Evening of oohs and aahs awaits

Visit five homes by candlelight, including a big Hyde Park beauty that blends Southern comfort and sophistication.

Published February 16, 2007

When Cindy Ramm and her husband, Gene, were transferred to Tampa from Charlotte, N.C., in 1990, they had three weeks to find a house and move.

"It was a very tall order to find a house and move four children," Cindy Ramm recalled with a laugh. But sometimes a whirlwind house hunt - fueled by first impressions and instinct - can yield the luckiest results.

Impressed by Hyde Park's oak-shrouded streets, plethora of historic homes and proximity to Bayshore Boulevard, they bought what would turn out to be a cherished family home.

"We fell in love with it and have been here ever since," Ramm said.

The four-bedroom, 3 1/2-bath home, built in 1910, once housed the headmaster from the nearby St. John's Episcopal Church school.

From the roomy front porch with a view of Tampa Bay to the 14-foot ceilings and strong craftsman influence, the home exudes character and style.

It's one of five homes to be featured on the 14th annual candlelight tour of homes sponsored by Tampa Preservation Inc., a private, nonprofit organization with a mission to preserve the historic structures and neighborhoods of Hillsborough County. The group is best known for its educational efforts and preservation award banners that hang on selected homes.

TPI president Anna Thomas said the tour typically attracts visitors who love old houses though this year's tour features one modern home, as well as exquisitely tended gardens. It's a good way to cull a few home improvement ideas while having a relaxing and fun evening, Thomas said.

"You just don't find homes like this in the suburbs," she said. "They have so much personality and heritage."

The tour, Saturday, also includes a tour of the historic St. John's Episcopal Church sanctuary. It's one of the area's pricier home tour events, but it includes a "walking cocktail party" with fare provided by favorite restaurants, including Mise en Place.

"We were just delighted to do this," said Ramm, a TPI board member herself. By agreeing to open her home to the public, she hoped some of her neighbors would do so as well.

"They really jumped in. It's a great neighborhood."

The Ramms' house, one in the tour's mix that ranges from modern to fun to antique-filled, will definitely be a highlight.

At 6,000 square feet, it includes early 20th century architectural details inspired by the popular styles of the time: mission, prairie and craftsman. Over the years, the family has done a lot to preserve and restore the architectural integrity of the house. The beautiful diamond-shaped mullion windows are all original, and in rooms where they were taken out over the years, the Ramms installed faithful replicas.

Although the house was adapted over time to the needs of a large family - the couple have four children, now in their 20s - "we tried to return it to its historical look," Ramm explains.

She worked with Marty Sears Interiors to give the interior of the house a Southern look that is both graceful and sophisticated. A warm palette of red, yellow, blue and green lends warmth to the main living areas. A mix of traditional family antiques and artwork blend with the family's vintage collection of antique cigar labels displayed on the first floor hallway.

A country French kitchen, accented by blue and white accessories displayed against deep red walls, give the house a photo-ready magazine look. The home's sun porch, also decorated by Marty Sears, was featured in Southern Living magazine.

"Marty and I see eye to eye on a lot of things," Ramm said. "I love color and unusual objects and fabrics, and she's very creative with that."

Ramm says her goal in decorating the house has always been family-oriented. She envisioned a place that her kids would look forward to returning to as adults, where they could bring friends and hang out with family and dogs (the Ramms have two vizslas, Nellie and Molly).

With her grown children spread out in Atlanta, New York and Chicago, that's more important than ever.

"We had a whole pile home for Gasparilla," she said. "It's always been absolutely full of kids, a great house. We feel really fortunate to live here."


If you go

TPI Candlelight Tour of Homes

When: 7 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: Call Tampa Preservation Inc. offices at (813) 248-5437 or e-mail tpitampa@aol.com.

Cost: $50 for members, $65 for nonmembers.