Home of the Month | March 2016

A Gem of a Home, Not So Hidden After All

Sometimes the renovations to a Crescent Heights home are attention grabbing and impossible to miss, like when neighbors put on a new front porch or build an addition or plant a massive palm in their front yards. And sometimes the improvements are a little more subtle, hiding from plain view. But even in this latter case, neighbors notice and appreciate all that homeowners do to make these streets beautiful and friendly. That’s evidenced by this issue’s home of the month—nominated by another family for being a perfect example of how Crescent Heights members strive to be great neighbors.

Specifically, the nomination asking that Michelle and Dan Sargeant’s home be the next home of the month noted how they had recently repainted the exterior and greatly improved the landscaping. Those details certainly have made the cozy two-bedroom house prettier and more appealing from the curb.

3-16 front of house

But what the family has done inside—and what they plan to continue doing—is just as lovely. As Michelle explains, from the start, she took a creative approach to life on 26th Avenue. She purchased the house in 2009, even before she met Dan. At the time, there were so many homes in the area in which the owners were underwater that she actively considered, she estimates, about a dozen short sales during a nearly two-year search. The first time she saw her house, she crossed it off the list of possible purchases because her furniture wouldn’t fit. But the second time she saw it, Michelle realized that she could switch things about, moving her dining room table to the front, enclosed porch. Doing so meant that the nook off the kitchen could feature a perfect fit: a butcher block cabinet that aligned perfectly both with the existing décor and the space. Once the furniture found the right rooms, moving in became a no-brainer.

3-16 cabinet

Already loving the house and St. Petersburg, Michelle soon met Dan. They worked for the same international firm, but whereas Michelle was assigned to its Tampa headquarters, Dan worked in the office in the Philippines. After they got married, they took off on an adventure, with a base in the Philippines but trips to cities all over Asia: Singapore, Bangkok, and Bali (Michelle’s favorite), to name just a few.

While they were gone, for the first few years, family members took care of the place. In 2012, the Sargeants started renting out their house. By the time they returned in 2014, they found that their charming 1936 house needed a bit of TLC. Outside, they redid a collapsed fence in the backyard, transformed the dirt yard into a grassy pasture, and added decorative beds to enhance the interest of the space. As mentioned, they painted the exterior, and they replaced virtually every exterior door in the house.

Inside, they patched and fixed the walls, prompting Michelle to explain that she has been hesitant to hang much art. The spare canvas of the walls thus highlights some beautiful decorative touches, like a functional wall hanging of cutting boards and a side table that holds local seashells and a wedding portrait.

3-16 wall hanging

The portrait is also significant for its link to Michelle’s in-home business. While in the Philippines, legal regulations prevented her from working locally. But Dan also had purchased a nice camera, and as Michelle jokes, he used it a few times before putting it aside. Looking for something productive to do, Michelle began learning about photography—both the art and the science that underlies modern developing techniques.

By the time the Sargeants returned home in 2014, Michelle had expanded her repertoire and determined the kind of photography that called to her: women’s couture and fine art portraiture. Her company provides what Michelle considers a necessary service: “Every woman should have at least one beautiful portrait of herself when she looks her best,” she asserts. “I would give anything to have a beautiful portrait of my mother.”

In support of her growing business, the second bedroom in the Sargeants’ house features backdrops and portrait supplies pushed to the side. But the master bedroom is a suite, with a sitting area that serves as an office, along with a set of double closets, then another closet in the main bedroom area.

3-16 bedroom

The master bedroom thus is sizable, but Michelle and Dan have another plan for where they will lay their heads. In what is, in Michelle’s words, “the coolest thing in the house,” a bookcase in the main living room slides on a track to reveal a staircase leading to the attic. It remains unfinished for now, but someday, they hope to finish it off as a luxurious master suite, hidden from view most of the time by the secret stairs behind the bookcase.

In the meantime, they simply have to make sure that Max the handsome cat does not sneak up the hidden stairs while they aren’t looking, then get stuck behind the bookcase.

3-16 bookcase

So it just goes to show: We see what we see in the neighborhood, but our clever and creative neighbors are always doing more. At the Sargeants’ house, the improvements are subtle, ongoing, and meaningful; they are also what prompts others to recognize it as a lovely addition to the neighborhood.

—Elisabeth Nevins Caswell, Photo credits: © Elisabeth Nevins Caswell

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