1. Archive

"Moontide' a treasure for artistic couple

Jill and Rocky Marcus may well live in one of the most romantic houses ever built.

Their 1940s era-concrete block ranch whispers of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Far East. It boasts three fireplaces, built-in garden sculpture and its own moat traversed by wooden foot bridge.

But that's just the icing.

"Oh, the view!" exclaims Jill Marcus, of the house known as "Moontide Isle" among residents of this historic Florida river town.

"The view, the view, the view!"

Indeed, Moontide is all about view, visible from every angle of this small-but-charming home that sits on its own tiny island in the Pithlachascotee River. The view is best described as panoramic, even wrap-around, and on a sunny fall day when the river sparkles and the sky is the color of Blue Willow china, you might actually get carried away and call it poetic.

"I loved this house from the minute I saw it _ I knew right away it could be great," Jill says.

The 1,700-square-foot Dijon-colored house with Chinese red trim came with a quaint guest cottage, a pool, a dock and an outdoor terrace that allows visitors to sit in the shade of a graceful old yew and drink in the painterly landscape.

Built in 1946, Moontide didn't always look this fetching. Though surely a beauty in its youth, it had fallen into disrepair and was probably viewed by some people as a teardown. The structure had no garage and looked wan from a bad paint job and lack of landscaping. And, Jill points out, there was another concern, too, a big one, one that surely scared away some prospective buyers: flooding.

"It's the only house I've ever known of that came with its own sandbags," Jill recalls.

The couple, who bought Moontide in March 2002, promptly raised the sea wall 18 inches, changed the exterior and interior color scheme and planted a plethora of thick, fast-growing bamboo. Inside, they maximized the view by leaving the windows bare in every room except the bedroom. The living room takes the breath away with its red walls and eclectic decorating scheme that includes sensuously curved rattan chairs (one is a $15 thrift store find), an iron daybed Jill bought at Bloomingdales in 1971 and an antique French cognac poster she purchased years ago while traveling in Paris.

"I don't think too hard. If I love something, I make it work," she explains.

A wide, low cocktail table meant to resemble a bed-roll frame friends had seen in Hong Kong was actually made from a garage-sale dining room table that "Rocky just sawed the legs off of."

And she's wise enough to know when to leave well enough alone, like the front door with its hammered tin shore bird and palm tree design, or the original mint and forest green bathroom with its built-in vanity and green glass tiles.

Red, geometric iron gates that lend the house an Asian feel were not only kept intact, but duplicated.

Instead of giving the kitchen an expensive makeover, the couple stayed true to its original style by keeping the green Masonite ceiling, which Jill calls "the 50s diner look" and copying the sleek, original cabinets. In the tile mosaic backsplash, she included buttons from her grandmother's button box, reminders of her grandfather's days as a dress salesman in New York's garment district.

Throughout the house, new red ceramic tile mimics the fence and the matching red patio outside. Jalousie windows in the living room open with an easy tug and were allowed to remain because they enhance the view and coax in the Florida breezes.

In the dining area, Jill painted the walls chartreuse and upholstered the chairs in tropical 1950s bark cloth. She deliberately preserved the red and green concrete tile floor that she believes was part of the original porch.

"No one could believe I was keeping the floor, but I felt it was important," she says.

At 55, Jill is an artist, Realtor and interior decorator, whose business, Tweak, specializes in room re-arrangement for people who don't want to replace what they already own. She loves hippie bedspreads and finds thrift stores thrilling. Her paintings and collages hang throughout the house, including one where she incorporated vintage rhinestone brooches.

Rocky Marcus, 58, who holds a degree in advertising and design, works as a finance manager for Dick Norris Buick in Palm Harbor.

They have two grown children who live nearby, one baby granddaughter, three dogs, three cats and a duck.

The family moved to Florida from Long Island in the early 1970s, settling in the Fort Lauderdale area. For awhile they lived in South Florida horse country, on a swatch of natural property along a dirt road in what was known as Plantation Acres. When they decided to move to Palm Harbor, they found a house on a wooded acre just "seconds" from U.S. 19. The problem was the bright-orange, Brady Bunch-era kitchen that turned most buyers off.

Not the Marcuses.

They just painted the cabinets, and what a difference it made.

"We're not rich people," Jill explains. "We're just very arty and love to find new places that are run down or have orange countertops and that might scare other people away. We've always lived in places that other people had a big reason for not buying. Every house has been an art project for us."

At Moontide, they gave the guest house a true, whitewashed cottage feel, with blue and white linens, shabby chic furniture and Jill's collection of blue and white china mounted on the walls. Old photos of Cypress Gardens water skiers and family members basking in their swimsuits during the 1940s, lend the living room what Jill calls a "bathing beauty" theme.

The old adjoining pool cabanas once had separate doors for guys and girls, something that still intrigues Jill, who is researching the history of the house. She hopes that anyone with information about Moontide will contact her.

No doubt the original owner was wowed by the magnificent, one-of-a-kind river view, too.

Hourlong visits quickly meld into two. It's tempting to linger, sip a glass of iced tea, and slip under the spell of Moontide.

"Most people would have walked in, seen the sandbags at the door and said, "that's a teardown," she says. "I saw an architectural gem that needed some loving."

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at