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For ‘Surroundings’ owner, Sanibel is a dream come true

By Staff | Feb 5, 2009

Walking through the front door at Surroundings by Melinda, visitors are instantly transported to a place of peace and tranquility, where beautiful fresh and dried flowers intermingle with the muted scents of candles, and antiques co-exist perfectly with modern fixtures.

Surroundings proprietor and designer Melinda Graham welcomes visitors with an electric smile that many Sanibel residents will find pleasantly familiar, despite her recent arrival from her hometown of Morgantown, West Virginia. As a frequent contributor to such television programs as “Today” on NBC, “Home Matters” on the Discovery Channel, “The Almanac with Willard Scott” on HGTV, “Our Home” on Lifetime and “Pure Oxygen” on Oxygen, Graham has shared her knowledge and love of home decorating, crafts and entertaining with a large number of Americans.

“They called me a ‘Lifestyle Expert,'” said Graham with a delicate laugh. “They should see me now in my flip-flops!”

Graham’s interior designs have also been photographed and featured in a number of home-decorating and style magazines, including multiple issues of “Woman’s Day” and “Budget Decorating Ideas.”

Graham first opened her Surroundings business 15 years ago in West Virginia, shortly after graduating from West Virginia University with a degree in Interior Design. The move to Sanibel about a year ago was the totally unexpected realization of a dream, said Graham.

Following the retail rush of the 2007 holiday season, Graham’s mother, Sherry Graham, suggested a four-day getaway to one of her favorite destinations – Sanibel Island.

“We’d been coming here for about 20 years,” noted Graham.

That trip was the catalyst for Graham’s move from her cozy and comfortable surroundings in the West Virginia mountains.

“I just fell in love with this place – the island, the house… all of it,” she said. “I call it my ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ moment,” she added, referring to the

movie where the main character moves, on a virtual whim, to Tuscany – and lives happily ever after. “There’s no looking back now.”

Making the move to Sanibel, and opening and decorating her retail dcor boutique, has given Graham the opportunity to discover what it was that made her embark on a career in design in the first place.

“I remember why, as a nave kid, I found joy in this. Here, it’s just me,” she explained, as she cast a satisfactory glance around the sales floor at 2480 Library Way, which also serves as her private residence. “The line between work and home is blurred here, and it’s just wonderful.”

Graham attributed her upbeat mood on a sunny Wednesday afternoon to a “healthy dose of Sanibel,” as a shopper browsed the eclectic merchandise. Although many items are antique, or antique reproductions, it is the repurposed, homemade items that Graham says she likes best.

“I love finding new uses for old things,” said Graham as she plugged in a lamp that had been fashioned from a straw basket. “And it’s especially great now with the movement to reuse and recycle. People appreciate those kinds of items more now.”

In addition to the treasures that can be found on the Surroundings sales floor, Graham said she also fashions wreaths, dried flowers and other items according to her customer’s wishes.

“And if there’s something that someone wants, and I don’t have it, I’ll keep my eye out for it,” she said.

In addition to the retail dcor boutique that is Surroundings, Melinda Graham also offers residential and commercial interior design services.

“The design aesthetic is completely different from that in the retail shop,” explained Graham, who has posted photographs of her recently sold West Virginia home and commercial interior design work on her Web site.

“It’s a whole different thing from the boutique,” she explained.

Graham said that she will continue her work in television and print media, even though she’s now residing in Sanibel, and especially looks forward to exploring the Florida antique market.

“There’s nothing like filling a truck full of treasures,” added Graham. “There are so many diamonds in the rough out there!”

Surroundings by Melinda retail dcor boutique is located at 2480 Library Way in Sanibel, across from the Sanibel-Captiva Community Bank, and is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call Melinda at 239-579-0409 for additional information, or visit the Web site at www.melindagraham.com