Keys Homes
Sunday, November 11, 2012
Never leave home

By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen

The Atlantic Ocean waves that lap onto the private beach behind 15420 Old State Road appealed to Carol Phillips.

"My focus was property on the water," she said of the three-bedroom/two-bathroom house she bought in 2005. "The beach was extra."

Of course, the near-presence of a sandy beach means the house on Sugarloaf Key is built to FEMA standards -- two stories above an enclosed ground-floor garage. It also means that Phillips' home is akin to places she's visited, like South Africa and Bali, the Caribbean and Thailand, where oceans and beaches, even elephant school, mean a lot to her.

"If you look closely, you can see the trainer sitting behind me on the elephant," Phillips said modestly as she pointed to a man's arm near her shoulder in a photo, which holds place on a night stand in her bedroom.

Very few photos decorate the irregular layout of the main-floor's six rooms, or the upper level's balcony-sitting room, two-room master suite and huge spa-like bathroom.

In fact, cultural artifacts from her worldly travels account for most everything upon entry up the curved central staircase. Front and center in the spacious living room is a one-ton elephant yoke and a hand-carved table from Guatemala.

The heavy table snugs into the front of the highly textured L-shape sectional seating area, which like most of the furniture, was purchased in the Keys -- mementoes from traveling the Overseas Highway since Phillips permanently settled here.

"I haven't had the need to travel as much as before," she said.

With surroundings like this, she has little need to go elsewhere. Consider the masks from New Guinea, zebra and springbok rugs, kudu and ostrich-egg lamps that showcase a smaller sofa in the media room.

Just off the living room, the media room is the only room in the house without windows and dramatically suited to its dark African ambiance. But even the architectural design is interesting. It's one of three hexagonally shaped rooms.

Next to it, another six-sided room features a bamboo ceiling, hand-painted Balinese hutch and mirror, a table and grass rug handmade to suit the shape of the room.

These two hexagonal rooms are part of, yet apart from, the central living area, where four sets of massive sliding-glass doors are crowned with Palladium windows arching near the 25-foot ceiling.

The natural world flows through all the glass into a U-shaped kitchen, which merges with the multi-room-living area's curves and angles. What's more, ocean views from almost every room reveal a house that "lends itself to all my travels," Phillips said. "It's surprising how many different cultures come together comfortably."

Phillips says she brought "millions of boxes with stuff" from her former Atlanta home, and David Smith with Fast Bucks at Home "put it all together. He kept everything fresh, modern and not too cluttered."

The big, contemporary house was built in 1996, with plenty of floor space for the furniture purchased specifically for it. Neutral colors in wickers, woods and heavily textured upholstery compliment the more colorful collection of art and artifacts from around the world.

For instance, in one room of the two-room guest wing, a charming bamboo bed frames a Haitian painting; a half dozen more line another wall. This suite's decor is predominantly Caribbean; its two rooms divided by a floor-to-ceiling-tiled bathroom in the same shades of blue splashing across the beach to the free-form pool and coral deck that Phillips had built after Hurricane Georges.

The entire house is a testament to Phillips adventures, although the spacious upper level, alone, is reason enough to never leave home. This is her private reserve; a balcony sitting room, full of travel memories, which overlooks the living area. From here, a zig and a zag leads to the ever-more private master bedroom, located atop the guest wing and octagonal rooms below.

Officially, this is a three-room suite, but a massive canopied "opium bed" creates a sleep section between the bathroom--10-foot by 10-foot , with extra space for laundry and shower-- and an octagonal sitting room, where two of its six walls have been removed to shape up one unusually angled bedroom.

When the queen-size bed's gauzy panels are open, views of the ocean and beach are out there, of course, but an equally striking view is inside toward the sitting room's handcrafted Moroccan décor. Painted-wood panels turn windows into minarets. Benches, a central wood table and a drop-tiled ceiling were made just for this room.

Then there's the bathroom; far more spa than water closet. This is where the house's exotic cultures, design and textures culminate in an infinity-edge bathtub: It overflows like a fountain into a rock-bed on the floor.

Two 6-foot-high hand-hewn Indonesian gods guard the tub, and all is reflected in a full-wall mirror.

Wood frames built into this mirrored wall above the long vanity create an otherworldly floating sensation. Should swooning occur, the nearby lounge chair is strategically placed across from the morning kitchen, where only wine and chocolate are stocked in the fridge.

Why go anywhere else in the world?

Barbara Bowers is a Key West writer and host of a radio talk show about owning and maintaining property in the Florida Keys. 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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