By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen
Rumor has it that the large property at 1225 South St. was a key lime plantation in the mid-1800s. Rumored also, is the octagonal gazebo in the front garden was relocated there from St. Mary's Convent before it was destroyed in the 1950s.
One thing's for sure, though; there really is an elephant in the living room. What's more, it will be on display Feb. 2 and 3 during The Studios of Key West's Art Studio Tour in Phyllis Rose and Laurent de Brunhoff's Key West home.
When the couple bought the property in 1994, they converted the living-and-dining room of the antique Greek revival house into the bright, airy space that is today de Brunhoff's studio. So for two days only, his original art for the next Babar the Elephant book, which is soon to be released, sits tidily atop his drawing table for your viewing pleasure.
"By modifying the existing first-floor plan, we turned the front parlor into Laurent's in-home studio, and shifted the entrance from the side-garden porch to its original location at the front porch," said Rose, an author and photographer who collaborates with de Brunhoff on the text for the popular children's books.
Her opening address at this month's Key West Literary Seminar, "Can Writer's Ride Bikes? was a smashing success, and Rose's art studio in the house's rear garden is on the tour, too, making 1225 South St. a two-studio stop for the TSKW tour.
"At the back of the house, there was an open Caribbean kitchen," she said.
"Open Caribbean" means it was a kitchen with a roof, no walls and it was attached to a step-down porch overlooking several out houses filled with salvage accumulated by the former owner.
"This was a real hippie house," laughed Rose. "Everything about it is salvage."
The couple has since raised the porch floor level with the kitchen's to create a big kitchen-dining combo that still features the weathered and natural wood counters that were in the open Caribbean kitchen.
They enclosed the room with windows and French doors all around. In fact, most exterior doors, and some interior doors on both floors of the 3-bed/3-bath primary residence, are French doors.
Several windows on the first floor were converted to doors to enhance indoor light and outdoor living. For instance, the central living room between de Brunhoff's studio and the kitchen has French doors inserted for access to the southwesterly porch addition Rose designed.
"I salvaged the porch columns from architect Michael Miller," said Rose. "They were too small for the project he was working on, and I loved them, but didn't know how I was going to use them" until the porch was added on, about the same time the couple had a lap pool built in the garden behind the gazebo.
On the other side of the house, the former owners had already converted a cistern into a dip pool, but Rose and de Brunhoff wanted something more Zen-like in front of Rose's studio: They angled a new deck across the pool, hired John Peppers to design a waterfall and transform the dip pool into a pond, with rocks he salvaged from his native North Carolina.
Once the koi fish grew to fit the pond (they are giants), Rose installed a giant porcelain pot into the center of the pond, where goldfish swim. In effect, she cleverly created a pond in a pond, behind a wall of vegetation -- tall palm trees and thick understory -- that separates this cozy space from all the decks, porches and brick patios that wrap around the house.
"When we redesigned the garden, we took up stacks of red brick," she said.
The garden has matured with the passage of 19 years, and rumor has it that tending to it is one of the couple's passions.
"I'm executive gardener, he's sous gardener," said Rose, as she and de Brunhoff walked me past a towering lignum vitae by the porch steps leading up to his studio ... where an elephant is presently springing to life.
Presently, there are no key limes on the property, but whether that back-fence talk about a plantation is fact or fiction, all things were, and still are possible in this household.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Homes listed for sale may not be considered.