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Artist's home to join tour

Kathleen Durdin sees old Florida houses through the eyes of an artist: soulful places creaking with the expected quirks of elderly relatives.

Durdin herself lives in a 1925 Dutch Colonial revival house on a quiet street tucked behind Bayshore Boulevard.

"I've lived in a 1930s row house and a house built in 1907," she said. "So when I saw this one I thought, "What the heck?' "

A realistic painter of everything from Florida landscapes to beach scenes, Durdin is president-elect of the Tampa Realistic Artists, a nonprofit organization that owns and operates the historic Old Hyde Park Art Center at 705 Swann Ave.

Durdin's painting of a hammock draped from the columns of a classic Hyde Park front porch graces the signs for the Fourth Annual Historic Hyde Park Home Tour on March 4.

"I painted it in a morning," she explains of her watercolor painting that reflects a feel for the homes in the neighborhood where she has lived since the late 1980s.

Her own house, which is included on this year's home tour, is one of only a handful of Dutch Colonials in the Tampa Bay area. The Dutch Colonial style was brought to America by German settlers in about the 1600s and is distinguished by its signature gambrel roof that makes the homes look a bit like barns.

Durdin, a 50-year-old management consultant, bought the house in 1988 and rehabilitated it with an eye on comfort and beauty. The three-story home, which had remained in the same family until 1983, was "a wreck," thanks to age and little updating over the years.

"The Realtor told me: "You're not going to want to look at that house,' " she recalls. "It was so bad that it was effectively a 1920s house that had never been touched."

The house was cooled by attic fans and had no air conditioning until the mid 1980s, she explains. "It still had all the original wiring and plumbing and a big old hanging porcelain sink in the kitchen."

With the help of a Tampa Bay interior architect, she knocked out walls and opened up the closed-in floor plan. She installed four sets of French doors and included a huge bay window in the master bath maximizing views to the exterior.

The house sits on a large lot with a pool, cabana and lovely views of Tampa Bay. Inside, it's filled with Durdin's extensive collections of everything from antique Irish China to Victorian sugar tongs and tea caddies. Though she collects with the expertise of a museum curator (her third-floor study is knee high, in places, with auction catalogs and historical reference books) her approach is whimsical and casual.

Antique china, her specialty, is displayed throughout in glass-front cabinets. Other collections include antique opera glasses, old maps, inkwells (still in boxes), a woman's vanity set from the back of a 1923 limousine that included a cigarette box, lipstick holder, mirror, clock and pen.

Durdin began collecting antiques as a child in Lakeland, where her mother was an artist and her father owned a car dealership. Every year she was given a special antique on her birthday - a carved bed, a set of handsome old chairs, a pair of mirrors - all of which she still owns. Hanging over the dining room table is a crystal chandelier her mother bought from a Worth Avenue thrift store in Palm Beach.

"She paid $50 for it in the 1960s," Durdin recalls. "That was back when you could still pick up finds in Palm Beach thrift stores."

In the light-filled great room off the sleekly designed kitchen - where some of the white enamel cabinets are shaped to mimic the gambrel roof - Durdin often unwinds by painting at her easel. The trappings of a painter's life - jars of brushes and newly finished canvases - will be on view when visitors tour the house in a week. She is also planning to raffle off her services, painting a portrait of the winner's home, to raise mon

ey for Tampa Realistic Artists and her neighborhood house tour.

The real focus, though, is her home, historic and rare as some of her collections.

"I love this house," Durdin says. "It's had its issues over the years, but it's a great house."