By LESLIE LINSLEY Special to The Citizen
I've always liked the shape and colors of eggs. With Easter being today, eggs have been on my mind. Ask any designer to name the most perfectly designed item and the answer would probably be an egg. It also happens to come in all the shades of natural colors that are perfect in any style of decorating. The various shades of white, ivory and browns found in eggs is mind-boggling and a source I return to often when styling a room for a photograph, or selecting products for my store, or when buying clothing. In fact, try something different for Easter this year and buy different cartons of eggs to hard boil. Forget about the dying and create a centerpiece of natural eggs in a natural basket.
In Nantucket it is easy to gravitate toward, even embrace all these colors, but here in Key West it is virtually impossible to avoid color. Stark white, on the other hand, works well in Key West houses and becomes the perfect canvas for adding bright colorful pillows, scatter rugs and paintings.
A visit to JanGeorge Interior Design will blow you away and make you forget that color even exists. I want the life that this showroom suggests. When I visit this place at 600 Frances St., at the corner of Southard Street, it's sort of like an obsession I used to have over a closet full of Armani suits. I didn't actually want to buy them because they did not fit into my lifestyle, but from time to time I wanted the life that the Armani suit suggested. That's how I feel in the JanGeorge showroom. I don't own a house here, but just sinking into one of the sofas makes me want to move right in and live in the showroom.
Another experience I had a few weeks ago was on a more personal level. Erma and Rene LaPierre had a small, intimate dinner party. Their home, down an in-town lane, is about as big as a minute, even smaller than many of the smallest Conch houses. But from the second you come up onto the front porch, you realize the charm of the place. Rene bought the house -- admittedly a falling down wreck -- in the 1980s before he met Irma. "I never slept one night in the house," he says, "until 20 years later after we renovated it."
Irma says they had planned to renovate the place and sell it, but as they went along they knew this would be their own home. I've often written about small spaces and how to make them work for all sorts of lifestyles, and this place personifies elegant living on a small scale. First of all, the paint colors are typical Key West, but sparingly used. The pitched roof ceiling is painted lime green and the sofa, two chairs and throw pillows are lime and turquoise. The printed fabric on the two chairs is a green and yellow leafy pattern from Pierre Deux. The walls are striped in a subtle two-tone pattern. Irma painted them with 2-inch-wide vertical stripes using alternating matte and glossy white paint. The subtle change of shading looks as if they are two different colors. An ample size galley kitchen is outfitted with up-to-the minute stainless steel appliances and lime green counter tops. A door at the end of the kitchen leads to a brick patio large enough to accommodate a round table for six, surrounded by all white director chairs.
In a small space, it is always a surprise to find "important" furniture. By that I mean furniture that is grander than one might expect, such as an antique sideboard or a mahogany china cabinet. One might expect light wicker furniture in a cottage, but not here. Having lived in the Northeast and having furnished several houses with an impressive collection of furniture, the LaPierres carefully chose a few pieces that function well for their needs and elevate the cottage from its simple beginnings. The details like artwork and accessories have been selected with care, not just simply used because they had them.
The biggest impact in the house was the bedroom, with a curved glass wall that juts out into the hallway and provides light where a solid wall might make both spaces feel cramped. Irma, who has an artistic background, stenciled palm fronds at random all over the walls, again using the subtle technique of white on white. You are convinced, once you notice the design, that it is a shadow of the leaves outside playing with the sunlight on the walls. It is a most effective treatment for creating texture with a very restrained approach. Built-ins provide storage for the necessities of life that tend to clutter most small spaces, rendering them even smaller. But in the LaPierres' home, there is a sense of serenity. I hope they will have their home on one of the Old Island Restoration House and Garden Tours as it is a marvelous example of creative small living with attitude.
Now, getting back to that perfect egg, I am inspired on another level for my Easter basket. Having seen Irma's white on white stripes, I think I might just try the technique on an egg. Painting perfect stripes from ceiling to floor over an entire room seems exceedingly daunting. But I like the idea. It got my creative juices going. Maybe I can actually improve upon the perfect egg. Or maybe I'll just hard boil them and not mess with nature.
Leslie Linsley has written more than 50 books on crafts, decorating and home style. She resides on Nantucket with her husband, photographer Jon Aron, and has a store on the island that specializes in her one-of-a-kind creations. Her latest book is "Key West, a Tropical Lifestyle" (Monacelli Press), with photos by Terry Pommett.