From the moment she saw it, Frances Andrade longed for the apartment on the Hillsborough River. Just 700 square feet, it sits in a 1920s building surrounded by live oaks that frame views of the water and the forest green canoes ready for tenants to use.
Beautiful setting, tiny digs.
Andrade didn't flinch.
"I even waited a few months for it to be renovated,'' said Andrade, 31, an epidemiologist at the Hillsborough County Health Department.
The daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and a Honduran father, Andrade grew up in Ybor Heights. Her penchant for saving money and avoiding debt played into her decision to live at home during her 20s while she earned a master's degree in public health at the University of South Florida.
Her passion for decorating on a dime — well that's a family thing. Her parents own the Tropical Cafe and the Hidden Treasures Thrift Store along Nebraska Avenue in Tampa.
"I was definitely raised to thrift-shop," jokes Andrade, who set out to decorate her place with cheap but chic furnishings.
"I usually don't like to pay much more than $5 for anything," she says. Andrade typically combs the many thrift stores up and down Nebraska Avenue for treasures and sometimes ventures into other neighborhoods for used furniture and accessories. Her place has a look all her own: cultivated tropical shabby chic meets Cottage Living.
Because she loves to entertain (on Easter she hosted an egg hunt and meal for more than 30 members of her extended family) she bought two small farm-style tables as her dining/kitchen table. The mismatched pair can be pulled apart or pushed together, which is how she typically arranges them in her open kitchen space just off the entryway stairs.
"I was looking for the chipped paint look," she says of the tables, one of which, "a very, very old farm table," came from a local thrift store. The second she rescued from a neighborhood trash pile. She left it in its original condition, peeling paint and all.
A charming cluster of mismatched dining chairs are thrift store gems. Each cost $5 or less.
For Andrade, who buys most of her clothes secondhand, thrifting is a philosophy: "It's hard to explain; you really have to have it in you," she says. "If I do go into a regular store, I head right for the 70 percent off area."
For her, thrifting is "all about history and character.
"I like to get a feeling about something and wonder where it came from. I wouldn't be comfortable living in a brand new house, with brand new furniture."
Because the apartment is on the river beneath a canopy of moss-draped trees, Andrade has had to turn on her air conditioner only twice since renting the apartment earlier this year. "I turned it on only because I had a lot of company over on both occasions," she recalls. "My friends joke that I live like a missionary, and I really do. But it's how I love to live.
She keeps the windows open to the small deck decorated with a 1940s wrought-iron table and chairs and white twinkle lights. She can look out and see kayakers and canoers and the sightseeing pontoon boat from the Lowry Park Zoo. Across the river is the Sulphur Springs swimming pool, where Andrade, a serious athlete who enjoys beach volleyball and tennis, likes to swim.
On her first night in the apartment, Andrade kicked back on a small, moss-green upholstered sectional from her parents' thrift store and watched storm clouds gather.
"I had lit candles and was watching Roman Holiday on TV and it was really wonderful," she recalls. "The breeze felt great."
A handsome old chipped 1920s dresser on casters serves as a TV stand. She got it for about $10 at a thrift store. The store owner wanted about $25, so Andrade called in an aunt who loves to bargain to close the deal.
Andrade also makes use of discount stores. The flower painting over the sofa came from the Dollar Store. Her chic throw pillows all came from the Lifepath Hospice thrift store in South Tampa, which she says is her all-time favorite: "You never know what you're going to find there."
Her other favorite is the Salvation Army along Nebraska Avenue, where she finds a lot of her knickknacks as well as the hall tree she uses to display family photos.
The apartment's dark hardwood floors, earthy paint, cream-colored trim and airy white curtains complement Andrade's choice in furnishings.
"Frances has really embraced this place and made it her own," says Nikki Couture, a Seminole Heights interior decorator and owner of the Hollywood Apartments, where Andrade lives. Couture chose Sherwin Williams Relaxed Khaki paint and white curtains for the windows — her uniform choice in all of her rental units because the look works well with any decor.
Andrade's place "has a great feel — it's made for family and friends and it's very inviting, perfect for someone like Frances who loves to cook and entertain. The aura of the whole place is so nice; it really is her home."
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at ebettendorf@ hotmail.com.