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Builder crafts himself a 'keeper' home

Don Hughes employed the same rules designing his retreat as he applies in his business, such as: Spend a little on details for a big impact.

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 27, 2002

DAVIS ISLANDS -- Don Hughes makes a living building homes for other people.

This time, he built one for himself.

Three months ago, Hughes, the owner of Donald C. Hughes General Contracting, his wife Mary Kay and their three children moved into a waterfront Davis Islands home.

Hughes has always built his own residences.

But this one, his first on the water, is a keeper, he says. At least for a while.

With 7,000 square feet of living space, five bedrooms and 41/2 bathrooms, and 12-foot ceilings both downstairs and upstairs, it's larger than most of the homes Hughes builds for others. But it incorporates many of the elements he includes in all of his homes.

It features Mediterranean architecture, an island kitchen with a breakfast nook that flows into a great room with computer and surround sound wiring throughout, lots of arches, marble counters in the bathrooms and granite countertops in the kitchen.

The house also embraces some of Hughes' most important principles of home building.

One: make the most of its location.

"We design them all site-specific," he says. "We don't have any canned plans."

In this case, the location is a 100-foot-wide lot on Hillsborough Bay. Consequently, Hughes built the home 80 feet wide with tall windows all along the back of the house and upstairs balconies to provide plenty of water views.

Of all the rooms in the house, only two bedrooms lack a water view. The house has a Western exposure, so Hughes installed double-insulated windows and wide-slatted wood shutters to keep the rooms from overheating.

A boat lift, dock and extensive pool area extend opportunities for enjoying the home's prime position. The multilevel deck around the pool and hot tub offers covered seating. A fully-equipped kitchen, with a sink, refrigerator, gas grill, television and built-in speakers make the space as livable as the air conditioned rooms inside.

Another home building tenet that Hughes used when constructing his own residence is this: Spend a little extra money on details that will have a big impact.

For example, a heavy iron chandelier in the foyer added only $1,000 to the cost of the home, but creates substantial drama in the entryway.

"It's all about picking your spots," he says.

For the same reason, he used tongue-and-groove dark-stained wood on the patio ceilings rather than drywall.

He considers the outdoor kitchen, which cost him about $5,000, a worthwhile investment.

"You can't do it on a $75,000 tract house," he reasons, but it's a small add-on for a $750,000-plus home and "you'll use it."

Hughes says one of his favorite details in the house is the dolphin fountain -- purchased at Tampa Statuary -- which sprays water into the swimming pool.

"It creates a lot of nice background noise," he says.

Hughes usually builds on his own South Tampa lots, although also does custom homes. He grew up in Tampa and attended Mitchell Elementary, Wilson Middle School and Plant High. He earned a degree in building science from the University of Florida, and then worked for construction companies in Orlando and Saudi Arabia before returning to Tampa in 1985 and launching his own business.

Hughes builds about six or eight homes a year in South Tampa. He would build more if he could.

"I could be a millionaire if I could find the lots for all the people who want to build," he says.

He specializes in Mediterranean-style homes. Cast-stone banding around the doors and windows, a barrel tile roof and lots of wrought iron contribute to that look on his home's exterior.

Hand painted Mexican tiles on the front-step risers throw a splash of color to the facade. The same tiles cover the platform that holds the hot tub above the pool.

Throughout the home, textured plaster creates an authentic Old World feeling.

"It's an art," he says of the rough-hewn look. "They can put up any kind of texture you want or just suit the mood that guy is in when he's handling the trowel."

The Brazilian cherry floors lend a warm red tone to the downstairs rooms. They're broken up with black and white marble set diagonally into the floors in the foyer, dining room and upstairs hallway. The formal dining room also has a solid marble fireplace.

The landing at the top of the wrought iron staircase holds a Ping-Pong table. One hallway leads from the landing to a balcony that runs the width of the house. Another hallway framed by several keyhole arches, leads to the bedrooms.

Glass doors open from the master bedroom to the balcony. Hughes admits that not even the spectacular view entices him to use the treadmill that's strategically placed in the master bedroom's bay window. But the oversized shower and jacuzzi tub in the master bathroom are another story.

"This room has the coolest view in the house. It's like an IMAX view of the water," he says. "When I'm in here I never want to get out."

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