There are some relationships that rely on absolute trust. For Robinson Spry Interiors, Sarasota, FL, one of those is the designer/client relationship. Since 1998, Linda and Charles E. Spry Jr. have worked to establish and keep a trusting relationship with each client.
A full-line interior design studio offering complete interior services
including custom window treatments, Robinson Spry Interiors works
with a higher-end clientele, many of whom are buying and renovating
condominiums along the Gulf Coast as part-time residences. These
customers have come to trust the Sprys completely for updating their
interior decors so that when they return to Sarasota, everything
is done and waiting for them.
This kind of a relationship is the result of the Sprys’ business
and personal philosophy, which is based on two solid principles:
1. “I treat others the way I would want to be treated,”
Linda Spry explains. “I’m very respectful of others, both
professionally and personally. When I’m dealing with people
who are not in town, they have to feel the can trust me. They give
me their keys, their security codes. They have to feel they can
2. “Beauty is in the details of life,” she says. “I
specialize in the details.”
Linda Spry often jokes that her favorite client is one who comes
into town, drops off the keys and a credit card and leaves town.
But in reality, that’s sometimes the way she works. Many of
Spry’s clients live in Sarasota part time, just three or four
months a year. For many, this is their second, third or even fourth
“It means a totally different way of designing,” Spry
says. “Clients tend to be more risk-takers in as much as they
know that they’re not going to be living with something all
Many of these clients are retirees. “That’s not to mean
they are old,” Spry is quick to point out, “because we
have some retirees in their late ’30s and early ’40s.
That is just a term that defines where they are at that point in
It is not at all unusual for these clients to want a complete renovation.
“Many of the condos here are 25- and 30-years-old,” Spry
explains. For these, complete interior service is required, which
Charles Spry can offer as a licensed Florida contractor. “We’ll
gut the condos, put in new kitchens, new baths, new floors, new
window treatments, new furnishings. In essence, make them new again,”
Linda Spry says.
Other clients are older, but “that’s kind of nice when
you think about it,” Spry says, “because these people
are in their ’70s, but they’re still very interested in
their surroundings and in keeping up and changing and being current.”
Whichever age group clients happen to fall in, what often happens
is that they buy property and the Sprys are called in to do the
interiors. A year or two years later the owners sell it. “It
turns over completely furnished, and they purchase again,”
Spry says, adding that is good for the client and good for business.
“It’s a wonderful place to be in business,” Spry
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Everyone knows the three most important things about real estate,
and it has turned out to hold true for Robinson Spry Interiors.
The 4,500-square-foot showroom and design studio is situated right
on Main St., but in an area that was once known as lower Main St.,
“and it was not a desirable area,” Spry says. Their building
was once an after-hours club.
That’s all changed now. The area has undergone revitalization
and the Sprys find themselves “right around the corner from
a very artsy, upscale shopping area,” Linda says.
Next door in their renovated building is a café, which helps
in a somewhat unusual way. “Having the café next to
us has been wonderful because in the evening they seat people in
front of our windows under our awning—so I’m very conscious
of what I put in the window display,” Spry says. It’s
not unusual for customers to walk in on a Monday because that weekend
they sat outside the shop’s window eating dinner.
The two storefront windows tend to showcase different decorating
themes. One is whimsical, and currently features pigs including
a pig cookie jar. Spry explains that the Florida decorating market
for too long has been overloaded with monkeys.
The other window is more formal. “My accessories in here tend
to be toward the traditional or transitional. I do contemporary
design work, but in the space that we have it’s limiting to
have a real mix. So if you walk into my store it has a very traditional
“Really, I like to do a mix of styles,” Linda continues.
“I don’t like to label myself or any of the work that
I do. The trend, as I’m seeing it, is toward a traditional,
back to the roots, more formal look. The British Colonial look has
been really popular down here in the South for the last several
years and that lends itself to the traditional.”
Many of Spry’s clients, as they move into the area, bring some
of their favorite furnishings with them, which she will work into
her designs. “There’s a lot more interest in antiques
than when I first opened the store,” she notes.
THE NEW FLORIDA LOOK
In fact, design trends have gone in a much different direction in
the Sarasota market over the past two decades. “I remember
in the late ’80s, early ’90s before I opened the showroom
here I worked in a furniture store,” Spry recalls, “and
people who were buying a condo here would walk in and all they would
say was, ‘I want the Florida look.’ Then, it meant sea
foam green, peach, pink, and whitewashed furniture. That’s
Part of the reason for the change, Spry notes, is that customers
are more confident in their own tastes these days and they know
what they like. “I judge each person differently as to how
much input they need,” she says.
But if any one architectural element defines coastal Florida living
today, it’s windows: large expanses with Gulf views.
“In Florida, people move here for the view,” Spry says.
“Sarasota is right on the Gulf. All the smaller homes, as they
are being bought, are being torn down and they’re building
huge homes with huge windows in them, which are great for the views.
But sun control and heat control are the issues we’re dealing
with all the time.” For that reason, when designing a custom
window treatment, Spry often starts with what kind of sun protection
and privacy the occupants need. She usually recommends window film.
“Draperies are popular again, which goes hand-in-hand with
the formal, more traditional look,” she adds. “I do a
lot with sheers—open weave sheers with a liner behind them
whether it’s blackout or a liner for protection—and side
panels pulled back. I’m doing a lot with silk now—that
often suggests the need for window film because you want to offer
as much protection for the silk fabrics as you can.”
Another popular item for Spry is sunshades. “You can cover
big windows with them and you can get them to raise up under your
top treatment,” she notes.
WORKS BOTH WAYS
The Sarasota market has its fair share of competition, but there’s
one thing they don’t have that Robinson Spry Interiors has:
“Me,” says Spry. “There are a lot of designers here
in town, there are a lot of discount window treatment places. It’s
my design clients are getting when they are dealing with me.”
Linda Spry is a very hands-on designer. She will visit the client
in his or her home for the initial consultation, take preliminary
measurements and work on plans. “When you are working with
clients, especially when you have been referred, they have come
to you for you, for your taste,” she says. “I treat every
customer as if he or she were my only client, even though I’m
swamped,” she adds.
That personal treatment is extended even to customers for whom Spry
is called in to “finish up.” “Sometimes a client
moves into the area and will purchase a whole house of furniture
from one of the large furniture outlets in town,” she explains.
“But when it comes to the accessorizing and making that house
a home, the furniture salesperson will drop the ball. The client
will come in here and see what I have to offer and I’ll be
asked to come in and finish the rooms. That’s where my creativity
comes in. My husband and I will load up the truck and take accessories
One of Spry’s regular tools these days is a digital camera.
Photos of a client’s home can be stored on her computer, e-mailed
to her workroom and referred to when a question or problem arises.
“It has become invaluable,” she says. “Because my
clients are not in town a lot of times, if they wonder what the
progress is on their job, or want to know how things are going or
want to see the end result before they arrive, I can e-mail them
a picture of it.”
In some cases, if a client indicates the possibility of doing other
rooms, Spry can photograph the whole house and keep the photos in
the customer’s file for future use.
But every trusting relationship needs to work both ways. For Robinson
Spry Interiors, that means getting a commitment from a client before
work begins. “Very seldom do I have anyone shop me because
I work on a retainer,” Spry says. “I don’t have people
who walk in and have me come out and get a price on a window, then
take my price elsewhere. I’m very protective. I don’t
do any design work without a retainer.”