THONOTOSASSA — Overlooking Lake Thonotosassa in eastern Hillsborough County, a new 24,900-square-foot Spanish-colonial-style house is now the third largest home in Hillsborough County. The estate, known as Mision Lago, sits on 11 acres on the west side of the county's largest lake and caters to its owners' affinity for over-the-top opulence. The six-bedroom, 12-bathroom resort-style home is full of replicas. There's the theater fashioned after Tampa Theatre, a sports lounge with flooring that looks like the infield at Tropicana Field and a 900-square-foot Oval Office, complete with a duplicate of President John F. Kennedy's desk with a hideaway door. The home's owners, Tom Simpson, 68 and wife June, 65, made their fortune building a Tampa-based workers' disability advocacy company called Health Advocates Inc., which they sold in 2006 to AmerisourceBergen for $83 million in cash.
Since then, they have mainly focused on construction of the home on Fort King Highway and traveled the country and Mexico to find special items to furnish it. The Simpsons said they discovered Lake Thonotosassa by fluke. “One day we decided to take a ride, and we ended up in Thonotosassa,” June Simpson said. “I didn't know it had changed so much.” The rural area, dotted with agriculture and mobile homes, is drawing more high-end buyers because of its large lake-front lots, privacy and easy access to Tampa, Orlando and Lakeland, real estate agents say. In fact, the Simpson's home is not even the largest on their street. A 27,100-square-foot home owned by Don Wallace — the county's second largest — is just down the road on Fort King Highway. A 28,200-square-foot home owned by Mark Yaffe in the exclusive Avila subdivision is the county's largest. The sizes of the homes are ranked based on the amount of air-conditioned living space. † † Designed by San Francisco architects, the Simpsons' home has an assessed value of $7.6 million and caters to the couple's appreciation for the California lifestyle and Hollywood glamour. They own a second home in Malibu, Calif. “We basically took California and made it Florida,” June Simpson said. The architectural firm, Dahlin Group, blended modern California-style elements with traditional Mediterranean and Spanish Colonial-inspired architecture. Built by Gary Brown of Sterling Bay Homes, the design earned Mision lago top honors at recent home builders' conferences in Orlando and San Diego. The Simpsons wanted their new house to emulate the lifestyles of the rich and famous they met through their business, vacation trips and at charity functions. Nothing is understated. Its interior is adorned with custom features and extensive handcrafted detailing. The 1,500-square-foot home theater has a 160-inch screen underneath twinkling ceiling lights and surrounded by baroque statuettes. A Hollywood Walk of Fame in the hallway leading to the theater has the names of actors etched in stars on the floor. Photographs of the Simpsons standing alongside Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Hugh Jackman frame the wall outside of the theater. A gallery of rock-and-roll memorabilia and guitars signed by famous musicians line the walls nearby. The attention to detail continues in the sport lounge, which houses Tom Simpson's extensive sports memorabilia collection. The house has with views of Lake Thonotosassa on one side and a 5,000-square-foot central courtyard tucked behind large wooden doors near the front entrance. A great room frames the center of the house and has four massive Ponderosa pine trusses harvested from a Colorado forest. The room sets the stage for the rest of the house, which includes a high-end main kitchen, a caterer's kitchen, a dining room, a wine cellar, June Simpson's craft room, and several “casitas” for overnight guests. A covered two-tier pool on the ground level is supplied by water from a rushing man-made stream on the back of the house. It took more than 1,000 construction workers more than three years to build the house, Brown said. Despite its size, well-placed furnishings and decor give the home a cozy feel. “This house is three-stories high, but it's hard to tell,” June Simpson said. The gated estate sits on the site of a former orange grove on the east side of Fort King Highway north of Main Street. A winding path leads to the home and the compound also has a gated complex next door where June Simpson hopes to grow orchids. Wealthy buyers are drawn to the Lake Thonotosassa because it is perfect for skiing and boating, said Greg Margliano, a real estate agent with Smith & Associates, a seller of luxury homes.. “When you are there you feel like you are in the country,” Margliano said. “But you are only 20 minutes from a major metropolitan area.” It also attracts a fair number of buyers seeking bargain prices for available land, Margliano said, who is listing a lake-front house in the nearby Stonelake Ranch subdivision. Property that cost about $500,000 in the Lake Thonotosassa area could run a couple million dollars higher in parts of Tampa, he said. The lake will continue to be a hotbed for wealthy buyers as long as their are large parcels nearby, said Jack Flenniken, director of residential valuation at the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office. June Simpson, a Tampa native, who attended Academy of the Holy Name, and Tom Simpson, who was born and raised in Meigs, Ga., about an hour north of Tallahassee, plan to devote more time to charity work now that the house is finished. “I have always been involved in Tampa. We want to give back,” June Simpson said. “We have met good people through local charities. That is one of the reasons we built the house.” They plan to open their home to nonprofit and civic organizations in need of space to hold charity events and functions. [email protected] (813) 259-7413
Hillsborough's largest homes by square footage under air
1. 28,295 square feet, Mark Yaffe, 706 Guisando de Avila, Avila
2. 27,152 square feet, Donald Wallace, 12321 Fort King Highway, Thonotosassa
3. 24,944 square feet, Thomas Simpson, 11865 Fort King Highway, Thonotosassa
Tom and June Simpson pose for a photograph in the courtyard area of their Thonotosassa home Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2013. The home consists of approximately 24,000 sqft. and sits on the shores of Lake Thonotosassa one of the largest lakes in Hillsborough County. The home took about four years to complete. CHRIS URSO/STAFF