WESLEY CHAPEL — Eric Darius isn't the kind of guy to go for an MTV crib or a McMansion in Miami.
The jazz saxophonist, who just released a CD, Goin' All Out, on the Blue Note label, is pretty conventional when it comes to home buying and decorating.
At 25, he owns a 2,500-square-foot home in a quiet subdivision in Wesley Chapel.
The really cool part? He bought it when he was 23.
"I'm a really down-to-earth person and I just wanted to live comfortably. I wanted a house that I could call home," recalls Darius, who has released four national CDs and performs all over the world with his six-member band. "I thought about renting a condo on the beach, but I could never underestimate the importance of investing and owning my own home."
On the outside, his taupe and white house looks much like all the others on the block: trim, peaceful, private. Inside it's warm and inviting, decorated by Darius, a Renaissance man and graduate of Blake High School for the Performing Arts in Tampa (where he was also an honor student and a serious athlete).
Though he began playing the saxophone at age 9 — after being inspired by a musician at his family's church in North Tampa — he also has a strong visual side.
His decision to buy a house in the burbs is probably the best one he ever made, he says. It allowed him to exercise his visual side by decorating every single room: down to the ocean-blue guest bedroom and the handsome electric fireplace in the living room.
"I wanted a house that was a decent size, but nothing overly big," explains Darius, who picked the lot, the four-bedroom Pulte home model and the floor plan.
"It was just a dirt lot at first. It was really an exciting process for me to design a home from the ground up."
He likes to watch HGTV, read architectural magazines and tour model homes when he has the time.
He chose all the home's paint colors, furniture, flooring, art and accessories: cherry wood floors in the living room, earthy-beige tile in the family room. Olive-oil-bottle wallpaper and granite countertops decorate the kitchen; ceramic vases work with artwork and throw pillows.
"Sometimes after being on the road for a week, I would come home and literally stay up until 3 or 4 a.m. painting the walls and assembling furniture," recalls Darius, who likens personalizing his home to making music: Both start with a blank canvas.
When it comes to designing a home, he says, "I have my own way: Kind of contemporary, kind of traditional. I'm in between."
Darius, who grew up in Lutz and has a large extended family in the area, chose to make his home in the Tampa Bay area to stay close to his roots. As a national recording artist, he could easily make his home in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, places he tours a lot. But he stuck close to home and chose Wesley Chapel, he says, for its newness and its proximity to North Tampa, where he grew up and where his family still lives.
He also has another reason for staying: He's working on a bachelor's degree in business from the University of South Florida. He chose business, he said, because of its importance for a creative person managing his own career.
"A long successful career (in music) takes knowledge of business," he says. "It can determine the length and success of a career."
Darius lives alone with Miles, his Welsh corgi (named for legend Miles Davis) and a calico cat, Roxie. He loves to cook, particularly Caribbean cuisine — his dad is from Haiti and his mom is from Jamaica.
He's on the road at least 200 days a year, and when he's home, he likes to invite his brother and sister over for a meal.
He says visitors expect his house to be decked out in jazz paraphernalia and are surprised to find out it's not. Though he loves jazz collectibles, he limits them to what's precious and meaningful, like a small bronze statue of himself playing the saxophone, a gift from his father.
The location is convenient, he says, only 30 minutes from Tampa International Airport ("people think Wesley Chapel is far — it's not!"), and the house provides space for a small, state-of-the-art recording studio where he can work at 3 a.m. if the muse calls.
The best part?
"I can wake up in the middle of the night, get out of bed and grab my recorder (a digital voice recorder). Then I can run back to my studio and mess with the idea."
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.