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Homes: Front porch

Lusty about lofts

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 14, 2003

A love story for Valentine's Day.

Genie Farrell White happily shares it.

At an age when most people fantasize about a lovely little condo on the beach somewhere, Genie wears tangerine and lives out her dream in a 5,000-square-foot industrial loft in Tampa's Channel District.

Eye-popping artwork by Alexander Calder and Peter Max shares exposed brick walls with the locally produced paintings, drawings and collages that Genie collects with a passion. The ceilings are cypress, the floors pecan.

Clusters of antique furnishings and gently worn Oriental rugs break up the cavernous space, inviting conversation and reflection.

Skylights capture the mellow winter Florida sun. And on a wide iron-and-wood patio, Genie has created an urban still-life of potted plants and comfortable chairs, tempting guests to linger and soak in the gritty view.

Genie shares the loft with her husband, Bill White, a retired textbook salesman. They are both 62. Bill loves Genie so much he agreed to sell their perfectly nice suburban Temple Terrace home and buy an old tool warehouse at 223 N 12th St.

That was in 1995.

"I called him up and said, 'Bill, we're going to sell the house and move into a warehouse.' He said, 'Well, can I at least see it?' "

Says Bill: "I took one walk-through and said, 'Let's buy it.' Why not? I mean, I knew it would be so much more fun than living in a normal home."

That's how it happened. They paid about $325,000 for the 30,000-square-foot building and adjoining land.

Genie never looked back. Neither did Bill.

They both fell in love with the classic lift-style cage elevator built in the 1920s. They also admired the bones of the building, essentially a rectangle full of raw, textural open spaces where Genie envisioned dozens of artists' studios and gallery space.

Now known as Artists Unlimited Inc., the building is a visual landmark in this neighborhood. The nonprofit artists collective and educational center serves as studios for some 40 artists who find space and solace in the building. Genie and Bill are the only residential occupants, with their loft sprawling over half of the third floor.

"They're just a synergy of art and action," says Gayle Deal, an artist who also teaches belly dancing classes at the collective.

A second marriage for both, Genie and Bill White have six kids and four grandkids between them. They share two rescued cats, Bubba and Greta Garbo. Constructing their living space was completely a joint effort, too. Genie describes Bill as a "linear person who can build anything."

Bill describes Genie, who is a serious painter and sculptor, as someone "who really has a knowledge and understanding of art."

Their opposite sensibilities work, Bill believes, because "we're friends first." That, he says, "is the first and foremost thing a couple needs to survive."

A shared taste in decorating doesn't hurt, either.

Antique emerald velvet chairs sit primly aside a wild collection of old slot machines. Kooky vintage lamps that Bill rewires are as important visually as the ceramics and paintings Genie collects. A sleek, open kitchen commands the center of the living room for casual entertaining, "so our guests sit around with their plates in their laps," Genie says.

Together they made it all work.

This year marks their 25th wedding anniversary. They wouldn't have their home any other way.

Except for one small thing: "I just wish," Genie says wistfully, "that I had done this at 20."

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