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Restored gem on Old Northeast tour of homes invites oohs, aahs

ST. PETERSBURG

Life, as they say, is in the details, and Robert and Trisha Birkenstock didn't miss a single one when they embarked on a 2 1/2-year home renovation and addition.

The couple restored a 1908 foursquare farmhouse, converted to seven apartments in the 1940s, back to a single-family home that preserves tradition while ushering in state-of-the-art amenities. The home is one of eight featured on the Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood Association's 12th annual Candlelight Tour of Homes this weekend.

The house is one of the neighborhood's earliest, and the Birkenstocks, along with architect Michael Panetta, were careful to maintain its architectural integrity, leaving the original roof lines and window locations. The neutral color, elegant porch and understated facade blend beautifully into the historic neighborhood, but be prepared for a surprise when you walk through the front door.

Before you enter, imagine what greeted the Birkenstocks on their first sighting: a cramped entry closed off by the backside of a staircase and apartment doors on either side of long, dark hallway. Today, the gracious foyer boasts an 8-foot-tall bay door, a sweeping staircase bathed in sunlight and a breathtaking view of a three-story atrium at the opposite end of the hall.

The formal parlor and dining room at the front of the house are a nod to an earlier era, while the back of the house offers every modern convenience. As you tour, listen for the chiming of 12 grandfather clocks scattered throughout.

The north-facing glass atrium connects the home's original two floors with a new attic loft, a bright and airy space for Trisha, an amateur photographer. In the back corner of the house, once the home's original kitchen and sleeping porch, is a cozy entertainment room featuring custom built-in shelves in warm, dark cherry. The "gathering room" opposite the den was inspired by an antique bar Trisha found at an auction. The space incorporates the hall leading to the kitchen addition. Around the corner, a stately armoire, also known as "command central," conceals phones, answering machine, calendars and other tools that keep the Birkenstocks' busy volunteer and social lives on schedule. Under the staircase, an elaborate electronic system designed by Bob, a former senior executive with IBM, controls audio and lighting throughout the home. A new rear porch mimics the front and extends living space into a courtyard that connects a coach house, also rebuilt by the Birkenstocks.

The couple love to cook and entertain, and Trisha, a former kitchen and bath designer, outdid herself with the kitchen, where no stone was left unturned, quite literally. The granite pieces used for the cooktop back- splash were carefully chosen for movement strongly reminiscent of a flame. The cherry island and floors, brushed granite and painted white maple cabinets create a warm and bright space with thoughtfully planned spaces for both food prep/cooking and cleanup.

At the top of the newly built staircase awaits another spectacular view of the atrium and, at the front of the house, a floating staircase that leads to Trisha's loft. Readers will delight in a library with a sunny window seat and well-stocked floor-to-ceiling bookcases, including a Harry Potter-designated shelf guarded by a Hedwig look-alike. The master bedroom suite includes a laundry room, dressing room and gracious bathroom with a granite shower stall, sunken sink and grilled metal cabinet doors designed to echo those of a bedroom armoire.

When the Birkenstocks aren't enjoying their beautiful space, they often can be found visiting their two adult children and five grandchildren or sailing the Gulf or Atlantic coast. The couple covered 10,000 nautical miles aboard their Herreshoff 31 sailboat Freedom. These days, thanks to their vision brought to life, the Birkenstocks always look forward to coming home.

Wendy Nichols Clark is a freelance writer based in St. Petersburg. She can be reached at clarks1999@tampabay.rr.com.

. FAST FACTS

Holiday home tours

• The 12th Annual Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood Candlelight Tour of Homes will feature eight homes from 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday in St. Petersburg. Tickets are $20 and are available from 2 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Westminster Palms, 830 North Shore Drive NE, or at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 126 11th Ave. NE. (Part of the proceeds goes to the Pinellas County Coalition for the homeless.) Contact (727) 821-8997 or candlelight@honna.org or visit honna.org.

• The Holiday Sampler Home Tour in Tampa features 12 residences and three businesses in Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights. The tour is from 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday, with a wine and cheese part from 7 to 8 p.m. at the home of Susan Gott of Phoenix Glass Studio. Tickets are $10 at Sanctuary Loft Apartments, 502 E Ross Ave., or online at tampa

rotary.org/tickets. Proceeds benefit Rotary's Camp Florida for children with special needs. Details: (813) 988-5405.

Restored gem on Old Northeast tour of homes invites oohs, aahs 12/11/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 11, 2009 3:30am]

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