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New home preserves spirit of family past

The Alanders learned that sometimes starting from scratch is best. In doing so, their new home is the best of both worlds.

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 10, 2002

HYDE PARK -- Cynthia Alander lived in her Hyde Park home for nearly 20 years before deciding to tear it down and start over again.

The decision didn't come easily. She loved the house. Built in 1921, it reflected the history of the neighborhood, and it had seen Alander through many of life's passages.

In the years after she bought the house in 1982, she got married and had a son, Jonathan, and both she and her husband, Ross, began running businesses out of the home. She's an interior designer, and he's a human resources consultant.

With only 1,500 square feet and hardly any closet space, the family had simply outgrown the home.

"We could barely fit us in it, let alone entertain," she says.

The family looked at several homes in the area, but couldn't find anything that felt quite right. They had put down roots in that spot, and wanted to remain in it.

Because the home had been modified so many times over the decades, Tampa's Architectural Review Commission considered it "non-contributing," meaning it didn't add to the historic flavor of the area, so demolishing it was always an option.

But Alander decided she might prefer expansion and renovation.

"I felt like a house that's 80 some years old -- who am I to tear it down?" she said.

So she designed an addition to the house with the help of architect Don Cooper and hired Soleil Design Build Inc. -- a company she calls "old house sensitive" -- to handle the construction.

But when they encountered structural problems while trying to figure out how to attach the second floor of the addition to the second floor of the existing house, all parties concluded it would be easier to just bring the house down.

"The question was, what do we build back in its place? The answer became apparent," Alander said. "You build what was here before."

In one weekend, Alander sketched a home based on the footprint and elevation of the original house that incorporated her plans for the addition as well as a two-car garage topped by a studio where Alander could operate her interior design business.

"It was like a death and rebirth," Alander said of the entire process.

Completed in 1999, the home is featured in the May issue of Southern Living magazine.

All that remains of the original structure are the sturdy columns from the front porch.

"I had lived in this house for almost 20 years," Alander said. "That's why saving the columns was so important to me. I was able to reconcile tearing it down because I thought if I used the columns of the old house, the spirit of the house would still be here."

The resulting home blends well with the neighborhood. From the curb, it looks more like a renovation than new construction. But now the house boasts 3,600 square feet, plus 1,400 square feet on the patio and lanai, a 500-square-foot studio over the garage and a wide-open floor plan.

There's a wrap-around porch, shaped rafter tails under the eaves, and a roof made of galvanized steel that evokes the tin roofs of old days. The carport and retaining wall are reproductions of the original construction, and tongue-in-groove wood on the ceilings of the porches and in the family room are reminiscent of the beaded-board paneling typical of the homes built in the early twentieth century. Double-hung windows with two panes each and two-inch wood blinds also give the house an authentic look.

Upstairs, two small bedrooms and a bathroom were built in the same spots as the previous house. But now, the upstairs has a bedroom and bathroom for Jonathan, who's 13, and a master bedroom suite with a balcony that overlooks the figure-eight-shaped pool in the back yard.

The back half of the home's first floor holds a great room that incorporates the kitchen, casual dining area and family room -- a clearly contemporary feature -- and a wall full of French doors topped by transom windows that look out onto the lanai and pool area.

But the front part of the house retains the character of a home built in the 1920s with a front door that opens right into the living room instead of a foyer.

In older houses, the focal points are the front of the house: the formal living room, front door and front porch, said Alander, who teaches history of architecture at the International Academy of Design.

In newer houses, the focal point is the back of the house.

The Alanders' house has both. "I didn't want to duplicate the old house," Alander said.

Instead, she wanted to capture the flavor of the architecture but create a home suitable for a growing, contemporary family.

"This is the best of both worlds."

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