Keys Homes
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Restore the soul

By Barbara Bowers Special to The Citizen

There's a difference between restoration and renovation: Most houses in Key West are renovated, that is, upgraded with changes and not restored exactly to their original structures.

Although both renovation and restoration may include contemporary conveniences like air conditioning or a modern kitchen, renovation is going that extra mile by structurally changing the exterior with, say, a second bathroom addition.

Or maybe, walls get knocked out to create an open floor plan. Or door openings are turned into windows. Or vice versa, or all of the above, which is the case at 1517 Washington St.

This 3-bedroom/2-bath house is cinder-block, built in 1952 and located outside the historic district; nevertheless, its 2012 renovation earned it a prestigious preservation star from the Historic Florida Keys Foundation. Although they didn't have to, homeowners Guillermo Orozco and Kent Ducote chose to respect the city's Historic Architectural Review Commission (HARC) guidelines, and even before the year-long project began, they had much respect for the house's mid-century modern architectural style.

"We bought it from the original owner, who kept the house in good shape," said Orozco. "The existing Cuban-tile floors, the plaster walls and the natural cypress wood ceilings only needed cleaning."

Ducote, a real estate agent, and Orozco, a residential designer-architect and artist, took on every aspect of the renovation -- aspects usually divvied up among whole teams of talents. They landscaped, they handled the interior design, even refurbished the three-blade industrial fans that came with the house.

They designed and managed the structural changes, which included a formal entry shift from a side porch, which they enclosed, to the front of the house. They changed jalousie windows to metal frames with high impact resistance, enlarged the kitchen opening to merge it with the living-dining area and added a bathroom.

"We wanted a contemporary second bath, which we built onto the side of the house to create a bedroom suite," Orozco said, "but the plan was to work with what was here, to be sensitive to the house."

Among other things, the men were sensitive to and saved the original pink-tile bathroom in the hallway: "There's even a 'savethepinkbathroom.com' website," said Ducote.

This website declares that the 5 million or so pink bathrooms in the U.S. "are wonderful parts of our home design heritage," and while Orozco and Ducote did not participate in the "hasty destruction of pink bathrooms from the 40s, 50s and 60s," their renovation is far more inclusive than the iconic "Mamie Pink" attributed to then-First Lady Mamie Eisenhower.

Indeed, their design embraces style from the 1800s (think Cuban-tile floors) to contemporary furnishings like the sectional sofa in the living room.

"Most of our furniture is recycled," said Ducote. "We mix different styles and periods like the living room's Eames chair and footstool purchased at a vintage store in Fort Lauderdale, with a wooden console carved in a 1970s Brutalist manner."

The bedroom features a king-sized bed custom made from antique doors, and diverse though the household pieces are, they come together smoothly into a "transitional style of mostly 1950s to the 2000s," said Orozco. "There's no clutter, but this is not minimalism."

Minimalism's starkness is softened into sleek lines here, with polished cypress ceilings in all four rooms and wooden furniture, such as the thick, Indonesian dining room table that generates warmth. The interior design gets hot when color is applied to each room: an orange sleeper sofa in Ducote's office, another yellow Eames ensemble in Orozco's office; in the living room an orange-ish gabbeh rug and orange counters in the kitchen.

"The former owner upgraded the kitchen in the late 1990s using ornately carved wood cabinets and granite countertops," Orozco said. "That was trendy then, but we wanted something more in keeping with the original Formica."

Plastic fit the retro-order, and now orange-laminate counters and plain white wood cabinets complement the grey-floor swirls and stainless steel appliances, which stayed in place.

Black track lighting was attached to the dark, cypress beams.

"The lighting was tricky," Orozco said. "We didn't want wire showing on the exposed beams, but we wanted spotlights on the art."

The couple's art collection is primarily local, primarily Orozco's abstract work, however, artist Shari Schmiel gets impressive placement with five paintings hung in a straight line on the kitchen wall.

A kinetic sculpture by Orozco hangs from the back patio's covered ceiling, where poinciana pods are strung together and move in organic tandem with each breeze that flows through the newly installed fruit tree grove that includes papaya, pomegranate, bananas and guava.

There's even a vegetable garden to restore the soul of this carefully renovated house.

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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