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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My Friend and Neighbor Bill Built This Mansion 2 Doors Away From Us

Bill Gwynn - my neighbor - my friend - builder - author 
The open concept second floor looking east
The house is so big - this picture was taken from far away on another roof

Last year - Lulu and I bought and tore down a house and built our dream home. We realized that normal real estate advice is to never make your house the most expensive in your neighborhood. We are both in our 60s and have lived a life of not following the rules. For 30 years - we raised our kids in a chalet of 1000 square feet. Sometimes we paid the price for doing it our way - but most of the time we ended up dumb like a fox.

Bill Gwynn has spent his entire life in Tallahassee. He has been a builder for many years. I have had the pleasure of working with him on my former home - workshop - guest house - pool - and driveway. He is an artist working with block and concrete construction. He is the only man I know that does concrete work in his sandals.

The Taj Mahal in India is a mausoleum built by a man in 1632 to honor one of his 3 wives when she died in childbirth of her 14th baby. She must have been very special because he spent the equivalent of $800 million on the structure that today draws 4 million visitors a year.

This house also is conceived on a friendship.

The story goes that Bill had a childhood friend name Sandy. Sandy lived in the house next to our present home. The house has since been moved to an adjacent lot. But Sandy is definitely a good old boy - even though he spent his mid-years in Hawaii. Bill always bragged about a Frank Lloyd Wright house that he built in Hawaii - it was for his friend Sandy. Now Sandy wanted to move back to his roots in Tallahassee and thanks to Bill he did not have to go far.

Bill and his wife Quincy decided to divide their yard and give Sandy a patch of land from where he could see his old childhood home from his bedroom balcony. The plan started out modest enough - but it took 2 years and ended up going way over budget.

Basically - the home is 3 floors - 3 very high floors. The ceiling of the ground floor is 11 feet high. The ceilings on the main second floor are 13 feet high. On the roof is a Sky Room Suite that has everything you would expect in a luxury condo. All 3 floors are connected by an enclosed spiral staircase and an elevator.

There is a lot of custom work in the home - the floors are supported by steel laminated concrete beams. The roof is a pitched membrane structure covered by concrete floors. The whole roof is a walled patio - I imagine those walls will be able to tell some interesting party stories in the future. From 30 feet up - the neighborhood  and gardens look breathtaking.

Officially the design motif is Art Deco South Miami Beach. The entire building is made of concrete block covered by stucco that has the paint mixed into the mortar. Every room has at least one large French door and an accompanying balcony. In the Godfather - you could easily hear the screams echoing out through all these doors - when the movie director finds his horse's head in bed with him.

Many of the doors and windows were re-claimed from the Miami mansion of Don King - the famous fight promoter. The rounded doors and walls give the house a strong Moorish presence. It is exciting to think that Cassius Clay turned into Mohammed Ali when he walked through those doors. It is a small piece of history that now graces our neighborhood.

The 5000 square feet mansion sits very close to Bill and Quincy's own home - they share a driveway and parking lot. A large reflecting pool in Bill's yard gives the viewer a breathtaking view of the mansion.

I just received the shock of my first real estate tax bill for my new home. I gave Bill a copy of it so he can prepare for when the taxes come due on this new home.

As we get older  - I guess we say WTF when people questioned building such a large house in the Woodland Drives neighborhood. I am sure many of the neighbors are upset over it - but they should be very happy. When someone builds a new home near you - it causes the value of your home to rise. Since Tallahassee's taxes are governed by a 3% homestead rule - our taxes are held down to small increases a year. Thus - there are similar houses on our street paying $1000 - $2000 - $3000 - $4000 - $5000 a year. The longer you live here - the less you pay in real dollars. So in this case - change is good. It increases the tax base. Remember - you cannot stop change - it is always getting better or getting worse. Nothing ever stays the same.

Bill recently had a novel - Blood on the Forgotten Coast - published by Kindle Press. As time marches on - he has been "Bill the Builder" - a stand up comic - a mason - a rock musician - a rug merchant - a novelist - and a poet. Now at this robust age he is going back to building houses. He has signed contracts to build 2 more homes. Bill subsists on a vegan diet with Quincy - his wife and local jewelry artist - and their son Henry - a horticulturalist.

I love this house as a symbol of this neighborhood. Our neighbors are a diverse tolerant group. They are not afraid to try news thing while preserving what is good from the past. They have tolerated the many changes that Cascades Park has brought us - walking paths - an amphitheater - traffic - and a new restaurant in a renovated old power plant. Even the good old boys are "Embracing the Difference."

Inside the apartment on the roof
The Sky Room has a bathroom - bar - fireplace - couches - day bed

The door to the elevator - the door to the man cave on the left
If I owned this house - I would live in this Sky Room
On the left is the spiral stair tower - on the right is the Roof Man Cave

What wonderful parties could be - up on the roof. When the sun
beats down there is not hotter to melt on the roff 
This house was Sandy's boyhood home - seen from his bedroom patio
Reflecting pool in Bill's yard
Looking east toward the street from the roof patio
Sky porch - the entire roof is one big walled patio
West doors - second floor
Master bedroom - northwest corner - second floor
Iron steps
Dining room
Giant galley kitchen - second floor
Stainless steel range and hood
Kitchen from dining room - looking north - second floor
Back porch - French doors - west side - second floor
Overlooking Bill's house 
Corner fireplace - master bedroom - second floor
Living room facing south - second floor
Dining room facing east - second floor
Custom made iron steps
Basement - ground floor
Master bathroom
Even the master bathroom has a balcony
How about a beautiful copper tub bath for the aching muscles
This roof tower houses the 3 story spiral staircase
Porches all over the place with gas lights and gas fireplace
The basement has plenty of spaces for bedrooms 
A carved stone fireplace is the focal hearth of the living room
A professional grade kitchen is just off the dining room
The rounded doors look short but they are 8 feet tall in a 13 foot high room
Looking east from the spiral steps into the living room
 and dining room. This room is the very definition of open concept
The elevator has the old safety grates. The elevator will not
move without all doors closed and grates drawn
The shower window with lights out

The shower window with lights on shows the tile work
In the round cove by the main entrance is a breakfast nook with wonderful east light
The view from the roof can be spectacular - a great place for a telescope
The living room features 13 foot ceilings - a 3 story spiral staircase - and a carved stone fireplace. The high door was on Don King's mansion
That is my Nissan Leaf behind Bill - the house - car and Bill look great together
The house glows with a stucco covering with the paint in the mortar
The bulge in the side is a gas fireplace - French doors on both sides
I call this tiny balcony a yodeler porch
A beautiful ceiling light
A very colorful master shower
The basement floor is poured and polished concrete - no finish.
I wish I would have done this on our floor
The tower on the right houses a 3 story elevator

A note about the pictures. My Sony RX100 camera has broken. I have had to resort to using an inexpensive Canon 170 camera. The camera is tiny and elegant - but it sacrifices image quality. I regret not having my other camera to truly capture this home.

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