Transformations: A new look for the fabled Culverhouse condo
With the Super Bowl so much on everyone’s minds, it’s likely that the name Culverhouse has popped up in the memory bank of more than a few Tampa Bay football fans — and not just because of football.
Hugh Culverhouse was, of course, the owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during its inglorious initial decades. Scandals surfaced after his death in 1994 — revelations of extramarital affairs, ugly legal fights over his estate. But before that, he and his wife Joy enjoyed the luxuries of their 8,400-square-foot penthouse in Monte Carlo Towers on Bayshore Boulevard, moving in when the high-rise opened in 1984 and throwing soirees that longtime residents of the Towers still talk about. Joy Culverhouse lived in the penthouse until she died in 2016 at the age of 96, when there were family disputes about her estate.
Enter Tony and Barbara Scarpo. Newlyweds who had both been married before, they purchased the Culverhouse residence for $1.5 million in 2017, thinking of it as a home they could build together. Little did they know they’d be in for more than two years of stops and starts —working with not one, not two, but three contractors — and that they’d be moving into their new home in the midst of a pandemic.
It’s a saga. But Tony, who wrote a memoir about his family in breaks during the renovation, likes a good yarn — and a good deal.
“When he saw this,” recalls Barbara, “it was frozen in time in 1984. It wasn’t livable.”
In its day, the condo represented “the best that money could buy,” says Tony. “But fast forward to 2017 and you would ask yourself, did you just step into Elvis’s home?”
Tony, who retired from the diamond import business, is a stickler for detail. “Being involved in diamond creations all my life, every prong has to be straight and everything has to be looked at under a loupe.”
So it was destiny of a sort that the Scarpos eventually partnered with Steve Rogai of Modern Capital Development Group, because he’s as detail-driven as Tony, if not more so. The couple already knew they liked his work; he’d sold them a house he’d renovated on Culbreath Isles, where they lived while waiting for the Monte Carlo residence to be finished.
When Rogai came by to check out the condo-in-progress before agreeing to take on the job, Barbara knew right away he was the right choice.
“Because he [Tony] doesn’t miss a thing. And Steve found things he missed. I said, ‘You’ve got your man!’”
As the renovations continued, the specter of COVID began to loom. “We had wallpaper guys that refused to be around anybody, trades that just wouldn’t come back,” remembers Rogai. “It was pretty crazy.”
Then, last spring, just as the couple and Scarpo’s two teenaged daughters were ready to move in, the country began to shut down. And when two movers showed up instead of the expected seven, they faced the possibility that they’d have to send all their furniture back to the warehouse.
So they called Steve.
“Help!” Tony told him. “The movers are here and we’re failing!” So Rogai brought a crew, and everyone pitched in to get the furniture unloaded.
The shutdowns that followed had an upside.
“When nobody could go anywhere,” says Tony, “we hunkered down here for four months and just buried ourselves in finishing all that you see.”
Showing me around one afternoon in late 2020, he and Rogai are demonstrably proud of the result. The overall impression is one of light and flow, with Barbara’s eye for color evident throughout in the subtly shaded palette of blues and greys.
Tony is quick to indicate the contributions made by collaborators. For instance, he credits George Gobes of Tampa’s Park Avenue Designs with a key transformation. Monolithic partitions that were once covered in dusty old silk are now sheathed in Pietra Fina, a thin marble that can be back-lit so that they double as a light source.
The master suite, formerly the Culverhouse ballroom, showcases more of Gobes’s skills. He crafted the triple-mirror vanity in the bathroom, while California Closets installed custom built-ins with LED back lighting.
Tony and Barbara were determined to avoid the “white box” look so characteristic of condo interiors, so curves prevail, from the entryway to the kitchen’s elegant banquette (another Gobes creation) to the bar off the main living room.
Tony grew up in the bar and liquor business. In his book, La Mia Famiglia, he recounts his family’s scrapes with the Mafia, who didn’t appreciate his father’s expansion from liquor sales into bookmaking . But while he loves tending bar for guests, his pride and joy is the gorgeous glass-walled wine room adjacent to the dining room.
He and Barbara were adamant that all the woodwork in the residence be maple, including the doors. They had trouble finding anyone who could accommodate them until they discovered Doors & Hardware of Tampa Bay, a Largo company owned by Daniel Nash that has “amazing customer service,” says Barbara. Rather than having to custom-make them, Nash said he could order the doors from Canada with the custom maple stain the Scarpos wanted.
That stain would come in handy for other reasons, too. During our tour of the condo, Rogai spied a tiny patch of unstained wood in the entryway — “the one spot that I still have not touched up yet,” says Tony.
“What happened here?” Rogai asked.
“I got the stain,” replied Tony, who knew that the product procured by Doors & Hardware would work on this spot, too. “Don’t worry about it.”
When you’ve got an eye for detail, there’s always something left to do.