TAMPA — John Buckley is known as a serious cook around his historic, tree-canopied neighborhood. His appreciative audience members — all mostly under the age of 10 — give top marks to his chocolate chip cookies, shepherd's pie and, of course, pizza. • "Just last week our daughters had some friends over and he made little pizzas with them in the kitchen," says John's wife, Deana, an optical sales rep who likes to joke about her own lack of culinary skills. "He had them twirling the dough and rolling it into balls. Then he grilled the pizzas on top of the stove." • The Buckleys gave more thought to their kitchen than to any other space in their home. John loves to cook. Deana's a design buff. • Their newly refurbished kitchen is one of eight spotlighted on this year's Old Hyde Park Kitchen Tour on Nov. 8. The tour is your passport into the gracious old homes along Edison Avenue and surrounding streets in this South Tampa community. The tour is easily walkable, with plenty of parking at nearby Wilson Middle. Neighborhood children, including the Buckleys' daughters, Casey, 6, and Drew, 9, will sell lemonade at stands along the sidewalks. The popular event, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., lets visitors see the kitchens and gardens of the featured homes, all built between 1915 and 1925.
"This year's tour has all old homes with beautiful kitchens that spill out into gardens," says Deana, who is tour chairwoman. The Buckleys, who bought their two-story, 1924 house in 2005, wanted to live in one of Tampa's most kid-friendly — and highly prized — neighborhoods. Like St. Petersburg's Old Northeast, Hyde Park is within walking distance of Hillsborough Bay, shops, restaurants and seasonal art fairs. Bounded by Swann Avenue, Bayshore Boulevard, Rome and Brevard avenues, it's a pop-up book of historic architectural styles and front porches that people really use.
"Our neighborhood is such a great neighborhood, such a special place because you can walk everywhere," Deana says. "And we all strongly believe in restoring these homes, because they're all we have left."
Though the Buckleys' 3,400-square-foot house already had its graceful front porch and charming little in-ground swimming pool when they bought it, the place needed a serious overhaul. Gutting the kitchen came last, Deana jokes, "because we had to address more serious necessities like bathrooms."
The kitchen renovation, which lasted four months, maintained the home's historic integrity while updating the living space. The kitchen includes an 18- by 20-foot workspace that flows into a separate dining area with a built-in buffet, computer center and a small refrigerator and freezer for entertaining. The whole area opens up to the garden, a poolside retreat with a pergola-covered seating area and whimsical brass sculptures of the Buckley girls (including one of Casey holding a pet toad).
"We went through a lot of pain to get exactly what we wanted," Deana explains of the kitchen/living area that is both elegant and user-friendly. "I wanted white marble on the counters because it reminded me of Parisian pastry shops."
The dark, wide-plank hardwood floors are Brazilian tiger wood chosen to "tone down all the white." The kitchen was also built to be rugged and easily cleaned, durable enough to withstand bands of neighborhood children and the family's menagerie of pets. In addition to a fat calico cat and Oakey the terrier mix, there are three fire-bellied toads — Finnie, Munchie and Smallie — that Casey likes to carry around.
The kitchen's focal point is a center island made of distressed walnut, custom-built by a company in Atlanta. It's outfitted with a sink and storage for cookbooks and surrounded by tall, cushioned stools that the littlest cooks can work from comfortably. The surface is the kitchen's primary worktop, where John and the girls made after-school chocolate chip cookies one recent afternoon. Both girls enjoy helping out in the kitchen and have their own sets of well-used, brightly colored — and easy-grip — measuring cups, rolling pins and work mats.
John, 42, who works in medical sales, grew up the youngest of six kids in Philadelphia. "I learned to cook from my mother, but it didn't really evolve for me until I was on my own and had a real stove."
Deana and John, who met when they were in their early 20s and fresh out of college, joke that they've lived with some pretty bad kitchens over the years. This time, John got just what he wanted, including a commercial-grade, six-burner gas stove with a faucet for filling pots: "We were surprised at how much we really do use it," John says.
Like many other homeowners on this year's kitchen tour, Deana and John will be on hand to talk about their home.
On the walls of the Buckleys' dining room hang old black-and-white photos of Deana's grandparents. Tuffy and Grace Genders were trapeze artists with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
The daring duo "were fliers — not catchers — and very proud of that," Deana, 41, explains. Her grandfather went on to become the general manager for the circus' North American operation and traveled in his own private Pullman train car. The head from the tiger rug that decorated his train car now hangs on the Buckleys' dining room wall. Tuffy's well-worn Ringling train-car step serves as a small side table on the patio.
The highlights and history of every house will be provided with each tour ticket, says Deana, and several local interior decorating companies as well as shops like Magnolia and Pottery Barn Kids will provide extra decorating touches.
Says Deana: "It's really a nice way to spend a really enjoyable day and get some decorating ideas for your own kitchen and garden."
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at email@example.com.