DADE CITY — Each year, Filipe and Mary Antonio signed up for the Home and Garden Television Dream Home Sweepstakes, a competition in which winners move in to a specially designed luxury house.
"And we've never won," Filipe said with a chuckle. "What's up with that?"
But through a little serendipity they ended up with a different award-winning house, a Lake Jovita manse that clinched HGTV's Showhouse Showdown.
Here's how the show works: Two nationally recognized home designers get model homes with identical floor plans to decorate. They show off their design skills in five rooms. Then the doors open to neighbors and potential home buyers who vote on which house they like the best.
The Lake Jovita showdown featured two 5,200-square-foot homes with four bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths and a three-car garage. The decorating and filming took place in May and June 2011. The Lake Jovita episode began airing on HGTV last month.
Jason Champion, who was a finalist on the HGTV Design Star reality show competition, decorated the home on Carryback Drive. Highlights included an overhead display of classic clocks in the kitchen and a library that contained 4,372 books.
"I put every one of those books up myself," said Champion, a Sarasota-based designer who completed the entire design in two weeks.
Filipe and Mary Antonio were not among those who toured and voted on Champion's model home last year. The Miami-based couple bought the house in February, drawn to the area while visiting their son Phillip, a recent graduate of Saint Leo University (they also have a son named Nicholas). The Realtor told them the home had been in a design competition; they didn't know which home won until the HGTV show first aired May 18.
Winning was nice, but the real draw for the Antonios were the friendly people and lush natural surroundings they found in Lake Jovita.
"It's like living in the country, with the oak trees and the water," said Mary Antonio, 49, who finished the school year as a registrar at Westland Hialeah High School in Miami. She's now looking for a job in Pasco schools.
After considering a number of homes, the couple was drawn to the open kitchen, family-friendly living room and the regal appearance of the home's exterior.
"The outside reminded me of a castle," said Filipe Antonio, 55, who operates his business, Miami Data Communications, from the home's now famous library.
Vana Gulick toured the completed model homes at the invitation of HGTV; yet instead of casting a vote, she bought her favorite outright. Her home on Tradition Drive was designed by Marc Thee, co-owner of Marc Michaels Interior Design.
"It made a big impression," said Gulick, a retiree who shares her new home with her 13-year-old granddaughter, Sydney, a student at Academy at the Farm in Dade City.
"As soon as I walked in I saw a beautiful piece of driftwood on the entryway wall," she said, referring to an illuminated piece of wall art. "I also liked the colors used in the house, the casual, natural look, and the airy openness of the floor plan."
Gulick's home also comes with a library, where her cat Cosmo likes to lounge and where Gulick has arranged a wall display of family photos.
"One of the reasons I chose this home was because it had a nice room where my granddaughter could come and stay with me," she said.
"The house seems meant for me," she said with a smile.
The Showhouse Showdown experience was exciting for the entire Lake Jovita neighborhood, as residents watched the work being done in their midst.
"We were all very excited," said Marcia Russo, who toured the showcase homes with her husband, Ron. "We love HGTV and watch it all the time. Both of those homes were beautiful."
HGTV filmed residents touring the homes, although Lake Jovita resident Maria Kinney was glad the cameras didn't capture everything.
"It was so hot that day," she explained with a chuckle. "At one point I dumped a water bottle over my head in an effort to cool down, then I looked up to make sure no cameras had caught me in the act."
Although the name Lake Jovita was not specifically mentioned throughout the Showhouse Showdown program, residents appreciated the way the program highlighted their neighborhood, emphasizing its naturally preserved surroundings.
"It was a nice gesture to get some exposure out of it for the neighborhood," said Roger Melton, who toured the homes with his wife, Grace.
"Lave Jovita is our hidden gem," said Marcia Russo.