On an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday in September 2006, drivers on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge saw something so strange floating up Tampa Bay, many of them pulled over to look. A big, old, Victorian-style blue house — three stories, 5,000 square feet, weighing 220 tons — was headed up the bay on top of a barge pushed by a tugboat.
The house was Lamb Manor, the 1910 home of Asa Lamb, a Mississippi banker who settled in Palmetto. The home had fallen into disrepair in the 2000s, and a developer wanted the land for a condo tower. At the same time, a wealthy Winter Haven couple with some empty land in Ruskin were looking for their next big project.
When they arranged Lamb Manor's audacious bay-crossing, George and Nancy Corbett thought it would take them a year or two, maybe three, to restore the home. It took 71/2 years, and today they will open the doors to their finished home that overlooks the Little Manatee River. They'll also welcome back some of the people who helped them along the way.
The house looks considerably different than it did 2006. It's no longer blue, although what to call the current color is a subject of debate. George says green. Nancy says yellow. They've settled on "celery."
The Corbetts, both 66, added a new first floor, making it a four-story, 7,500-square foot home. Inside are 25 rooms, five fireplaces, and design flourishes both classic and modern. Perhaps no piece of furniture better captures the dichotomy than an 1800s oak armoire in the kitchen. Inside it? The refrigerator.
"Nobody likes to look at a fridge," Nancy Corbett explained as she opened, then closed the armoire's doors Friday afternoon.
George Corbett worked in real estate, among other things, and he and Nancy have been restoring homes since they married in 1976. Their first was a 2,400-square-foot house in Homestead, and Lamb Manor is their seventh.
The Corbetts split their time between Ruskin and Lake Toxaway, N.C., where they own and operate a retreat for Baptist ministers. When not at either home, they are often on the road antiquing. They have a 26-foot RV, and they've filled it and emptied it multiple times in the last seven years with decorative items for the house.
"We like old things," Nancy said.
All told, restoring Lamb Manor cost the Corbetts about $1.9 million, they said, although that does not include how much they spent to move it. (George is still honoring a deal he made with the movers in 2006 not to disclose the price, however it was rumored then to have cost $250,000.)
"It's not about the money," George said. "This is what we like to do." They've enjoyed meeting all the people over the years, the workers who helped move the home, the carpenters who could work the old wood, the lady who made all the drapes after Nancy told her, "I'd like it to be very Gone with the Wind."
"A lot of people have hobbies," Nancy said. "This is ours.