If we do indeed dream in color, then Carla Knight dreams in red, white and blue. You'd know that just from driving by her S. Tampa home. It's one of those postcard perfect places on a cobbled street that beckons, with art, not artifice: The yard so lovely it belongs in a book, the house so charming it ended up in a magazine: Sherwin Williams featuring it in a Better Home and Gardens paint ad. The slate blue shaker shingles, red brick front porch framed in white columns, the sharp slope of the Cape Cod style roof, the Colonial Red front door, are all neatly nestled into a suburban Eden, boasting layers of roses, orchids, geraniums, oaks, bamboo, lilies, crepes; more than five dozen varieties of flora... we'll get to the fauna later!
In 1977, with a four year old under foot and another on the way, Carla and David Knight were splitting the seams of their two bedroom in New Suburb Beautiful when they discovered their diamond in the rough. It was dark and dreary, topped off with gray carpet, old pine panelling and jalousie windows, but... what bones!
Forty-two years and four children later, with countless opportunities to buy or build bigger, David and Carla always settled for "better".
Your heart considers skipping a beat as you spy the quiet solitude of the back yard from an upstairs window. A stately oak flexes its limbs, the canopy carving a perfect arc of sun and shade. Here the white picket fence, there the leafy terrace at the ready for BBQ and cocktails. How, you wonder, is it possible to achieve such serenity without surrendering your bank account? Well, because these are not vignettes Carla just spied in a magazine and ordered up, wrote and check and just added water. This is a labor of blood, sweat, and tears over decades. For Carla it comes honestly; she remembers her Lakeland grandmother rising before the sun, working in the garden, instilling a joy for the land in a climate where green thumbs under the warm sun created emerald oases.
And, while there is a the luxury of solitude here, this is not a hands-off museum piece. Rather, this is the story of Independence Day. Nowhere is that more evident than in the blue downstairs bedroom with the imposing oak bed. Carved shortly after the Civil War, Carla's grandparents loaded in, along with the rest of their household goods into a wagon in Georgia, and travelled to Lakeland to start a new life.
Now, more than a hundred years later, Carla sits at her breakfast room table with the pioneering couple's daughter, her mother, Margaret, joined by David and their 80 year old housekeeper, Irene, chatting and laughing over wine and Ginger Ale.
It's a picture redolent of family Christmases, birthdays, vacations in the "wood"-sided station wagon, Easter Sundays, and anxious Mondays, the joys and trials of four children, dogs, cats, fish, rescued ferrets, and yes, wine drinking Arnold.... the pig. (Told you we'd get to the fauna)! Arnold was a gift to Carla; the tiny piglet somehow morphing into a sixty pound snorting, rooting, prized pet.
So, here in the heart of Palma Ceia, surrounded by the tony swank of golf course mansions, is not a place of pretence, but of pleasure. The red, white, and blue story of the American dream home. OH WHAT A LIFE!