By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen
When Steve and Kathy Russ built a house from scratch, "we got the house we wanted with the features that suited us," said Steve. But a new home on a built-out island like Key West doesn't come easy.
First, the couple had replacement-value issues with insurance companies after Hurricane Wilma in 2005; then they had to watch workmen level their original home at 3220 Riviera Drive.
As those nightmares ended the real work of building a new dream house started.
"Ours was a one-time build," Kathy explained. "Before this I think we may have bought a kitchen faucet in 1976."
In 2006, though, they bought a lot of faucets; some for kitchen sinks and some for bathroom sinks, showers and tubs. They bought pallets of slate and enough granite to cover an entire wall. They selected cabinets and door handles and paint colors and light fixtures.
This, the kind of devilish detail that goes into any new construction, went into their 2,300 square feet of space, which includes 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms in the 2-story residence, plus a 1-bed/1-bath guesthouse.
Because convenient indoor/outdoor entertaining was a goal, the primary residence and detached guesthouse create an L-shape haven around the pool. Both buildings overlook the canal. And the most recent addition -- the platform boat docked by the seawall -- brings an end to the detailing and immense amount of work that goes into building from scratch.
Ah, but the memories; they live on, for instance, in the granite. Choosing where it would go was particularly demanding because an asymmetrical wall between the kitchen and the foyer had no right angle.
"We couldn't figure out where to stop the granite splash board," Kathy recalled. "We worked with Peter Pike's architectural design, and we tried using a computer, but we just couldn't get our heads around the space so we went into the street to layout the exact size and angles in chalk-line drawings."
The end product is an entire kitchen wall of granite that offers "low to no maintenance," said Steve, who designed the kitchen's wherefore's and how-to's: every detail from the double sink against the all-granite wall to the bar sink in the granite central island. Where the wine cooler was placed, the 6-burner stove, the drawer microwave and dual ovens -- one with standard convection, one with Trivection, which "cuts a chicken's roasting time by one-third, and saves energy, too," said Kathy, who researched and hand-picked each appliance, each drawer pull and cabinet rod.
By design, all the cabinets and interior door handles are the same-style stainless steel rods on cherry wood, a subtle complement to the tropical Asian interior decor.
The kitchen is located at the front-street-side of the house and is one with the great room, which includes formal dining at a table that can seat up to 14. The great room's back wall of Nana glass doors is topped with windows up to the 18-foot-high cathedral ceiling. The doors open to the pool deck, and a roof extension overhangs the uppermost deck to protect the doors and provide covered space for outdoor dining.
"We hired Affiliated Contractors, who recommended that roof adjustment to the original architectural plan," said Steve. "They also came up with the idea to turn a second-floor hallway into a balcony that we use as a media room."
By deleting the hall wall and inserting a railing, the upstairs media room -- overstuffed sofa, big screen TV, shelves of electronics, a working fireplace -- takes advantage of the light from the great room's wall of glass, and adds volume to the up-and-down living space.
Steve's office, a guest suite and much storage beneath the eaves of the side-gable roof finish off the second floor.
Storage space and "never say 'excuse me'" bathrooms were also important to the Russes, who have been married 46 years: "You get to know each other, and I know he likes to sleep later than I do," said Kathy.
The first-floor master-suite wing was designed with such idiosyncrasies in mind. Without disturbing Steve, Kathy can rise early and slip into the hallway where her closet -- across from his closet -- features a built-in vanity with sink. Then noiselessly, she can move down the hallway to her office, or maybe, to the large two-room bathroom, where a shower and steam shower is located in one, a claws-foot tub in the other.
Two glass-block picture windows lighten up the black slate floors, another detailed job the hands-on couple took on. In fact, all the bathrooms have slate floors, all selected by the Russ's from two pallets they bought from Home Depot.
"To get exactly what we wanted, we sorted piles of slate by color and cleft," said Kathy. "By the time it came to crown molding, well..." she clipped the sentence, even the memory of that detail. "It's really important to have builders you can count on."
Barbara Bowers is a Key West writer. To suggest a home to be featured in the Keys Homes section, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Homes listed for sale may not be considered.