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  • Writer's picture Lance Williams


Driving down Morrison Ave., just west of Lois, you never would've noticed it: The tidy little red brick house minding its own business. That was then. This is now.

Mike and Raquel Ayres would remind you of a couple right out of an Architectural Digest photo shoot. Cool, because they don't "act" cool, creative without pretense, bold without bravado, and a trio of tousle-haired kids running around in bare feet, enjoying one another's company. And, none of that is by happenstance.

Both Mike and Raquel know the cost of hard work, the challenge of persistence, the pain of loss, and the pay-off of success. So, when you pass by their house on Morrison, and then step into the elegantly spare, but not Spartan spaces, you realize they live with purpose.

You se, they knew that little red brick, two bedroom on Morrison could be transformed in a a haven for their family as they set out on their new business venture.

The couple had enjoyed remarkable success in the handmade furniture business. Running it from a factory in the beloved Savannah (Mike is a SCAD grad), they created stylish cabinets, desks, dining tables, and other inventive designs, shipping them all over the world. Then came the recession and the collapse of their dream.

The Little Red House

But, Mike and Raquel, who met when they worked together at Abercrombie and Fitch (Raquel left a Post-It note for her boss: "Hire this guys, he's hot."), are the embodiment of dauntless: Knock them down and they get back up. The Savannah venture tanked? So, they picked a spot on the map, rented a house in south Tampa, and created "Elese James". Carved from parts of their first and middle names, the company is an architectural design studio specializing in "Classic Modern" homes and buildings: From conception, through to the color of the walls, and the pillows on the sofa.

And, that brings us to that 1200 sq. ft. red brick house. Under the thoughtful, collaborative eye of the Ayres, it is n a 4 bedroom, four bath, 3,000 sq. ft., car-stopping, eye-popping, soul-soothing haven on earth; everything, right down to the ceiling light fixtures (what patterns, the couple wondered, would they splash across the walls), the placement of the guest house/office (they can project movies onto its huge blank wall facing the pool), the location of the windows (designed for maximum pool views), and the polished concrete floors, (invightingly cool, rather than cold), are examples of the Elese James touch.

And, while it is a stunning advertisement for their business, first and foremost the house is a thoughtful place where life happens, not in the social swing of status climbing, but in the sweet embrace of home. OH WHAT A LIFE!

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