ST. PETERSBURG — Let's get the obvious thing about Villa Terranova out there first: It is big.
At 18,000 square feet, it's the new star in a waterfront neighborhood full of dazzling properties. The master bedroom suite alone, which accounts for one-tenth of the space, is more spacious than many single-family homes in the Tampa Bay area.
Why so big? Owners Jon and Suzanne Clements, who will soon move in with their 10-year-old son, Jack, say a house of this scale is what the property itself demands.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,'' Jon said of acquiring two lots with 380 feet of waterfront on Snell Isle Harbor. "We felt it was really important to put the right project on it. To do the job only 60 or 70 percent of the way would have been a dreadful mistake.''
Yes, the scale is grand. But Villa Terranova holds lots of inspiration for far smaller homes. You can check it out for yourself at the public tours being held for three weekends to benefit All Children's Hospital.
There is no show-stopper like a ballroom, a bowling alley, a putting green or even a home theater. What you will see is top-notch workmanship and expansive living areas with great water views from almost every room.
The Clementses have used text messages to find each other and Jack in the huge space, but figure that will pass.
"We've been here almost every day watching the process, and by now it really doesn't seem super large to us,'' Suzanne said this week amid a swarm of workers applying final touches.
"A lot of customers want a more formal look. We're very casual,'' she said, dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt, her white-blond hair a spiky tousle. "We wanted a warm, inviting and friendly home.''
The couple, who are both 48, are discreet about the house's value, which is not yet public record. But the property appraiser says the land alone has a comparable sales value of $2.4-million. Several nearby (much smaller) houses are on the market; their average asking price per square foot is more than $650.
So much for the math. On to the lessons of Villa Terranova.
1. Love where you live. Jon Clements' business is insuring American corporations and individuals abroad. His firm, Clements International, is based in Washington, D.C. But he's the boss, so the Clementses can live just about anywhere they like. Natives of Northern Virginia, they are avid boaters who've always loved the water.
"We found that Tampa Bay has the balance we were looking for. You're close to the city here, but it's still quiet, and so beautiful. We can bike to Vinoy Park in five minutes and see bands I used to pay $100 to see,'' said Jon, who in casual shirt, shorts and boat shoes looked ready to take in a classic rock show in the park.
Best of all, they say, are the people they've met. "We've only been here three years. But St. Pete is such a friendly place,'' Suzanne said. "We feel like we already have so many friends.''
2. Use what you've got. The Clementses and their builder, Windstar Homes, originally planned a house to fit just one lot. But they redesigned entirely to take full advantage of the waterfront when the lot next door became available too. That delayed completion and raised the price tag, but they consider it well worthwhile. Jon says the indoor-outdoor areas are his favorite in the home.
3. Know your builder. The Clementses hired Windstar, owned by onetime USF classmates David Lesser and Bobby Gross, after buying a spec home the company had built, also on Brightwaters. After two years of construction and close collaboration, they're still singing the praises of Windstar. Special circumstances, but a reminder to check out contractors thoroughly for even the smallest job.
4. Get the most for your money. The couple have owned six houses, one of which they built from the ground up. "To a great extent, we got this house by buying and selling real estate,'' said Suzanne, who has developed expertise in what makes homes great investments. Yes, location is key, but so is quality. Villa Terranova stresses workmanship over ornamentation. Check out the slick drywall (think about the smooth fondant on a wedding cake), the meticulous paint job and woodwork. Look up to admire the classic groin-vault ceiling of the first-floor gallery.
5. Know your inspiration. "We modeled this house after the kind of feel you get at the Ritz-Carlton — clean, crisp, inviting,'' Jon said after showing a visitor the beverage center with its two Sub-Zero refrigerators. "We want to feel we just came home to a resort,'' Suzanne added. Takeaway message: What can you do to evoke the feel of a place you love?
6. Experiment with color. Most of Villa Terranova sticks with a neutral palette of rich browns and beiges. Color touches stand out — like a rich turquoisey-blue in the master bath area (with its two-story tower, it alone is worth the tour) and a pop of orange drapes in a guest bedroom.
7. Plan for fun and function. The couple knew they wanted a sport pool for water volleyball, but came up with a design that also is great for laps and lounging.
Ten-year-old Jack has his own suite, though as yet it's not filled up with his gear. His bedroom boasts water views on two sides; there's another bedroom next door with two twin beds for sleepovers; and there's also a playroom that already has a vintage arcade game installed. His mom notes, however, that all the rooms are readily adaptable for any guests' needs.
The upstairs laundry room is near Jack's room too, so he'll no doubt be well versed in washing clothes by the time he's ready for college.
They decided against a home theater in favor of a club room with a billiards table and a TV lounge (including a 120-inch projection screen) with a bar area for casual meals. "We're social people,'' Jon said. "This is more useful to us than just a place to be quiet in the dark.''
8. Safety first. A state-of-the-art security system has cameras all over the property, recording images that can be seen from any TV in the house. Not for most budgets, but a reminder that investments in safety are always sound.
9. Small details have big payoff. If you have a cat, you'll understand why Suzanne had a cutout (cat-shaped, of course) made in a cabinet door in the downstairs laundry room (yes, there's another upstairs). The litter box stays out of sight but easily accessible.
In the mudroom, three drawers (one for each Clements) conceal electrical outlets in the wall for charging gadgets. No wondering where you've left that phone.
In Suzanne's office, rather than installing metal file-folder frames in the cabinets, she has inserted plastic filing boxes. If a hurricane threatens and the family has to evacuate, there's no last-minute panic to gather vital records. That's a hint that can fit almost any budget.
Charlotte Sutton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (727) 893-8425.