WESLEY CHAPEL — For drivers on Interstate 75, it's tough not to notice the 15,000-square-foot mansion facing traffic just north of the State Road 54 interchange.
For seven years passersby have wondered about the palatial property with a prominent symbol of om above the front balcony. But owners Indravadan and Nita Patel were unaware of any public curiosity about their 22-acre homestead and its Hindu tribute to the divine.
"I suppose we're not out with the American community enough," said Nita, 49.
During construction in 2007, the Patels brought their furnishings from India then designed the house to accommodate them. The result: Everything appears perfectly placed.
A scholar of Indian scripture, Ramesh Mehta, consulted on the right position for the front door and kitchen.
"When you enter and face to the east, there is positive energy," Mehta said. "It is to achieve a good and peaceful mind."
Aside from large windows and spare walls, the design does not follow traditional Indian principles of architecture. Instead the Patels chose the Hindu Gujarat style, traced to 13th century temple motifs, with balconies, niches and ornamentations. The naked landscaping is deliberate and the family is not bothered by constant highway traffic.
"I ask my husband so many times for plantings," Nita said. "But he doesn't want to put roots under the house."
The foyer, living room, and north window are close to 30 feet high with flowing, sparkling window treatments. Toward the rear, the family room is cozier and connected to the kitchen like many contemporary layouts. Wall units are lighted and fitted to hold family treasures. The intimate dark blue formal dining room feels small by comparison.
Metal statues lead up the marble staircase with wood and wrought iron balustrades. On the second floor, there's a loftlike feeling with an open carpeted space. Nita reserves it for their three children's video games and basketball pit.
Five bedrooms, all with balconies, surround this area with cross breezes between western and eastern terraces.
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As newlyweds in 1987, Indravadan, who goes by Indu, and Nita emigrated from India and purchased a gas station in St. Petersburg. Working 17-hour days, they sold the store in 2002 and purchased the Wesley Chapel property for $264,000.
They also opened two new food stores in St. Petersburg named for their daughters: Suhani, 24, a finance major at USF, and Sneh, 21, who is studying political science and preparing for law school at the University of Florida. Shyam, their 13 year-old son, attends Weightman Middle School.
One year after moving into their dream home the extended family suffered a terrifying setback. On Dec. 1, 2008, Narenda Patel, one of Indu's seven brothers, was shot three times during an armed robbery. Seventy two hours later Indu, too, would be fighting for his life.
"The day Narendra was discharged ... Indu was brought in from another shooting," Nita said. "He was in ICU for three weeks and we didn't know he'd make it."
Indu survived, going back to work with a bullet still lodged in his abdomen and compromised blood circulation to his leg. According to Maj. Michael Puetz of the St. Petersburg Police Department, the two assailants were apprehended.
Six years later, Nita is still working with her husband at the store four days a week from 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
"It's why we've been successful," she said, "very hard work."
Nita admits that the house is "now feeling too big" as she does all the cooking and housekeeping. Yet they feel safe and frequently entertain. Their annual five-day New Year's celebration is highlighted by the Satyanarayan Puja to Lord Krishna. Performed in the private family temple, it is a shared sacred ritual to remove obstacles and offer gratitude.
These days Indu, 51, is re-grouting the terraces, including one that will overlook a planned swimming pool. Other future projects include completion of a three-level home theater and the installation of an elevator.
Outside there are several exotic fruit trees in pots, waiting to be transplanted.
"I guess when they're ready ... I hope we'll start the landscaping," Nita said.