A 'come on in' home as big as all get out

After buying 2 acres in Brandon in 1996, they rolled up their sleeves to craft a wow-worthy use and gardens.

Published June 2, 2006


Bob Masse built his 12,000-square-foot house from the ground up with his own two hands.

In the late 1990s, the entrepreneur with a penchant for home improvement and gardening bought a couple of wooded acres on the cheap in Brandon and never looked back.

Since then, Masse, who owns Woodway Cabinets and Refacing in Brandon, and his wife, Carol, have created a charming, Florida Cracker-style house with a wraparound front porch and a design that offers no clue as to the actual size of the house.

"When you pull up here you have no idea how big it actually is," he says.

In 10 years, Bob, Carol and their three daughters did pretty much everything themselves. Bob poured the foundation, built the frame, laid the tongue-and-groove cypress plank floors, installed the siding, put on the roof, built the interior trim and finishes, and designed and constructed the cabinets that grace the bathrooms, dressing closets and gourmet kitchen.

The 1,000-square-foot kitchen features a nine-burner commercial gas range Bob used to own a seafood restaurant in the Northeast and loves to cook shrimp scampi, spaghetti sauce and lobster pie. With comfort and ease as his goal, Bob designed the kitchen with two dishwashers, two stainless-steel refrigerators and a freezer built into a brick wall.

The large adjacent eating area also serves as the dining room with a 4-by-10-foot farm-style table Bob made from the same cypress as the floors. All of the glass-front cabinets light up from the inside, showcasing the china and crystal.

At Christmas, the couple entertained 150 of Carol's co-workers from Brandon Memorial Hospital.

"It was easy," says Carol, an intensive care nurse, "because it was very comfortable for everyone."

The house has 12½-foot ceilings, 27 fans and its own spa room with a large built-in hot tub, art and Oriental rugs.

There is a screened pool area with an outdoor kitchen, an oversized family room with a fireplace, and a built-in theater-size TV and movie-style seating for the entire family.

Even better, the pale yellow house with green shutters and white trim overlooks an artistic expanse of low-maintenance vegetable gardens where Masse - an expert gardener - grows his own style of backyard tomatoes that taste like those found in the Midwest in August.

"They don't taste like Florida tomatoes," Masse explains.

He also cultivates cucumber, cabbage, sweet peppers, carrots and radishes that grow to the size of old-fashioned jawbreakers. The bounty always finds its way into the daily meals that Masse prepares for his family.

The garden features ponds, trellises, a gazebo, garden house and thousands of colorful impatiens that give the landscape the look of an impressionist painting.

The couple bought the property with its graceful live oaks and a small 1950s ranch house in 1996. They paid $94,000 for the house and 2 acres (they've since purchased an additional acre).

It has been appraised at just under $2-million, Bob says.

The couple moved to Florida from Waterford, Va., near the Blue Ridge Mountains. Carol, who worked two night shifts as a nurse in the Washington, D.C., area, couldn't stand the commute anymore, and neither one of them liked the winters.

Bob got out a map and studied metropolitan areas. In particular, he was interested in climate. Jacksonville, for example, "is way too cold for us," he says. But the Tampa Bay area was "neither too hot or too cold," Carol says.

They liked Brandon for its proximity to downtown Tampa. They also wanted to buy acreage for growing a large garden and building a big house. Again, Brandon fit the bill.

Carol "almost choked'' when she saw the property and the house. "It was very bad. Frightening, really."

Still, the couple forged ahead and bought it, knowing that the formula had worked for them in the past: Buy a large piece of affordable property and build the house of your dreams.

But this time, building such a massive masterpiece by hand didn't come so easily.

In 2000, shortly after pouring the foundation, Masse, now 65, was diagnosed with metastasized colon cancer. After extensive surgery and six months of chemotherapy, "he began to get better," recalls Carol, now 51.

Masse says he willed himself not to succumb to the cancer because he wanted to see his daughters graduate from high school and college.

"It's all attitude - I wouldn't let it get me down," he says. "I kept a positive attitude all the time."

After regaining his strength, Masse re-embarked on his building odyssey.

Though the main section of the house is complete, the couple plans to begin remodeling the old house, now the children's wing. Their three daughters, Katie, 14, and twins Laura and Michelle, 12, have bedrooms in the space as well as a kitchen where they eat breakfast.

Says Bob: "It's been a lot of work, but a lot of fun. Everyone had a really good time doing it."

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at ebettendorf@hotmail.com.