Home of the Month | February 2015

823 26th Avenue North

     …Where Friendliness and Fun Are Right Up Front

At Chania and Blake Allen’s place, visitors know they’ve reached friendly confines from the moment they peek through the wrought iron fence to glimpse the lovely courtyard and pool that enlivens their front yard. With a bright, friendly feel that carries throughout the beautifully decorated home, the creative front yard is just a hint of the clever notions and renovations these neighbors have implemented since they purchased the house about three years ago.

The house has a bit of a history of clever iterations. When it was first built in 1936, the first floor was simply a garage, with all the living space upstairs. Some time later, it was converted into a two-flat, with one apartment upstairs and one down. When the previous owners had their first child, they converted it again, into a single-family, two-story, two-bedroom house—a drawn out process that took something like five years to complete. When they added another child to their family, they moved to a larger home.

Enter Chania and Blake, looking for a place to live in “old Florida” during the weeks that they are here, instead of in their full-time residence of Toronto. Chania thought about Key West, St. Pete Beach, and several other places, but St. Petersburg gave her the feeling of Florida she was seeking. They began in the Old Northeast, but after offers on a couple of “real fixer-uppers” fell through, they “relented” and began looking west of 4th Street. Chania found this house through MLS, though their realtor initially worried that it would be much too dark. Back then, the front of the house was covered in foliage, with a shady, “Key West–style garden” that let little light into the house. In addition, an eight-foot wooden fence in front meant that people walking by could not even see what was on the property.

2015 02 DSC_0307When they moved in, Chania and Blake started by removing something like 30 trees from the front and cutting away much of the growth. They created a courtyard oasis, with a lovely pool. Although it is in the front, Chania notes that it still offers some privacy, because the house is set so far back on the lot, there remains a sort of “buffer” between the sidewalk and their lovely courtyard.

2015 02 reszie sunroomAs if adding the pool and courtyard were not enough, Chania and Blake next moved on to convert the sad sunroom on the side of their house into a multifunctional addition. They replaced the cement floors with tile, exchanged the leaky corrugated roof for actual construction, inserted a reclaimed mantelpiece, and added a bathroom at the back. The long room that runs along the west side of the house thus serves multiple purposes: an office for Blake, a pool room for the house, extra sleeping quarters for when the children and grandchild (and soon to be grandchildren) visit, and a pool bath that bathers can reach without having to track water over the wood floors in the rest of the house. Although the added bath is brand new, it features subway tile and a massive sink (all 450 pounds of it!) that makes it feel vintage. And to get to the bath, one walks through antique doors from India that the Allens required their contractor to simply build around.

The doors and the mantelpiece for the new room—along with much of the décor in the Allens’ house—came from local stores. Chania makes an active effort to shop locally and find secondhand treasures, noting that St. Petersburg has a remarkable amount to offer on that front, and for much more reasonable prices than she would find in Toronto. She should know: In Toronto, Chania works as an interior decorator. That much is clear from their home, which also features bright and cheerful artwork she has created.

2015 02 Living roomIn describing the renovations they have undertaken, all while spending the majority of their time in Toronto, Chania also brings the conversation back to the notion of friendliness. Without neighbors keeping an eye out on the renovations, she notes, they could not have done it. She received updates and pictures of the progress, and she relied on the great people living in the houses around her to make sure each step was coming along the way they had hoped. When they are back in Canada these days, even without any major projects going, she gets updates from neighbors who offer, “Hey, the pool looks a little low. Want me to run a hose for a while?”

It’s old Florida. It’s Crescent Heights—a place where a house with a friendly courtyard in front fits in just right.


—Elisabeth Nevins Caswell

Photo Credits: ©Chania and Blake Allen

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