Cathy and Tim Simon sit on comfy cushions in wicker rockers on their big front porch.
The sun is behind their gray 1 1/2-story bungalow, but it's still pretty warm, especially for almost 7 p.m. A ceiling fan creates a welcome bit of a breeze and a can of insect repellent is in arm's reach for anyone being bugged by bugs.
Picture-postcard perfect Florida living.
The couple talk about how much they like living in Seminole Heights, the historic north Tampa neighborhood they have called home since 1996.
According to their research, the 1,960-square-feet house was built around 1913, and it's bigger than most on the block. The neighboring bungalows, painted in an array of colors, are about 1,000 square feet with two or three bedrooms and only one bath, Tim Simon said.
But they were determined to buy a house with three bedrooms and two baths. They found it.
Seminole Heights, a stone's throw (read: 15 minutes) from downtown Tampa, the airport, Raymond James Stadium and, according to the couple, just about everywhere else one needs to go, is serene and unpretentious. It's a place, the Simons said, where neighbors know and help neighbors. That's what they like the most about living there.
"We hang out on the front porch. That's how we socialize," Cathy Simon said.
And, all the neighbors apparently do the same thing. A recent two-block dog walk took an hour and a half (thanks to all the gabbing), she said.
Right then, as if on cue, a casually dressed man wearing sunglasses and bringing his own beverage appeared at the base of the porch steps.
"What's goin' on?" he asked.
The impromptu visit from the across-the-street neighbor typifies the lifestyle the Simons cherish. He lets the Simons park their boat in his yard and they take care of his dog during his long shifts as a firefighter. It's a "you got my keys and I got yours" kind of community.
Cathy Simon was living in Carrollwood and Tim in Riverview in 1996 when she found (and fell in love with) the bungalow. She knew she wanted an old house, and her soon-to-be husband liked it too. It was in move-in condition but the Simons yearned to give the house back its dignity by undoing remodeling that had been done over the years.
Bit by bit, piece by piece, the Simons ripped away the facades, finding treasures as valuable to them as dinosaur bones are to paleontologists. They removed a dropped ceiling and found beautiful arched 10-foot ceilings; they removed exterior asbestos shingles and found original clapboard; and they removed drywall and uncovered molded plaster walls.
They did most of the restoration work themselves but when it came to major renovation (a new kitchen), they called in the professionals. Great care was taken so that the transition between the old and new parts of the house is seamless.
And the best thing is, after eight long years, the remodeling is finally finished.
Or is it?
"When you have an old house, you're really never done," Cathy Simon said.
Patti Ewald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8746.