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The architect's master plan

Dennis Carr and his wife, Erin, made sure their dream home incorporated lots of natural light and natural materials to tie the exterior to the interior.

Published May 12, 2006

TAMPA - An architect needs a perfect house, one that speaks to the soul, invites in the light, creates beauty where ordinary once stood.

Dennis Carr, a 37-year-old architect with Tampa's Urban Studio Architects (, designed his dream house on Lawn Avenue not far from Bayshore Boulevard.

It's tropical modern, with a metal roof and Brazilian hardwood shutters and balcony in the Bahamian style.

"I wanted a warm Caribbean influence," Carr says. "And I thought the tropical woods brought that warmth."

Inside the two-story, 2,800-square-foot house, Carr used 16-foot sliding glass doors to tie the exterior to the interior.

The floors are porcelain tile and bamboo, the walls white, the color palette a blend of shades of neutral and white with only a hint of color, including the palest green tile back-splash in the kitchen and a green master bedroom wall in "Heart of Palm" by Sherwin-Williams.

Carr and his wife, Erin, 37, an ardent fan of modern architecture herself, built the house last year on a lot they found along Lawn after an extensive search. "We both like modern architecture, but we didn't want to make it so modern that it didn't fit in," Dennis says.

Says Erin: "We didn't want a white box, but we didn't want stucco Mediterranean, either."

The Carrs, who moved into the house eight months ago, say they took their time choosing just about everything for the house because their tastes are so unique. They opted to repeat materials and colors throughout, both to stay within their budget and to create an overall cohesiveness and flow.

The same creamy, slightly gray porcelain tile that covers the master bathroom floor was cut in a smaller mosaic size to surround the bathroom's hot tub. The warm silestone used for the kitchen countertops was repeated on bathroom counters, upstairs and down. The maple kitchen cabinets - stained dark to resemble teak and outfitted with brushed stainless steel handles - are repeated in different variations and styles in the vanities.

They found a lot of their home accents online, including a butterscotch tumbled-mosaic vessel sink in the downstairs bathroom. A textured, globe-shaped light fixture in the hallway came from a Scandinavian company. Another one over the dining table is a retro-modern classic from a Los Angeles firm.

"There are only about three furniture companies we order from," jokes Erin, who holds a master's in business administration and works as a business consultant for health care organizations. The couple met at Auburn University and lived for years in Atlanta, where Dennis grew up, before moving to Tampa in 1999.

"I met Dennis my first week at school, but we didn't start dating for a few years," recalls Erin, who was raised in Vero Beach. "I definitely wasn't the creative one; my background is in business and finance. My mom still laughs that I married an architect."

The Carrs, who have been married 12 years and share a passion for cooking and fishing, were both very much involved in the creation of the house, which took 10 months to build.

"I loved being involved in the design process," Erin says.

Dennis had talked from the beginning about his vision of a dream house, and the two say their new home embraces the best of all his ideas. In particular, it is a house that's not only beautiful, but also functional.

The open kitchen, living room and dining area look out over an unscreened lanai and welcoming back yard, perfect for entertaining friends and family.

The space is also roomy enough for their active miniature dachshunds, Beckham and Barclay. "The biggest thing about this open space is that I wanted to tie it to the exterior," Dennis explains.

A retro, wood-burning fireplace that feels mid century modern nestles in a corner, for casual views from every angle. The exterior is covered in limestone bricks that an architect friend purchased for $30 from the Habitat for Humanity Home Improvement Center on Hillsborough Avenue.

The décor is visibly free of knickknacks and clutter, decorated on a budget and an example of what can be done with good taste and a sparing hand.

Art on the walls is sparing, but tasteful, bold and colorful. The couple purchased a painting of palm trees against blue sky from a Seminole Heights artist.

They bought an original Indonesian painting of a series of fish from Bali Bay Imports in Tampa. They purchased some of their modern, everyday furniture from a Chicago company, Room and Board, a favorite of the couple.

The kitchen remains perhaps the heartbeat of the home, free of clutter and visible cooking supplies, but beautiful and functional nonetheless.

The eating bar is a favorite hangout for the pair, a place to enjoy breakfast and read the newspaper. The appliances are stainless steel, and the gas stove is commercial restaurant quality, a treat for a couple who love to cook ethnic cuisine and lots of fish, which they typically catch themselves.

Dennis Carr's generous use of natural light and natural materials created an environment that encourages lingering - for years.

"We built this as a 20-year house," he says. "This is the house I envisioned for us when I first met Erin. We didn't build it for the short term. This is our dream house."

[Last modified May 11, 2006, 15:50:15]

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