A Sarasota writer, an avid collector


 PHOTO GALLERY: See more photos of Bob Plunket's collection

When it comes to travel destinations, novelist Bob Plunket's tolerance for the unusual is broad and nonjudgmental. But, at home he has a strong sense of ordered domesticity and takes considerable care in furnishing each room when he's not jetting off to places such as Albania, as he will soon do to explore the country's beaches and architecture.

Since moving to Sarasota in 1985, this author has lived in 10 homes, six of them as an owner and four in which he was a renter. Currently, he's a landlord for two. He's mad for local real estate.

"I'm constantly looking at neighborhoods and houses," he said. "I love residential architecture, I love interior design and I'm crazy about furniture and accessories. I'm always looking, accumulating, styling, researching, the whole thing. Can't get enough. But — and here's the key to my obsessions — I want everything at a bargain. The fun is the discovery of something high quality or by an important designer. I'm a bit of a snob, I do like to collect pieces by famous designers."

His most recent move is to a quiet older section of Palm Aire, where he bought a second-floor, 1,800-square-foot condominium last September and has been slowly furnishing it ever since. Some people might say the result is eccentric.

"I was looking for quiet and this place sure has it," said Plunket. "Built in the early 1980s, it's a three-bedroom, three-bath unit with a nice screened porch and a garage. And it was a real deal at $105,000. My dog Pee Wee has his own bathroom and so does my house mate, Tom Cate." Cate has an impressive collection of more than 300 pairs of handsome and colorful shoes. But, that's another story.

It was one room that sealed the deal for Plunket. "It's the big living room," he revealed. "I have been looking for years for a living room like this — expansive, natural light, high ceiling, the right proportions — it's perfect and huge by condominium standards in this price range."

Part of the room could be configured as a dining area, but Plunket doesn't use the space for eating although there's an ample round table near the sliding glass door to the porch. It's where Plunket works on what he calls his "boxes," which are miniature art installations assembled with curiosities that he accumulates in thrift shops and garage sales. Tiny plastic and metal toys, rulers, buttons, figurines, jewelry, bits of old tools and such are his medium.

The installations seem randomly composed, but like Plunket's furniture buys, everything is intentional and tells a story. The work table is vintage McGuire and Plunket discovered it at the local Habitat Restore Clearance Center. "It was in the break room and the staff was using it," he remembered. "I had to talk them into selling it to me for $15."

The homeowner, whose tastes run to midcentury modern with accents of Hollywood regency and Asian, buys everything on the secondary market. His two primary haunts are the Woman's Exchange (where he routinely consults with Diana Crowley, a furniture-savvy volunteer) and Elliot Bernstein Auctions.

AHSPARKLE_08"I go every other Sunday to the auction gallery," he said, "and every third or fourth time there will be a midcentury sale. I see all the hip designers there and it's where I got my low-slung Milo Baughman classic 1970s sofa for $200. My marble coffee table came from there and also the two ship paintings that hang over the James Mont 1940s Asian modern credenza. That piece with its appliqués was a thrift store find in St. Petersburg years ago. St. Pete is a great place to go antiques hunting and I drive up there whenever I can and do the shops around Central Avenue."

A sleek round side table and silver-tone ice bucket came from the bar of the SS United States ocean liner circa 1952. Plunket bought them at auction in Baltimore in 1984. His woven rattan 1970s chair by Angelo Donghia is a more recent purchase as is a Mies van der Rohe desk chair that he scooped up at a thrift store in Arcadia. The desk — at least Plunket thinks it's a desk — is a perplexing piece acquired at auction for $80.

"Who designed it and what on earth it's good for is a complete mystery to me and to everyone who sees it," said the owner. "But it's architecturally interesting and a good conversation piece. Part of it is hinged and folds up and you just have to wonder why."

Plunket's newest passion is decorating with rhinestone jewelry made from 1930 to 1960, which he acquires at estate and garage sales and thrift stores. He buys up bracelets, necklaces, earrings, pins, you name it. But his favorite pieces tend to be large brooches, which he considers genuine objects of art. Plunket arranges jewelry pieces (he owns more than 1,000) in tablescapes or vignettes. They are like small stage sets and almost always have a theme. Some are arranged on trays on side tables or bookcases, other more elaborate faux-gem installations take up a whole shelf of a cabinet and are artistically lit. The vignettes are definitely odd but gorgeously compelling. They give a new definition to adding a little bling to one's surroundings.

"I got into rhinestones in a strange way," Plunket explained. "My friend the film producer Amy Robinson and I are writing a screenplay for a movie we hope to produce about a mysterious diamond and the lives of the people this stone touches. In researching diamonds, I came across stuff about rhinestones and the kind of style and craftsmanship that went into their design and production in the early part of the 20th century. I can't afford to collect diamonds and do something with them, but I can afford rhinestones. I use masses of rhinestones like accessories in the living room. I've been having a great time playing with them and trying to artistically display them in groupings that make sense and tell a little story the longer you study them."

AHSPARKLE_04Plunket says his best sources for quality rhinestones have been estate sales run by Nancy Dunn and Julie McClure. But now he is afraid the secret is out and he will have to start looking in other cities since he is nowhere near finished exploring rhinestones or art boxes as home decor.

Plunket caught the collecting bug early and bought his first original oil painting (dated 1903) in Mexico City at the Sunday Thieves Market when he was 12 years old. His family was living in Mexico City at the time and his parents ultimately stayed there for 40 years in a house designed by the legendary architect Ricardo Ligoretto. "I can't say I knew anything about art, although I later found out the painting is quite good," said Plunket. "Actually, I was thrilled that I could buy something so big for $5. I've been bargain hunting ever since."

Marsha Fottler

Marsha Fottler has been a newspaper and magazine lifestyle, food and design writer since 1968 first in Boston and in Florida since 1970. She contributes to regional and national publications and she is co-publisher and editor of a monthly online magazine that celebrates the pleasures of the table called Flavors & More. (941) 371-8593.
Last modified: June 7, 2013
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