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HOMEOWNERS — Anita and Tom Castriota

COMPLETED — Late summer 2004

STYLE — French formal balance

LOCATION — 1-1/3 acres overlooking the 11th fairway on Avila Golf Course, a wetland area inhabited by blue herons, egrets, cormorants, ducks, and alligators

LIVING SPACE — 9,000 square feet

FAVORITE ROOM — The kitchen (“I love to cook!” says Anita) and the back porch when the weather is conducive to sitting outside; the kids vote for the media room

AT-HOME PASTIMES — Soaking in the spa, watching movies, and eating dinner as a family two or three nights a week

HOUSEBUILDING TIP — “Think about how you want to use the house, not just what you want it to look like”

Master Bathroom

Family Room


Master Bedroom

Building Consultant
Rob Heindorf
15024 Leithwalk Lane
Tampa, FL 33618

Carpentry Consultant
Gary Currier

Kitchen Design
Craftsman Manufacturing
David Johnson
16015 Nolen Road
Dade City, FL 33523

Indoor Trimwork
Tom Stonebreaker

Drapery Consultant
Seams and Such
1635-1 Land O Lakes Blvd.
Lutz, FL

International Granite
1842 Gunn Highway
Odessa, FL 33556

Faux Finishers
Michael and Linda Brookins
22848 Sterling Manor Loop
Lutz, FL 33549

TAMPA, FLORIDA — When the builder moved away early in the construction process, Anita Castriota seized the opportunity to step in as general contractor, assuming complete control over every aspect of design, construction, and ultimately, interior decoration.

Describing herself as a frustrated architect, Anita says she knew just enough to be dangerous. "This is the third house that I’ve been involved in building from the ground up. I started at age 26 on my own, then built a house for my family. We outgrew it, then started buying other people’s houses, and I wasn’t happy. I’d also done a commercial building in Pittsburgh as well as a horse-show barn. I like the design and building process, when it goes smoothly.”

For more than a year, Anita showed up at the building site every morning at 7:00, staying until 6:00 at night. “It was my job,” she says. “My foreman was involved from the ground up. We had very similar ideas about how things should be done. It was a good relationship.”

Anita had an inside track when it came to hiring skilled, dependable sub-contractors: she and Tom found them among their bank of business customers: stonemasons and bricklayers and cabinetmakers who’d bought cars from them. “They were people we already knew,” says Anita. “And we wound up knowing them even better!” At a time when other contractors had to wait three weeks for concrete, Anita would get it in a day. She and Tom had treated them well, and they were all too happy to return the favor. Anita soon became the talk of the local building industry: “Who is this woman, that she can get a house built better and faster than we can?”

But Anita just laughs. “I’ve always wound up in men’s professions!”


For years, the Castriota family had lived on a farm and raised horses. But the neighboring properties had become more and more commercialized, a nearby two-lane road had grown into an eight-lane highway, and Tom and Anita were feeling squeezed out. Besides, their teenagers were tired of the chores and the isolation.

It was time to move on.

“We decided to try another phase of our lives,” says Anita, “to live in a community where there were other children.” So she did her homework, taking into consideration such factors as resale value, security, and protection. “We wanted a good, safe investment,” she says.

"...I wanted a French formal house without going too overboard."

Her search led them to Avila, an older walled and gated community in a rural, wooded area of Tampa where guards stood watch round-the-clock.

There were plenty of recreational opportunities, too: a Jack Nicklaus golf course, six tennis courts, swimming pool, and clubhouse with dining and workout facilities.


“My mother was born in France,” says Anita, “and I wanted a French formal house without going too overboard.” Once again, she researched everything “to the Nth degree.”

Take the floors, for example. She wanted something different than everyone else had, and when she discovered that rosewood is harder than oak and cherry, she knew she’d hit on it. “Rosewood has a lot of beautiful pink and vanilla tones to it. It went perfectly with the house, and it was only a little more expensive.”

Anita brought that same discernment to the home’s exterior. “I went on a four-month hunt for brick after being told the brick I wanted had been discontinued. I looked on the Internet, and I kept going to brickyards, building little walls and trying to decide.” One day, she learned almost by accident that she could indeed get the brick she wanted — it was just a matter of paying the brick-making company to run a special batch: all 110,000 of them. “I ordered enough for the pool house, too. I love the colors, the beiges, grays, and tans.” Tumbled and oversized, the bricks have the look of old, old French.”


From design to finish work, the building process went on for over three years. Along the way, Anita went through three different architects. “They just didn’t get it. We simply didn’t have a rapport, and that’s so important when you’re trying to convey ideas to someone.”

Finding a kitchen designer proved equally frustrating. “I just couldn’t find one who understood what I wanted.” Emphasizing the need to find the best person for the job who’s also a good fit personality-wise, Anita says she wound up designing the kitchen herself, working hand-in-hand with a cabinet manufacturer who gave them exactly what they wanted.

“He custom-built the cabinets, and we developed the stain together. He was on the job to install them, not just in the kitchen, but all the cabinets in house.” Anita knew she’d chosen the right man for the job when he brought the bookshelves for the library, decided the stain didn’t match the coffered ceiling, and took everything home to redo it.

