While living in their former Tampa Heights bungalow, Rob Iles and his partner, Michael Paonessa, used to bicycle past four townhomes under construction on North Franklin Street.
In 2009, they purchased one: 3,300 square feet of crisp, contemporary space that includes three bedrooms, four and a half bathrooms and a roof terrace.
“We’ve always been more ‘urban-oriented’ rather than suburban,” says Iles, managing director of Study Hall Research, a brand and communications research firm. “We appreciate downtown Tampa living for its proximity to both of our offices, the variety of things to do, the diversity of populations, the vitality and level of energy that the downtown core offers.”
In the evening, the pair frequently can be spotted sitting on their front balcony, sipping martinis and enjoying ambient noise from the Fly Bar next door.
“Franklin Street has a lot of historic value for downtown Tampa,” Iles says. “Our block, in particular, has a great tree canopy, a brick street that’s only two lanes wide, and a great mix of commercial and residential spaces.”
Thanks to clean lines, exposed brick walls and an expanse of glass, the five-level townhome is suffused with an abundance of natural daylight. That light perfectly illuminates the domestic display of art the couple has collected for the past 17 years.
Visitors to the living/dining space stand beneath a 29-foot ceiling and view an extraordinary 5-by-17-foot canvas by artist Keith Huie that documents Iles and Paonessa’s life story.
“There are 54 original works of art that hang in the house, and each one has a story behind it,” Iles says. “In the main living spaces the ‘art walls’ stay white, and all are custom-lit to highlight our collection. Everyone finds a work of art they like, and we always enjoy the experience of seeing and hearing what people gravitate toward when they visit.”
Items in their collection range from $15 to more than $5,000, but the couple enjoy that their guests can’t tell which is which.
Their current favorite is a set of three Kenny Scharf lithographs (in the third-floor loft living space) purchased at the University of South Florida’s Graphicstudio sale this year.
“That’s a great source for terrific art,” Paonessa says.
A few pieces of furniture — the cream leather sofa and chairs, a custom wrought iron cocktail table and silk rug — were purchased specifically for the town house.
“We are huge proponents of recycling or re-purposing,” Iles explains. “We have a sofa in the third-floor guest suite that’s been recovered twice. Many of our pictures have been re-framed and re-matted — it’s like an inexpensive facelift! Our cherry dining chairs have been recovered three times.”
Most recently they were painted an intense red that echoes a 1930s William Morris carpet under the dining table. The sofa in the guest suite was recovered in Sunbrella fabric because “pet claws won’t snag it, the dog can drool on it and wine spills won’t stain it.”
Paonessa, an insurance manager for USAA, describes his residence as “contemporary comfortable. We like people to be able to enjoy themselves in our home without worrying about whether they can sit on something. Plus we have a cat and a dog — so Maggie and Tyler are always a consideration.”
The fourth-floor master suite is decorated in shades of gray.
“We used 11 different shades of Benjamin Moore paint from Tanner Paint in our home,” Iles says with a grin. “They’re all warm grays, which we have been using for years. Gray is both sophisticated and soothing, and can be equally elegant or playful depending on its intensity.”
A custom wall unit by New Port Richey woodworker Blake Wilson was added to eliminate free-standing dressers and conserve floor space. The men also replaced the builder’s original carpet with a dark grey commercial grade.
“Commercial carpet has advanced dramatically in its range of patterns and overall versatility,” Iles says. “With the proper padding, it’s as soft as pile and it lasts forever.”
A major selling point of the townhouse was its enclosed two-car garage, which is a rarity in downtown living. Believing “a garage should have character, too,” Iles and Paonessa painted it Caribbean blue.
Yet living in a five-story house presents certain challenges.
“Stairs,” Paonessa says. “We don’t use the elevator a lot, so the house is great for your calf muscles. But we had to train ourselves to make sure we have everything from the master bedroom on the fourth floor — wallets, keys, phone — before coming down in the morning.”