What do great global cities have in common? Outstanding architecture, arts, culture and a pleasurable lifestyle would all top the list. And significant residential architecture. Here in Florida, Miami and South Beach — with their hip art deco and sleek contemporary buildings — provide a stylish vibe and lifestyle.
Atlanta prides itself with mixtures of elegant classical homes, along with a wave of modernist architecture. Chicago boasts residences by famous architects Frank Lloyd Wright and his prairie style, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and his international style.
Los Angeles architecture ranges from Italianate to Spanish colonial to mission revival to Streamline. Even young Seattle boasts vogue mid-century modern dwellings and Pacific Northwest-style bungalows.
To be fair, the Tampa Bay area does have numerous historic commercial buildings that would certainly be deemed architecturally interesting: The Cuban Club in Ybor City, the Henry B. Plant Museum at the University of Tampa, the Tampa Theatre in downtown Tampa, and the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg. Commercially, new construction buildings include the Dalí Museum and Signature Place in St. Petersburg and the Florida Aquarium in Tampa.
Which private residences would make this list? The website ranker.com has a list of excellent Tampa residential and commercial architecture, with the majority of the homes located on Davis Islands and in historic Hyde Park. The Old Northeast and Snell Isle have some fabulous homes in St. Petersburg, while Belleair also has intriguing styles from different time periods. And of course, the beaches are dotted with architecturally captivating homes on or near the water.
As a luxury interior designer, specializing in new-home construction for 22 years, I have been working with clients who are building one-of-a-kind residences, with styles varying from coastal to Tuscan to contemporary. These clients typically value distinction and custom design, and therefore assemble a team of fine architects, interior designers, builders and artisans to successfully design and implement the vision of their "dream home." These homes are located throughout the Tampa Bay area.
But when you go online to look at typical local real estate listings (of all price points), or even drive down the streets of area neighborhoods, the Tampa Bay area's residential architecture has a distinctively common look. In many areas, monotonous 1960s block ranch-style homes are popular, with tile roofs and front-facing garages. Another common style is the overly mass-produced (and sometimes not well designed) "Mediterranean" style, which lacks the authentic Addison Mizner influence of Palm Beach, replaced instead by bad stucco jobs, faux stone and the repetitive orange terra cotta-style roofs. The roaring '90s also produced McMansions that were all about square footage and not good principles of design.
Now don't get me wrong. I understand that not everyone has the budget to hire a team for custom architecture and design. However, I strongly believe that good design can occur with any budget. But this takes creativity and ingenuity. And not settling for what everyone else is doing!
So what does this mean for Tampa Bay? Will we ever be mentioned in the same breath as some of these cities for our innovative architecture and design? Will we sponsor our own exhilarating house tours with cutting edge designs? Possibly. If there is a collective, renewed awakening in "new design possibilities" and not the status quo.
Michelle Jennings Wiebe, ASID, is president and principal designer of Studio M in Tampa. You can reach her at (813) 221-5260 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Studio M, go to interiorsbystudiom.com.