By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen
In early 1990, homeowners Woody and Joan Cornell designed and built their modern, non-conforming house at 1422 Washington St. Its stylized southwestern-beam trellis and adobe coloring are as much a standout from neighboring houses as the unusual "beak" roofline, which protects the front gable and gives the "wings" on both sides of the house a Concorde supersonic-jet appearance.
This vision is all Woody's, and like most of his other innovations, it is the culmination of many years' experience in the hospitality industry.
"We owned the Barnacle Bed & Breakfast on Big Pine in the 1980s," said Joan. "Before that we were Vermont country innkeepers at the Reluctant Panther."
During those pre-computer, pre-smart-house Vermont years, the couple raised four kids and handled all aspects of their country inn.
"When I wasn't bartending for guests, I was in my workshop," recalled Woody. "If guests arrived, or Joan needed me, she got my attention with our not-so-high-tech lighting system -- two flicks of the basement lights."
These days, the couple is techier; nevertheless, some remnants of the Reluctant Panther remain: A big taxidermy bobcat showcases the interior, fourth level of the Cornell's home, where Vermont meets Key West next to a geometrically patterned red sofa. Obviously expensive when it was new, Woody says the curved custom-made sofa, which he found at Salvation Army, "is the best buy I ever made."
Woody knows something about buying and making things. What's more, if he doesn't make it himself, he designs it for someone else to make; everything from handleless faucets and camouflaged toilet flushes to showers with slide-back ceilings and the most unique kitchen island imaginable. It features "no stools to scuff up floors" because retractable pink-tractor seats disappear under the island, which looks a lot like an angled kitchen table.
Oddly angled furniture and cabinets' made by Woody offset traditional straight lines, and the occasional made-by-someone-else item in the house.
"My dad made the palm-tree railings on our rear balcony," he said. "To keep the rails from rotting, he designed them to lift out from the wood base that has a thin-iron bar set into it -- a channel idea of sorts."
Maintenance-free ideas run in the family. For instance, the handleless faucets that Woody designed and made for the kitchen, and the property's 3.5 bathrooms, are intended to keep standard limey corrosion off sinks. Particularly innovative is the kitchen's stainless steel faucet, which hangs and swivels above the sink.
Consider the designed and made-by-Woody retractable shower ceilings for both bedroom suites located on the mezzanine. Besides being sexy indoor-outdoor showers, the convertible ceilings fend off bathroom mold and mildew.
Also at mezzanine level, the one-of-a-kind X-window visible from the street has triangular openings that facilitate airflow through the circular center of the house.
Beginning with the ground-level entry doorway (made of wrought iron by Reen Stanhouse), natural circulation follows curved stairs to the second-level living area, where a half wall of glass tiles separates the stairs from their continued upward curve to the mezzanine. Here, the X-window picks up the airflow and carries it to the den on the fourth level then out through the den's rear-balcony doors.
This modified circular staircase is one among carefully considered and ingeniously designed elements in the guesthouse and primary residence. Take the curvature of the central interior walls that keep airflow from hanging up on hard edges. Or the glass-block motif throughout the houses, which includes a "carpet" in the mezzanine floor that naturally lights the formal, recessed entry below.
A retractable interior shade above the kitchen island limits the view of unsightly after-dinner dishes from the long Corian dining-room table. Corian is on all countertops, of course, for easy maintenance.
And of course, the table's coral base was made by Woody.
The creativity of things made by Woody is revealed only with direct questioning. More apparent are the local artists, whose work ramps up the interior charm: Baron, Palmer, Mueller, Salinero, Moody, Worth. A wondrous painting of watermelons by Santa Fe artist Kevin Sloan (formerly of Key West) hangs in the living room.
It is framed by Woody via a green rectangle painted on the living-room wall and edged with wood. Though intended "to have the painting stand out from the wall," in effect, the entire wall becomes the painting's frame, a trick applied to an abstract DeGaad painting, where the kitchen ceiling becomes its frame.
"We ran out of wall space," said Woody.
So: Art hangs in unlikely places, such as in both of the garages; one that houses the car on the left side of the house, one on the right side devoted expressly to the workshop, where all manner of things are made by Woody, and where Joan probably still gets his attention by flicking the light switch.