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A matter of harmony

A couple with a passion for the arts sought a house that had the space to reflect those interests.

Published September 19, 2003

VIRGINIA PARK - "Unmistakably Modern."

The words dance across the cover of Corey Merenda's classical piano CD.

They also describe the jewel of a contemporary house Merenda, 40, and her husband, Bruce, 49, recently renovated on a quiet South Tampa street.

At 1,900 square feet, its calling card isn't size. Yet the interior feels airy.

Or better yet:



Right on key.

The two-story formal living room resonates with modern ideas: matching Barcelona-style chairs complement an Italian leather sofa, "that feels like the backseat of a '60s Lincoln," jokes Bruce, an artist who also designed the narrow mahogany table perched behind the sofa.

Not only does the house provide a backdrop for art - a collection of Florida artists, small originals by Picasso and Rembrandt, and Bruce's own paintings - but it offers an ideal setting for Corey's piano.

One night a few weeks ago about 60 guests attended a party honoring Corey Merenda, trumpeter Jay Coble and trombonist Tom Brantley. All three will perform together in a concert at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday.

The trio, whose music Corey describes as "classical with jazz influences," played throughout the evening to an audience that filled the living room, kitchen and spilled out to a patio flickering with candles.

"One of the reasons we bought this house was so the piano could be a focal point," Corey explains. "We wanted to place it in a formal living room area - not in a room with a big open kitchen. And we didn't want it tucked away in a small room where people couldn't gather around it. It's a gorgeous piece of furniture - although it's much more than that to me."

Corey and Bruce, who married three years ago, moved into the house in late October 2002. They bought it for $260,000 - a bargain for a home in a hot South Tampa location - and budgeted another $50,000 to make it look the way they wanted.

They share the same taste in everything, right down to offbeat clothes: Corey collects beautiful vintage dresses and hats; Bruce is known for his snazzy bow ties.

"I knew after three days that I wanted to marry her," recalls Bruce, who met Corey on a blind date arranged by a friend.

An avowed bachelor for years, Bruce says he was perfectly content with his Palma Ceia townhouse and red convertible.

Corey changed that. Within two months, they announced they were getting married. Family members urged them to wait six months, Corey recalls.

Soulmates in the truest sense of the word, they've attacked the house with an identical vision.

"Why settle for less than bliss in your mate or home?" Bruce quips. "We agree on everything and we've had a ball doing it."

The pair spent two years looking for a contemporary house in South Tampa they could afford but nothing clicked. Then they found it in Virginia Park.

"When we drove by and saw the facade we said, "This is interesting,' " Bruce says. "When we walked in, even though it was really rough, we knew we had found what we were looking for."

Though solid, the building had succumbed to benign neglect over the years. To an untrained eye, the flaws might have seemed daunting: rusted, 7-foot high bars marred the exterior entrance; bad paint jobs; bad ceilings; cheap fixtures; Hideous, dirty carpet; a dark, metal-roofed screened porch.

"It was a beautiful house to begin with," Bruce explains. "Very contemporary, very forward, very 1980s."

Before they moved in, they made sure the most heavy-duty construction was done - a strategy they heartily recommend.

"It makes your life a lot easier," Corey says.

Now a bank of glass doors opens to a lap pool the couple installed as part of the renovation. The pool is rectangular with an elevated blue-tiled wall and three waterfalls.

Blue provides a subtle color palette throughout. The living room walls exude a pale, baby blue coolness. Blue canvas awnings hang over the porch.

The stairwell is illuminated by halogen bulbs swinging from 6-foot drop cords. Three art deco panels are washed in more blue, and paintings by a Sarasota artist brighten the space even more.

Upstairs, Corey's music room allows space for her four-track recorder, keyboards and guitars. It's also a canvas for her collection of hats and sparkly antique jewelry.

No fussy upholstery or skirted sofas in this house.

Corey calls the look "big air space," something that not only makes the house feel bigger but gives Corey peace.

"I like to know that everything's clean," she says, joking.

As a visual merchandising director for Creative Arts Unlimited Inc. in Pinellas Park, Bruce has designed windows for Macy's, FAO Schwarz and Marshall Field's State Street store in Chicago.

Corey, who performed professionally as Corey Jane Holt, graduated from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and performed for a decade around the Tampa Bay area with the band Clang.

She also organizes the annual Bonk Festival of New Music. A self-professed Russophile, she taught herself to speak Russian and loves reading Russian literature.

Ultimately, the house reflects the couple's mutual visual style - clean, slightly spare, neoclassical, modern with retro echoes. It's serious and intellectual, yet fun.

Example: The kitchen - once a sea of basic "white laminate," says Bruce - now looks like a 1930s ocean liner. Maple cabinets zing with oversized, horizontal brushed steel handles. Countertops sparkle with black Silestone, a quartz surface.

At parties, the kitchen's clogged with guests.

The couple loves to entertain and enjoy a wide group of friends that includes avante garde composers, successful South Tampa professionals and starving artists.

So there you have it, a modern house perfect for an unmistakably modern couple's lifestyle.

"And that is the Bruce and Corey story," Bruce says.

Just add the not-very-modern: "Happily ever after."

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