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French look now graces neighborhoods like Avila

Was that a castle? Touches include turrets, intricate ironwork and multipaned doors.

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 7, 2002


TAMPA -- Mediterranean revival and Florida vernacular remain the most popular architectural styles for custom homes in Tampa, but there's a whole world of design options out there.

At least a few homeowners are opting to branch out, and while it's too early to call it a trend, some of the area's top builders and architects say they've been getting requests for homes with a French look.

Builder J.O. DeLotto and Sons is putting the finishing touches on a French Provincial home in Palma Ceia designed by Thomas Everett Lamb.

And Leon Goldenberg, owner of Milford Custom Homes, has a French country manor home on the drawing board for Beach Park.

"The most prominent detail will be the very steep, pitched roof," Goldenberg says.

Initial plans also call for a turret, round windows, carved stone accents, intricate ironwork, and the ubiquitous multipaned French doors.

"It will be very stately looking," Goldenberg says.

The three most common French styles are Provincial, Normandy and eclectic. In Normandy, barns were often attached to homes, and grain was stored in a central turret. Normandy homes may resemble small castles, with an arched doorway in the turret. French Provincial homes tend to be square and symmetrical, and French eclectic homes combine a variety of influences.

In many ways, French style homes are similar to Mediterranean revival and Spanish style homes, says Liz O'Connell of RJL O'Connell Home Builders, a company that specializes in French Provincial architecture. Both use cast stone and iron ornamentation, and French architecture often includes the stucco exteriors typical of Spanish designs.

But the French ornamentation is more intricate, and the roofs are made of slate rather than barrel tile. O'Connell considers the French style homes more subtle and elegant than Mediterranean revivals.

Architect Sol Fleischman designed a French eclectic house in the north Tampa community of Avila.

"One of the most unique features is the use of multiple materials. We used stone, we used brick and we used stucco," he says.

In addition to the multiple materials, other features of the home typical of French eclectic architecture are a steep roof, chimneys with clay chimney pots on top, round rooms and a turret with a witch's hat roof.

What's a witch's hat roof?

"If you picture that hat that the Wicked Witch of the West wore, that's what it looks like," Fleischman says.

Fleischman also designed an addition to a French Normandy style house on Davis Islands that was built in the 1920s. The home features a round entry room inside a turret and dormer windows, which are vertical windows that project out from the roof. The use of brick rather than stone earns it the Normandy label, he says.

RJL O'Connell is building a French Provincial home in Avila named Le Manoir de Versailles. The 10,000-square-foot home features French limestone floors and mahogany wood paneling.

O'Connell gets her inspiration during twice-yearly trips to France, where she takes snapshots of the architectural features of homes and castles there that she can work into her latest designs.

French-inspired homes first made their way to the United States after World War I. They're more popular in New Orleans and Northern cities, says Goldenberg, than they are in the Tampa Bay area.

"I grew up in Chicago," he says. "And there were a number of nice examples there."

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