By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen
Artist Eric Anfinson bought his house on Catherine Street one month before Hurricane Wilma flooded it in October 2005. The good news: He had already hired boat-builders Rick Keith and Paul Pranger to make some modifications.
Because the universe works in wondrous ways, what might have been chaos for some homeowners turned into "a chance to start over" for Anfinson, whose home and Mockingbird Studio is open to the public today, during The Studios of Key West's Art Studio Tour.
Anfinson explained that even Mockingbird Studio got its start through cosmic intervention.
"At the turn of the century, a mockingbird not only sat outside my window, where I then lived on South Street, but it followed me around for two weeks. It was so persistent I researched the Florida state bird to understand its significance, and learned that the mockingbird is the symbol for 'time to share your gift with the world,'" he said.
"I'm a self-taught artist and hadn't publicly shown my work until that mockingbird got my attention, just about the time Kim Narenkivicius was developing a 2002 group exhibit at her Salt Gallery. I participated in the show, and once I shared my art with the world, I knew my studio would be called Mockingbird."
Three years later, when Anfinson bought his house with his studio in mind, there were only two trees on the Catherine Street property after the storm took its toll. He knew he wanted birds and butterflies in the garden, encased within a 6-foot fence, so he hired Scott Montgomery at Native Design to do the landscaping.
"Trees outside filter light inside my studio, which has an effect on the outcome of a painting," Anfinson said.
These days, a lush garden features a 20-year-old lignum vitae near the center of the rear garden, where of course, a fountain attracts birds. There's a giant gumbo limbo, a patio covered with an Arizona-style arbor that boasts a black ironwood tree and throughout, there are energy pockets, Anfinson said. "You can't argue with it, you just feel it."
Although the house has a formal entrance in the front garden, the working entrance is up the driveway, past the Mockingbird Studio sign and through the fence into the rear garden. Its rust-colored fence, the half-circle storage shed and the bold blue concrete-block exteriors of both house and shed -- a nod from Anfinson to artist Frida Kahlo's Blue House in Mexico City-- brings a southwestern aura to the tropics.
Boatbuilders Keith and Pranger collaborated with Anfinson to totally reconfigure the former 2-bed/2-bath house built in "the Eisenhower days, somewhere between 1952 and 1954," said Anfinson. "We got rid of the pink bathroom."
In what is now a 1,000-square-foot structure, a spiraling focal point begins in the kitchen. Here, the custom-built wooden cabinets and angled countertop is the center from which the spiral continues outdoors in the form of a concrete walkway, framed by rustic fences that wrap around to the front garden.
The spiral is probably more apparent from a mockingbird's-eye view, but you can't argue with cosmic theory, you just feel it. Because "the kitchen is where everyone spends time," Anfinson's spacious-and-uncluttered galley kitchen is as much a hub of the open-floor plan as his art studio and living area.
This great room makes up half the house. The other half is Anfinson's master bedroom suite, equally uncluttered and fully loaded with wooden details. For instance, the huge "boat bath" has a moveable wooden closet. Wood-sliding doors hide the water closet and washer/dryer across from the Jacuzzi and walk-in shower.
These two-tone doors, like all the doors in the house, were Keith-and-Pranger-made from the Atlantic Shores resort pier, retrieved after Wilma destroyed it: "We repurposed everything," Anfinson said of the doors, some of the furniture, the garden sculptures made from found objects.
The Saltillo-tile floors throughout the house not only reinforce the southwestern ambiance, they reinforce Anfinson's continual observation of the universe: Only wood beams-- no interior walls -- touch the floors to allow easy mop ups "when, not if" the cosmos intervenes again.
"To make me less vulnerable, all the electric, A/C handlers, the cabinetry are raised 3-feet off the ground," he said. "This is a boat built in Arizona."
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.