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A time to build

A Lake LeClare home is taking shape, a weekend at a time.

Published May 4, 2007


4, 000

square feet in Tom Aderhold's home


years, every weekend, the time it took to build the home.


tractor to navigate the property


truck to haul building supplies


acres of land in Keystone on Lake LeClare

10-foot ceilings throughout the home


inches, width of the designer windowsills


number of fingers Barbara Dowling said her husband still has, despite building a house from scratch.

By STEPHANIE HAYES Times Staff Writer


A hurried, coffee-guzzling person might drive right past it without a second thought.

But turn onto the skinny gravel driveway on Wilcox Road, let the overgrown tree twigs slap the car windshield, park in the dirt - there it is.

His house. The house. Tom Aderhold's baby.

Aderhold treads around his hulking creation with deeply invested pride.

He runs fingers over intricate grooves and points to painstaking paint jobs, pleased with the product, aware of the possibilities.

"This will keep me busy the rest of my life."

"Busy" is the essence of Tom Aderhold.

He's 63 and only semiretired from his human resources business, PHR Associates.

He's also got a brand new gig, as the president of the Keystone Civic Association. He's heavily involved with the Hillsborough County Anti Drug Alliance.

He has led the charge in civic battles involving lake protection, land use, transportation and regulating cell phone towers. He hobnobs with business leaders and government types.

And the weekends? Well, the weekends go to the house.

Since 1980, he has lived in a nice, two-story home in Country Place, less than 2 miles from his new property.

"I had filled the yard with plants and flowers, " he says of the home that he and wife, Barbara Dowling, are now moving out of.

"I found myself in a situation where I couldn't do more."

Besides, he dreamt of something more. He envisioned a masterpiece of construction, designed and executed to his exact whims. It would be rife with the special details born to a different generation of homes. Arches. Ceilings textured by hand. Tiny, whittled molding toppers. Custom lighting.

The couple bought a "big pile of dirt" - more than 2 acres on Lake LeClare.

Aderhold, whose father was a general contractor, has always been mechanically inclined. He learned to build as a child, and in the '70s, he worked in the homebuilding business.

"We would build four houses a day, " Aderhold says. "Houses today are built for mass production."

His house would be different. It would take time. Patience.

He took Dowling through each room of their Country Place house and said, "What would you like different about this room?"

He bought a truck. He bought a tractor. He got to work.

Every weekend.

For seven years.

- - -

In the Extreme Home Makeover age of "look-at-me" houses, Aderhold's is a breath of fresh air.

Make no mistake - it's big, topping out at more than 4, 000 square feet and three stories.

But the outside is remarkably unassuming. It's designed in the simple Florida Cracker tradition, with lots of natural lighting and a tin roof.

"When you see big houses now, they're very ostentatious, " he says. "I'd be uncomfortable living in a house like that. I don't need to prove anything to anybody."

The interior is decidedly more lush. There are wood floors, custom tiles throughout and light fixtures at every turn. Inset ceilings have soft, adjustable lighting tracks. Floor-to-ceiling shower stalls are equipped with nozzles at different heights. A sky-lit reading room is the cherry on top.

"You'll love this, " Aderhold chirps over and over, discovering a feature around every corner as if he forgot it was there.

"If you can touch it, I did it."

The house is painstakingly engineered to be energy efficient and is insulated from the outside. He barely has to run the air conditioner to keep it cool.

It's elevated, and "almost impossible to flood."

The roof decking is "thicker than anything you're going to find."


"A tornado would have to sit on this house to pull it apart, " he says. "All the neighbors say when the big blow comes, they're coming here."

- - -

Dowling sits in her grand kitchen. Dressed in pale pink and sipping coffee, she looks tiny and delicate in contrast to the home her husband built from scratch.

Aderhold settles in next to her, and for a moment together, the two seem at home in the house.

The couple, who met at a nightclub, have been married almost 20 years. Aderhold has two daughters from a previous marriage, and three grandchildren, who look forward to spending long summer days at the house on the lake.

Aderhold and Dowling sweetly rib and tease each other.

"The process has allowed us to get closer together, " Aderhold says. "At first, I could have killed her and she could have killed me."

"Mmhmm, " Dowling said, chuckling. "Those rafters were looking real good."

They can't agree on art.

"We're exact opposites. I like Monet, " she says.

"Nondescript, ugly, paint smears on the wall, " Aderhold adds. "I like very easily identifiable renderings of life."

He smiles at her. Aderhold dearly wanted his wife to experience the satisfaction of creating something with just an idea and her own two hands - something his city girl never did growing up.

"Barbara came from a family where they did not tend at all to their physical world, " he says. "I wanted for her to actually put her hands on a project and take ownership of it."

Dowling peers around the grand room that will soon be where she entertains the couple's many friends. It will be her home.

"A dream home, " she says.

- - -

The house will be "done" in about a year, Aderhold says. But, really, it will never be done. There will always be more to do.

As it nears wholeness, it has started to take a back burner to Aderhold's other commitments, like the civic association and the drug alliance. But he's still at the house most weekends, puttering around on a project or unloading boxes from the house in Country Place.

Dowling can't wait to cozy up with a book in her new reading room. Her husband, she believes, is a different story.

"He talks about getting a hammock to sleep in for two weeks, " she says. "I'm going to sell tickets if that ever happens."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or 813 269-5303.

[Last modified May 3, 2007, 06:47:18]

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