Keys Homes
Sunday, September 9, 2012
The high road

By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen

Key West's historic district and its property owners are special; really special. Remember when empty lots in Old Town encouraged new construction? Even then, homeowners rose above the split-level period of the 1960s, sidestepped the ranch-house design of the 70s, and thank you, HARC, moved unscathed beyond the aluminum siding of the 80s.

During the 1990s' McMansion expansion, which took the Keys by storm, some people took the tastefully high road, like architect Tom Pope, who designed a new one-story cottage at 711 Ashe St. for the late Robert Steffy.

The property has a large-by-Key-West-standards lot, conducive to a much bigger house. To leave garden space and not invade air space was atypical of the turn-of-the-century, build-out craze, and a testament to the former homeowner.

"I bought it in 2010 from Bob Steffy's estate," said Peyton Evans. "I've heard nice things about him, and it turns out we have a lovely connection; I discovered my plastic picnic plates were designed by Robert Steffy, and have his signature fly painted on the back."

As the second owner of the house that Steffy built in 1992, Evans has forged an even stronger connection with him: Although she says she "loves to renovate houses -- "I've done 13 or 14 in my adult life" -- instead of going up or adding on, which until lately was Old Town's building-boom trend, Evans left untouched the exterior charm.

The classic-contemporary cottage, with a deep, covered porch that stretches across the front of the house, remains single story.

Its white-brick chimney still pokes through the capped-hip roof.

The big front lawn is there with not even a swimming pool inserted, but Evans did re-landscape and insert two off-street parking places.

Naturally Evans made cosmetic changes, and some structural changes were made indoors, where architect Rob DeLaune and contractor Denis Savoie conspired to switch, on one side of the house, a bed-and-bath space with the kitchen.

"The kitchen was much larger than I needed," said Evans. "It was downsized, moved from the front to the back of the house, and a second bedroom suite absorbed the kitchen space."

The reconfiguration resulted in a big bedroom with doors to the front porch, a private side deck and a walk-through bathroom to the back garden, where a luxurious, outdoor shower is fenced off from the rest of the narrow rear-garden deck.

Embroidered linens and distressed, turquoise shelves in the guest suite contribute to a country farmhouse ambiance.

The revamped kitchen, small but highly technical, is barely more than a nook off the central great room.

"I've designed a lot of kitchens and I knew exactly what I wanted," Evans said, "...a deep-farm sink, Fisher & Paykel appliances that are high quality, but small; a small stove made in Australia."

The kitchen's stainless appliances and white cabinets complement the grey-and-white wood floors throughout the house.

"Red-tile floors were ripped up and replaced with hardwood, which I wanted painted white with a grey diamond pattern. Rob DeLaune carefully planned and laid out the painter's tape, but the workmen, who had to paint the grey over the white, thought this was ridiculous," she said. "That is, until the tape came off and the diamond pattern revealed itself; then they thought it was really cool."

The floors are really cool, country in flavor, but with fresh contemporary accents in the spacious great room, where living in the middle takes place between the bedroom suites. This central space is made all the more cavernous by the peaked, hip ceiling, three sets of 9-foot-high doors that open to the front porch and five side-by-side windows on the backside.

"The banquette beneath the windows was in place -- lots of kids can sleep on it -- but behind the banquette were mirrored, fake windows," Evans said. "I removed them because I wanted the light, and JANGEORGe interior designers found the cloth blinds that disappear when they're rolled up."

Evans says that Jan and George were also the interior talent behind the full-length drapes at the doors, the long Carrara marble dining room tabletop and 10 stainless steel chairs that chairs can be covered with white slips, or not, to match the slipcovers on nearby sofa and chairs, also selected by JANGEORGe.

Cushy pillows, a vintage table behind the sofa and a wooden bench in front temper modernism with country freshness, all cozied up to a working fireplace that features candles in the hearth, and very little else on the mantle.

"The mantle is from a Victorian house in York, Pennsylvania," Evans said. "It was too big for air cargo so I had it sent by Greyhound."

That would be Greyhound bus, of course, a mode of transportation across the two-lane Overseas Highway, and just one more testament to the high road taken at 711 Ashe St., this time by a household item.

Barbara Bowers is a Key West writer. To suggest a home to be featured in the Keys Homes section, send an email to barbara@bbowers.com. Homes listed for sale may not be considered.

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