By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen
When Keys Homes last visited Madeleine Hilton on Nov. 13, 2011, she declared that her fifth-floor condominium at Key West by the Sea "was in order; there's nothing left for me to do. I'm thinking about changing my red accents to forest green."
Instead, Hilton followed a headier call to her inner-interior designer self "because the fun comes with fixing up a place.
"On impulse last April, I bought a second condo, this time on the sixth floor," said Hilton. "Of course, during the open house, I had to look beyond the god-awful wicker furniture that was in here, and visualize a contemporary interior."
Hilton, a graduate of Pratt Institute in New York and a retired industrial designer of automobile interiors for General Motors, says her tendency toward a more minimal, geometric design in her newest condo is softer than "a true modern look." She cites the balance of sharp edges on white-plastic IKEA end tables with leather-sling seats on steel frames of reproductions that mimic Mies van der Rohe's Cantilever Sedie Chair.
"I always lean toward contemporary, but it's more a 50s thing up here," Hilton said. "The space dictates the use of less furniture and art even though this condo is the same size as my condo on the fifth floor."
Almost directly above the one-bedroom unit she owns downstairs, Hilton's sixth-floor unit -- with a slight reconfiguration of the one-bedroom floor plan -- feels twice as large.
"Mirrors make some of the difference," she said of the living room's mirrored wall that attracted her to the condo. It reflects her white-and-grey furniture off the other white walls, white tile floors and the intense light cast from sliding glass balcony doors, which Hilton covered with white plantation shutters.
Hilton says she added the expensive window treatment because the shutters are similar to the mirrors--they melt into the white wall to help increase the perception of size.
The living room's cool grey-and-white tones are offset by the occasional splash of color in red lamps and pillows placed strategically atop Hilton's grey, square-pattern rug. Yellow and orange in four large, flower photographs line up horizontally on the interior wall across from the mirrors.
Hilton's hobby is photography, and her condo downstairs still features rows of nature shots, some hung on vibrantly red walls there. Up here, though, the photos are close-ups, more subdued in color due to the power of mirrors, she says, and interestingly, because of the limitation of mirrors: "I love that the living area looks so much larger, but I needed to limit the amount of color bouncing off the mirrors," said Hilton.
The mirrored wall also stops at the edge of the oversized, two-tiered island that demarcates kitchen from living room. Four wooden stools are tucked beneath the island, out of the way on the living room side, which gives Hilton more floor space by foregoing a dining room table.
Four colorful canisters dot the blue-grey countertop, and the kitchen's matching cabinets compliment, yet stand apart from, the grey tones in the living area. All-white appliances were already in place to highlight the darker color.
"This kitchen is fully loaded, but I haven't even used the oven or the dish washer," Hilton said. "I might spend the night up here then go downstairs the next morning for breakfast."
As you might guess, the luxury of two Key West by the Sea condominiums rings well with Hilton's visitors; she has plenty of privacy and space for them, not to mention the double-up for her own personal needs.
"I keep moving things around," she said. "At the moment, the computer, photo workshop and office remain downstairs, but my clothing moved to the bedroom suite upstairs."
Hilton says her new bed-and-bath is small but adequate -- no actual increase in size--although the mirrored wall in this room also compounds the sensation of spaciousness.
Another size-enhancing feature is that the bathroom is accessed from inside the bedroom, which means only the bedroom door in the short-hallway entry breaks the interior wall space in the living area.
This clear-through view from Hilton's condo entrance overlooking the salt ponds to her balcony that overlooks the complex's pool and Atlantic Ocean is typical of units on the southwesterly side of Building B.
"I thought the view was great from my balcony downstairs, but there's a reason top floor condos cost more--the view of the ocean up here is all the more spectacular," she said.
"I'm continually surprised by how no two apartments feel or look the same; how creative the Navy builders were with the floor plans, especially that there are two exterior walls and no dark hallways."
As if owning two Key West by the Sea condominiums doesn't underscore the point, Hilton confirmed, "I like living in this building, but buying and decorating condos can be an expensive habit. Probably the next time we meet, I'll be decorating another one," she said. "Maybe I should take up stamp collecting."
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.