"You should have seen it," she said. "It was really unattractive. We did not buy it without having the decorator come in and tell me he could fix it."

The 3,550-square-foot house on two acres on Lake Josephine in Odessa was built in the mid 1970s, and the decor reflected the times: low, 7-foot popcorn ceilings, dark tile floors, small bathrooms with exposed pipes.

Still, Dugan and her husband Jay were attracted to the prospect of living along the water; and then there was the enormous recreation room with its 22-foot ceiling, occupying most of the second floor of the house.

"We walked in here, and I said to my husband, "This is it, we'll work around everything else,' " said Dugan, 46, a full-time mother.

Husband Jay agreed, although he wanted to keep the rec room's knotty pine walls as they were, while she wanted something lighter in color.

"He won," she said.

The pool table from the original owners remained, but Dugan clearly added her own and her family's influences.

In one corner, atop cabinets made from some of the original pine wall, sit nearly 100 trophies won by daughter Jenny, 22, a seasoned golfer. The shiny metallic and gold figurines cast tiny rays of light onto an Egyptian-looking wooden sarcophagus that stands below them, measuring about 5 feet tall.

"My husband bought it in 1972 from an old magician in Orlando," said Dugan. "He was told it was Houdini's magic trick box from 1919." (A well-known poster advertising one of Houdini's shows, titled "Master Mystifier," depicts a similar sarcophagus.)

Another turn in the rec room brings you to the 18-foot-long, Old Town wooden canoe, built by hand in 1948. It hangs by ropes and pulleys from the ceiling and holds the family's many gifts during Christmas. Dugan's husband, 53, an investment banker, is an avid canoer.

Antique wooden athletic weights adorn the coffee table, and old Thermos bottles of varying sizes sit alongside a working, and well-used, fireplace.

"Collecting is so much fun," Dugan said.

While the Dugans' personal items decorate the rec room, they had professional help with other areas. Decorator Art Slingluff, owner of Swann Interiors in south Tampa, was charged with creating the house's ambience and working with the builder to add 450 square feet for a new kitchen.

"He was our liaison so I wouldn't have to yell at anyone, and that was a real smart thing because we don't know anything about building," Dugan said. "Art's also an architect, so he could fine-tune everything."

With the structural design in place, Slingluff recommended a scenic hand-painted mural for the walls. Artist Kelly Brown was brought in and proceeded to change the plain beige walls into an outdoor wildlife scene, replete with native flora and fauna.

There are woodpeckers, squirrels, hawks, and even a small possum peeking from the tree branches. A genuine Kodiak Black Bear skin, taken from an animal that Jay's father shot in 1945, hangs on one of the walls.

The only seemingly unnatural part of the decor is a pair of eyes peering down from one of the limbs.

"That's the Lord's eyes, so when I have my grandchildren here I can tell them the Lord is watching," Dugan explained.

It took Brown three months to complete the walls. Later she painted the kitchen table and chairs, and the pantry, in matching motifs. Then a "starving artist," according to Dugan, Brown did the job for about $4,000.

Dugan still marvels at the final work: a room that blends in nicely with the back yard and lake that are prominently visible from the kitchen windows.

"I wanted it to be calming," she said. "That's the gift of a good decorator -- to be able to pick up on everyone's own personality, and to be able to decorate according to that."

Her only concern, as with any work involving paint, is time.

"They say it only lasts seven years before it starts to fade, but I'll be destroyed if it doesn't last because I love it just the way it is," she said.

The way it is, she said, is sophisticated, yet comfortable. "We do have the china and crystal, so we can lolli-doll it up when we want to," she said. "But we're still casual."

-- Do you know of a home that stands out from the rest? If you do, please e-mail Sheryl Kay at

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