Keys Homes
Sunday, January 6, 2013

By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen

Shortly after the Navy turned Truman Annex over to the city of Key West, Linda and John Russin were among the first to buy a lot from then-developer, Pritam Singh.

No matter that back in the late 1980s "the roads were mud, and trash was piled up beneath the occasional coconut tree," Linda said, "you just knew property across from the Little White House--which at the time, was not in particularly good shape, either--would eventually be a great location."

Well before the Little White House was restored to the impressive Harry S Truman museum it is today, it influenced the house the Russins built in 1991 at 110 Front St.

"Our exterior shutters are intentionally similar to the museum's to complement its architecture," said Linda, who also owns and operates local WIIS 107.1 FM radio station. "Of course, we had to meet the developer's Conch house requirements and the Historic Architectural Review Commission ultimately had to approve the design, but I drove all over the island taking photos of houses and buildings that I liked."

Connecting the new house with the past was important to the Russins so also incorporated into architect Bill Taylor's plan were elements of the octagon-shaped house in the 700 block of Eaton Street, as well as "my grandma's house in Oklahoma," said Linda.

Architectural features from several buildings have been assimilated into a unique structural design; something of a Coptic cross, which is basically made up of two bold lines of equal length that intersect at the middle at right angles.

The cross's front axis features three front doors on the porch that wraps around the dining room; the formal entry on the right side, the informal entry to the left of the dining room is into the kitchen.

A central stair and hallway connects the dining room at the front to the living room at the back. At both front and back, French doors and floor to ceiling windows expose the interior to natural light, especially in the living room, where the windows soar two stories high. Back here and up here, a curved wooden balcony overlooks the living room's interior, as do two charming sets of casement windows that open from two of the three bedroom suites on the second floor.

Such clever connections to architecture and Key West history are thoughtfully integrated into the interior design. For instance, in one of the guest suites, a framed Alan Maltz photo of a full moon rising over the Little White House was taken from where the Russins' home is located now, but before it was built.

In the master suite, which has the same dimensions as the dining room below it, blue toile hand screened at the former Key West Hand Print Fabric store includes the Southernmost house on the bedspread.

Audubon bird prints hang in almost every room--including the bathrooms--although the big kitchen playfully features pink flamingos in several art forms.

The kitchen is the westerly axis of the first floor's cross design, with interior access from the dining room or the living room. Specialty glass tiles make up back splashes beneath walls of white cabinets, behind stainless steel appliances and atop white counters.

"The architect's wife, interior designer Phyllis Taylor, selected the accent tiles in turquoise and greens, which are my favorite colors," said Linda. "The dark blue on the walls in the TV room was her idea, too. I like it, but I would never have done that."

The two women worked closely together to find antiques like the washstand (Linda) and its marble top (Phyllis) in the first-floor bathroom, where its wallpaper matches the bluetick fabric on the sofa in the adjoining TV room.

An antique Gyro ceiling fan in this room came from a factory in Kentucky, but old fans and old phones from various places are strategically placed throughout the house. Some have silver-plated parts akin to the door hinges and chandeliers and glass doorknobs, which are similar to those found in Grandma's Oklahoma house.

"The old stuff seems to always come in brass and we wanted the shiny, crisp look of a modern home," said Linda, whose contemporary house connects her to an older way of living just by location: "Sometimes we sit on the front porch and listen to the music that comes from whatever event is going on at the Little White House," she said.

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 Homes listed for sale may not be considered.

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