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Geometric enchantment

After 25 years in their octagonal home, John and Linda Mooney are giving it a new look with the help of a local interior designer.

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 19, 2002


ODESSA -- What makes John and Linda Mooney's home so special is the shape it's in.

Octagonal.

The home was built nearly 30 years ago, at a time when Van Dyke Farms was filled with orange trees and track housing wasn't even a blueprint in a developer's eye.

It was a creation of Vince Auletta, who studied at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture for a year and designed just three houses before trading architecture for art. Before he died, he told Linda Mooney that he had sketched the plans on a paper napkin.

Auletta and his father built the house. They fashioned siding from cypress trees cleared from the lot and used Florida limestone for the fireplace. Tampa attorney John Jenkins lived in the house for two years, then it sat empty for a year.

The Mooneys bought it in 1977.

John Mooney, a retired emergency room physician, loved the eight-acre lot.

Linda Mooney fell in love with the house.

The octagonal-shaped living room sits at the center of the 4,200-square-foot house, and the kitchen, family room, master bedroom, office and two spare bedrooms form triangles off each of the octagon's sides.

Windows along the entire back of the house provide panoramic views of Rock Lake and the parklike landscaping that is the living vision of John Mooney, who studied botany in undergraduate school.

In 25 years, the Mooneys have made the home their own. They enclosed the screened porch to make a family room. To reflect the rustic setting, they covered floors in the foyer, hallways, family room and kitchen with quartzite rock -- likewise, for the kitchen countertops. They built a two-story guest house on the property and a small stable where they kept three horses until just a few years ago.

Last year, for the first time, Linda Mooney enlisted the help of an interior designer to take the home through its next metamorphosis.

"We have lived here for so long, and I've used all my ideas," Linda Mooney said. "I needed somebody fresh, and this is so different."

She discovered Jay Tenuta, owner of La Bella Interiors in Citrus Park, when driving by his shop. He opened it three years ago after selling an interior design firm in Chicago that he had owned for 17 years.

"We've been old-time people up here for so long and I try to patronize the local businesses," Linda Mooney said. "I just walked in and told him I had a job for him."

Tenuta said he visited the house and was "blown away" by its unusual structure and the highly explorable grounds.

"When they walked me through the property, along all the paths, it felt really quite magical," he says.

Linda Mooney recalls the response.

"He came in and he said, 'Enchanted castle. It needs to be an enchanted castle.' So he's taken 'My home is my castle' to another level, and I love everything he's done."

With the help of his assistant, Kathy Hsu, Tenuta has begun turning the place from country house to castle. He's completed work on the living and dining rooms and is in the process of redecorating the guest rooms and kitchen.

Linda Mooney's antiques -- the 1920s Brambach baby grand piano, armoire, desk, and grandfather clock -- enjoy new life amid such royal treatment.

In the living room, Tenuta installed a cherry wood floor laid in an octagonal pattern that mirrors the formation of the wood in the 31-foot high ceiling. Triangular windows along the ceiling highlight the room's unusual shape.

Tenuta hung a huge silk tapestry over the fireplace and chose a green bench with scrolled arms, a solid bronze coffee table with a marble top and stately wingback chairs to develop the castle theme. He persuaded Linda Mooney to bring two gold candelabras out of her attic to dress up the piano, and an oversized mirror with a thick gold frame occupies most of the space on one wall.

Inspired by Tenuta, Linda Mooney picked gold and jeweled picture frames for the family photographs.

Tenuta ripped out the wallpaper and replaced it with a faux-finished plaster. Hand-cut plaster appliques highlighted with copper paint accent the top of each of the room's eight walls.

Shimmery deep-red silk curtains hang on the wide entry leading to the family room and kitchen. Secured at the top by five metal rosettes, swept back with oversized maroon and gold tassels, they puddle softly on the floor.

The same treatment, this one with gold silk fabric, frames the windows in the dining room, where two skirted parsons chairs were added to Linda Mooney's antique table set.

Tenuta also made a major change to the living room's wet bar.

"It was strictly out of the 70s with the wood and swivel chairs," says Tenuta.

He replaced it with a bar crafted from cherry wood and a black granite countertop, and bar stools upholstered in a deep red crocodile leather.

During the past 25 years, John Mooney has exercised his green thumb on most of the property's eight acres. The old horse pasture is now filled with more than 1,000 azaleas, and low-maintenance plants grow thick in big backyard beds.

Pathways made of mulch or stone and boardwalks meander beneath the cypress and oaks on either side of the yard and along the lake. Lamps light the way at night, leading from one stone patio and wood deck to another. Each of the 10 resting spots -- John Mooney says there are 53 seats -- is decorated with statues, potted plants, waterfalls and other garden accents.

Twice a year, wood ducks nest and start families in boxes that John Mooney hung on trees near the lake. For the dining pleasure of the many squirrels, he attached a platform with a post holding a corncob to a cypress tree.

At the edge of the lake, a screened-in dock with a refrigerator, barbecue grill, television, table and chairs provides mosquito-free refuge to John Mooney. Every day, Linda Mooney sprinkles Purina pond chow on the lake, attracting hundreds of fish.

She confesses that this little piece of paradise has turned her into a true homebody.

"I'm always here," she says. "There's no need to go any place else."

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