Ed Gunning had to quash caution before he could restore a 1925 home to its splendor.
By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
Published November 28, 2003
INTERBAY - When Ed Gunning bought his 1925 cypress-sided bungalow on a street thick with oak trees and historic character, he encountered the usual quirks that might have turned a less tenacious buyer away: a badly deteriorated foundation, an outdated interior and a dreary paint job that robbed the house of its charming southern personality.
Undaunted, Gunning set to work. He paid $25,000 to repair the structural problems, painted the exterior moonlight-yellow, and landscaped front and back.
As for the interior, he was actually radical in a time of mega-master baths and sprawling great rooms: He left it alone.
"People don't build charming anymore, they build massive homes," Gunning said. "It's difficult to find a great old house that hasn't been changed significantly over the years."
Instead, he chose to work around the home's historic and very traditional lines, showcasing the heart-pine floors, the original wavy-glass windows, the sunroom with bead-board ceilings. He decorated with an artist's eye, giving the rooms an appropriate traditional feel, but with punch.
Fine family antiques blended throughout include a Victorian love seat that belonged to his late grandfather - the longtime editor of the newspaper in Cumberland, Md. A collection of tea caddies, exquisite tortoise shell accessories and groupings of family photographs lend the house warmth and character. Gunning incorporated bold, eye-popping fabrics on everything from upholstery to shower curtains.
A kitchen wallpaper patterned with pomegranates, cherries and plums "ties together every color in the house," he said.
In the dining room, walls were glazed in a red leathery texture. A 1920s art deco-style Chinese rug dramatizes an inherited Duncan Fief dining room table and ladder-back chairs "that make no sense at all," he joked.
Next week, old-house aficionados will have a chance to glimpse firsthand Gunning's 2,500 square-foot jewel on the 12th annual house tour sponsored by Tampa Preservation Inc. Gunning's house will be one of five showcased in his Interbay neighborhood on a candlelight tour featuring wine and hors d'oeuvres and a chance to see some of Tampa's most beautiful homes decked out for the holidays.
The Dec. 6 tour is also one of the area's most expensive: The cost is $55 a person ($45 for TPI members) and space is limited to 500 people.
The tour was inspired by a similar, well-known candlelight tour in Charleston, S.C., said Paula Meckley, TPI's treasurer who also serves on a house-tour committee.
Founded in 1973, TPI is known for its coveted "preserved" banners that hang in front of some of Tampa's most historic structures. The nonprofit's mission statement sums up its goal: "To preserve the historic structures and neighborhoods of Tampa and to educate the area's residents about their unique heritage."
In past years the tour has spotlighted homes in a variety of historic Tampa neighborhoods, including Beach Park, New Suburb Beautiful, Hyde Park, Davis Islands and Golf View. Proceeds go back to TPI and help fund educational programs in area schools.
The group chose the holiday season for the annual tour partly to avoid a conflict with Tampa's glut of historic spring house tours. It's also a time "when houses look festive and pretty," Meckley said.
At Gunning's house, decorated with help from the Potting Shed, fresh holly and berries will drape the chandeliers and a swag of garland will hang over the front door. His Christmas tree, drizzled with ornaments that are both sentimental and gathered from his past, will stand in the family room picture window.
Gunning, 46, a longtime Realtor for Smith and Associates, bought his house in 1996, despite being warned away because of serious structural problems.
"The inspector said if there was ever a house I should not buy, this one was it," Gunning said. "He said the damage to the foundation was the worst he had ever seen."
Gunning had wanted to buy the house when it came on the market on two previous occasions but missed out. He loved the architectural bones and the feel of the interior.
He took a chance and now says he's glad he did. He may never leave.
"I love this house. From the minute I walked in the front door, I knew where everything was going to go."
He invested in good decorating, rather than a lot of renovations. He avoids "the predictable and planned" in favor of a style that's evolved from a life of travel and collecting.
"Even a house that's not attractive can look good with great furniture," he said. "A little bit of good decorating goes a long way."
Gunning's own antiques and family heirlooms are offset by the unexpected: an antler lamp, a graceful pencil-post bed, an anonymous 1800s portrait of a well-heeled gentleman. "I have no idea who he is, but he sure looks great there, doesn't he?" Gunning asked.
Gunning is a man who genuinely cherishes the past.
When he tells you how much he loves fried chicken, he whips out a picture of himself eating it as a little boy at his grandmother's house - at a table he now dines on.
He believes his passion for bridge, while cultivated on a cruise, came from his grandmother, a devoted player. (The family worried she might die in the middle of a game.)
A statue on his living room bookshelf - a portly, avuncular man, pockets brimming with treats - was a gift from his mother because she thought it would remind him of his newspaperman grandfather.
"My grandfather really did look just like that," he said.
His reverence for the past may have inspired him to loan his house to the tour.
"I believe completely and wholeheartedly in what they are doing," he said. "We need to take care of our historic houses and buildings. It's just like caring for your family heirlooms. It's all about honoring the past and traditions."
- Tickets for Tampa Preservation Inc.'s Dec. 6 holiday house tour, $55, are limited and must be purchased in advance. For more information on the tour or to become a member of TPI, call: 248-5437.