T. PETERSBURG — "You've got to be kidding."
Those were the first words out of Marianne Van De Vrede's mouth when her friend and business partner Dean Lampe showed her the small vacant lot in the Old Northeast.
She had been looking for a spot on which to build her "dream home" and, as a Realtor, understood the importance of having an open mind. But the lot was so . . . small, a mere 40 feet wide. And the concept was complicated by its being part of a wider parcel on which sat a tiny house, meaning she would need city permission to subdivide the property.
Of course, seeing the photographs here, you know the ending to this story: She bought the lot, built the house and plans to live happily ever after in it.
All that's just great. But the really interesting part of this tale belongs to the house itself and the creative energies and sweat equity Lampe and Van De Vrede expended to build something that was different but didn't appear to be so.
Lampe, 49, is a self-taught expert in old homes. A lifelong resident of St. Petersburg, he learned carpentry working in construction and began buying, renovating and selling houses about 20 years ago. It has been a full-time job for 10. He can't remember exactly how many homes he has worked on. He has also built a few from the ground up.
"Dean is great at imagining space," said Van De Vrede, 50, who met him four years ago after she moved to St. Petersburg from Seattle. They have worked together on several house projects.
This one, though, was special.
"I wanted it to be as 'green' as possible," he said. "But it had to fit into the neighborhood."
Lampe envisioned a bungalow with three bedrooms, two baths and about 1,500 heated square feet that would emulate the vintage 1920s and '30s homes up and down the street.
The exterior accomplishes that, with clapboard siding, shingled gable and a friendly front porch lit by antique bronze lanterns from an old railroad car. The difference in this hybrid is that the siding and trim are not wood but Hardie Board, a concrete composite that is termite proof, impervious to moisture and never needs repainting. The walls are built with 10-inch-thick insulating concrete forms, poured concrete reinforced with steel and covered with insulating foam, a material that has a high insulation rate and can withstand winds of 250 miles per hour.
"The block was about 20 percent more than traditional concrete block construction," Lampe said. "It was the most expensive adjustment we made. But the savings you get through lower insurance rates and long-term energy efficiency make it worth it. The power bills will probably be about two-thirds lower."
"And it would make a difference in resale," Van De Vrede said.
Step inside and you feel at first look that you are stepping into the past: dark wood floors and doors, high ceilings, transom windows.
Then the completely unexpected: exposed commercial duct work in a deep bronze running the length of the shotgun hallway. Is the bungalow suddenly going loft on you?
"This was not unusual when air-conditioning was first invented," Lampe said. "You'd see it in the first businesses and homes that were retrofitted for air-conditioning, the ducts not refined or insulated."
"I loved the idea the minute Dean suggested it," Van De Vrede said.
She took the ducts to an auto body shop and had them painted a custom color to match the antique bronze details through the house.
It's more than a quirky historic touch. Keeping them in full view means that the ceiling height isn't compromised by soffits.
The kitchen, though not large, feels spacious, open to the rest of the house on three sides and brightened by a window on the fourth. Van De Vrede didn't try to mask its contemporary feel. She chose environmentally friendly cork for the floors, bamboo for the cabinets and PaperStone, made with recycled paper and petroleum-free resin, for the countertops. It has the appearance and density of poured concrete, with a rich chocolate sheen she had inlaid with strips of bamboo.
Even in this most modern kitchen, though, you are not far from the past. Next to it sits a rare carved walnut server with marble top from the early 1900s.
"I was originally going to put it in the living room but it would block the windows," Van De Vrede said. "And I love coffee."
Lampe created a small, arched niche with tumbled slate tile, wired for a light and equipped with a brass water spigot, above the marble. The server now looks as if it had been built for the space and is called the cappuccino bar.
The bathrooms have the same past-present narrative. New tile and wood flooring that looks old. Old bronze fittings that look new. Old pieces, such as a wooden medicine cabinet fitted into the wall, that look, well, old. That narrative is most dramatic in the master bath. Lampe modified an antique buffet for the vanity with copper sinks and granite. It looks as if it had been built that way. The room is bracketed by an old claw-foot tub and glass shower that has a sauna. A solar heater provides the hot water and steam.
Van de Vrede didn't overfunction on the bungalow vernacular in her decor.
"I thought I would have to hire a decorator, but Dean said, 'Watch this house decorate itself,' and he was right," she said.
Much of the art depicts angels and mermaids, her favorite symbols, bought during her travels. The family room by the kitchen has a tropical motif with bamboo flooring and pineapples woven into an area rug and pillow fabric. She loves antiquing, both in shops and on eBay, and found many of the house's old accessories that way, including a lovely art deco lamp hanging above the dining table.
Lampe, too, loves a good scavenger hunt. Most of the 7-foot-high doors came from the attic of a friend's 1918 house that had been updated. The wood on the small screened deck at the back was salvaged from another friend's job site.
"A lot of what I learned about conservation has been through volunteering on construction with Habitat for Humanity," Lampe says. "They have to be efficient and don't waste anything."
The energy-efficient construction also meant that the house needed only a 2-ton air-conditioning unit instead of a 3 1/2-ton unit a similarly sized house would need.
Lampe and Van De Vrede estimate that a typical consumer would pay about $200 per square foot for a house like this. They did it for about $145, including contractor's fees, because they have worked with many of their suppliers before and were able to make deals. Lampe, in addition to designing the house, acted as superintendent and worked with the framing crew.
"People stop and ask us about the renovation," Lampe said. "They think this is an old house we restored, not a new one. That's the biggest compliment I could get."
Lennie Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8293.