“It’s those kind of people I looked for,” she says. “The guy who did all the pillars, baseboards, and trim work was here for six months. He and I made the fireplaces out of scrap from the garage. He’d get excited about something, go home on weekends, and have four things he wanted to show me on Monday. “You just don’t find those kind of people anymore,” Anita continues. “They all tried so hard to please me. They were proud of their work, and they knew I appreciated it."

The foyer staircase has rosewood treads, cherry risers, and hand-forged balusters with cherry handrails. Shop Furnishings & Décor.

Anita carried her share of the load, and then some, hauling wood, bricks and pavers; covering all 9,000 square feet with cardboard and paper to protect the floors; getting people drinks; and, in general, doing everything in her power to make sure everybody was happy. So involved was she in the project that workmen occasionally mistook her for one of their own.


“The children are the center of our lives,” says Anita. “That’s why I designed the house the way I did. I wanted their friends to come here. Teens don’t want adults around, so the downstairs is mostly an adult area with master suite, while the upstairs is definitely for kids.”

Their domain has two bedroom suites, two guest suites, media room, even a billiard room with kitchenette. The media room seats 12, but with the furniture moved against the wall, it becomes a three-tiered sleeping area for overnights. The billiard room opens onto an upstairs porch that overlooks the pool, so Anita designed the railings to keep dogs from squeezing through and teens from jumping over.

“I accomplished what I wanted,” says Anita. “There may be seven girls spending the night here or twelve boys, or as many as 250 teenagers for an after-homecoming party. There’s someone here every weekend, and Sunday evenings there’s usually someone still here cooking with me in the kitchen. We know where the kids are and who their friends are, yet we’re not involved.”


Tom, meanwhile, got the office he’d always wanted but never had. A history buff and retired military officer, he has two corner TVs for watching CNN and FOX simultaneously, and display space for his swords and other military memorabilia. “We added a leather-top gaming table in case we need extra seating for sit-down dinners, or just somewhere different to dine. It’s a pretty cool room if you’re a guy.”

Anita’s room of choice is the kitchen. Her chief requirements were plenty of room and plenty of storage. “I wanted two or three people to be able to work in the kitchen at the same time. Or we might want to have a Caesar salad cook-off.” Supporting her love of cooking are a commercial refrigerator and freezer, three sinks, three garbage disposals, a six-burner stove with griddle, two waist-high ovens separated by a counter with warming drawer, two refrigerator drawers, dishwasher, a pot-filler, and a cabinet-model microwave that fits flush into the wall — “all of them made in America,” Anita notes.

In the office, the leather-topped poker table provides overflow seating for six at dinner
parties. Shop Home Care & Storage.

Equally dear to her heart is the butler’s pantry with extra dishwasher, oversized sink, ice and hot-water dispensers, microwave, and storage for all the items she uses for formal dinner parties. “It makes entertaining very, very easy and much more pleasant. Before, I never had enough room...everything was under beds and couches. Now it’s all right here.”


On top of designing and building the house, Anita decorated it, too, obtaining an interior design license that gained her entry to shops accessible only to the trade. “I did it all myself. I’d talked to designers, but they didn’t really want my input. And I wasn’t ready to relinquish control.”

For years, she had shopped for furnishings and appointments, knowing that one day she’d have the French house she’d always wanted. “I’d buy a piece of furniture for a particular room or a chandelier for the kitchen even before we’d sold the other house just because I liked them.” Her color scheme incorporated traditional French combinations of red and gold or blue and gold, though she leaned toward warmer reds for most of the house.

"I wanted two or three people to be able to work in the kitchen at the same time. Or we might want to have a Caesar salad cook-off."

Her initial plans for the family room evolved over time. “I first had the fireplace in the corner. It looked okay on paper, but was all wrong when we built it, so we moved it.” Looking for a casual, masculine touch to balance the feminine French formal, Anita introduced leather upholstery into the room. The original furniture — two angled sofas, two chairs, and an ottoman — seemed insufficient and was soon augmented with another sofa and ottoman. “We rearranged the whole room, and now it works wonderfully. You learn by doing!” When some lamps she’d ordered failed to please, Anita simply antiqued them. “I’m very hands on. I do a lot of things, just nothing well.”


Tom and Anita regularly open their home to friends. “We’ll have from two people to six to twelve, cooking for friends or old friends. Everything always revolves around food!” But it’s the family who enjoys most of their attention.

"Two or three times a week, we have family night. Nothing planned in advance, but something we announce during the day. We all stay home and have dinner together and talk.”

The four of them also watch a movie every week or two upstairs in the media room. The dogs come along, too, settling themselves into the first-row seats.

Anita says that no matter where the kids are, in the family room or out by the pool or upstairs in their rooms, they know they can almost always find her in the kitchen. “I’m here if they want to talk. They can call me on the intercom or on the phone. We only have a few short years left with them.”


Though there are a couple of things Anita says she’d do differently (she wishes she’d put a bath near the laundry room and super-sized the garage doors), she’s very much satisfied with the house — though it’s not quite finished.

"We’re always doing little things. Right now, we’re having a stainless steel awning made for the grill, putting male and female baths into the pool house, and adding storage room for the outside equipment. I feel like I keep the service industry employed!”

Anita is pretty sure she could coax a book out of all her funny and not-so-funny experiences putting the house together.

But it’ll have to wait — she’s already too busy building a lakeside vacation home for the family. “It’s a hobby that’s gotten out of hand,” she smiles.

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