When Suzanne and Leon "Bud" Little bought a former 1930s fishing camp on Saddleback Lake, people thought they were crazy.
Yes, the Old Florida cottage on a little more than 2 acres of majestic oak trees and 158 feet of lakefront in Lutz looked like a painting by the landscape artist Beanie Backus.
But, oh, the house cried out for help.
"At that time, the house was looking pretty rough," their daughter, Suzanne Mizsur-Porter, said of the house on Crenshaw Lake Road. "But they took one look at it and immediately knew they could turn it into a truly unique and beautiful home."
The Littles, who, as Suzanne likes to joke, were "serial renovators," bought the Saddleback Lake lodge in 2001 after spotting it in a homes and land guide.
They added on to the original structure, taking it from 2,000 to 4,000 square feet, but did so in such a way that it maintained its cozy lodge feel. Part of the original house is made from logs and features wood ceilings and walls, exposed timbers and a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace.
Last week, a film crew from home show Designing Spaces, which airs on Saturday mornings on the Learning Channel, visited the lodge to film a segment on how people can find their dream home on the Internet.
Suzanne recently put the house on the market after Bud, the longtime former general manager for Infinity of Tampa Bay, died unexpectedly this summer of complications from diabetes. The three bedroom, 21/2 bathroom, 4,200-square-foot home is for sale for $1.4-million.
"I remember the day I pulled out some paper napkins over lunch and drew the plans out," she recalls. "We wanted a great family home, something that wasn't cookie-cutter and had a lot of character."
Those rough sketches, which enlarged and updated the house, were fine-tuned by an architect.
Now, the dreamy lodge has lakefront views from every room, high ceilings and large comfortable rooms that feel perfectly in-scale. Though the Littles doubled its size, creating both formal and casual living spaces, the house looks a lot like homes you'd see in North Carolina mountains, Suzanne says.
It's the one place, Bud used to remark, where "his blood pressure dropped 30 points" the minute he set foot on the property.
The Littles weren't much into fishing, but their lakefront perch attracted friends who were fishermen. And anyone who had been in doubt when the couple first bought the lodge now comes away enchanted.
The house earned a national television gig after Designing Spaces approached Prudential Tropical Realty. Out of the thousands of listings in the region, the firm chose the Little's property for the show.
"I was really happy about it, enthralled," she says. "I thought, 'Oh, my husband would have been like a little kid, calling everyone and saying 'Is your house going to be on TV?' "
Although it breaks her heart to part with a place so beautiful, she says she was thrilled when she was approached about having her house featured on a home-design show. She credits her good eye, passion for design and ability to look beyond a property's surface blemishes when looking for a house to renovate. She also credits Bud's hard work and hands-on skills.
"We always bought houses nobody wanted," Suzanne recalls with a laugh. "I remember walking into one house in particular as people were leaving in droves saying it was the ugliest house they had ever seen. We bought it."
The original fishing cabin was built in 1936 by the Sierra family from Tampa, says Realtor America Carlson.
Carlson will make a scripted appearance on the show. Suzanne will also appear on camera. She'll be working on her computer during the segment, says producer and director J.C. Summerfield.
Suzanne spent days making sure the house and grounds looked great, tending to flowers and fretting about how to handle the family's overly friendly golden retriever while a camera crew bustled about.
"I want people to feel the physical beauty and the serenity of the home and property. It's an awesome place," she says. "Someone recently said to me, 'If you're going to go to a fishing camp, this is the place to come.' "
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at email@example.com.