Keys Homes
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Living the dream

By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen

"Our dream was to live in an old house in Key West," said Larry Carmack, who formerly worked for the U.S. government and traveled the world with his wife, Maryann.

The Carmacks walked into their dream in 2008, when Larry retired and the couple bought the property at 1221 Newton St. But because Maryann was still working in Virginia, Larry spent the first 14 months living here alone; working on things like the exterior wood siding, overseeing a new roof and the installation of central air conditioning.

"At one time, this was architect Tom Pope's home, although we did not buy it from him," Larry said.

Probably built in the early 1900s, Pope renovated it in the '70s then after selling the property, the house fell into disrepair, was sold again and renovated again in 2001. By the time the Carmacks found it, the house had some upgrading issues.

You know the drill; get rid of the purple-glitter paint on the walls, remove the contact paper atop laminate shelving.

"We loved the house, though, and with the exception of the roof and AC, we did all the work ourselves," said Maryann. "I did stuff I never dreamed I'd do."

When Maryann retired to Key West in 2010, Larry already had the infrastructure in place so the focus turned to the interior.

Indoors, Larry's appreciation for wood and his wood-turning skills came in handy, especially when he applied them to the wealth of Dade County pine throughout the house. Just from the walls of the living-and-dining rooms the couple removed 17 layers of paint.

Here at the front of the 1700-square-foot structure, they took out a drywall to bring the living area together again, at which time they discovered two columns that demarcate parlor lounging from dining.

"The columns are original to the house and were hidden when a closet was built between the two rooms," Larry said. "I guess the parlor was used as a bedroom."

These days, only a foyer wall separates entry and staircase from what is basically a Victorian great room. Wrapped with a covered front-and-side porch outside, inside, the great room ends where three 10-foot-high doors invite guests into the informal living area at the back of the house. Two of these doors open to the kitchen and sitting room -- an addition from earlier years, which the Carmacks revamped with new pine floors and ceiling.

The third is to the guest bedroom, and what might have been a rear porch at one time.

Hand-woven Arabic rugs adorn most floors and contribute warmth, color and texture. A particularly large one decorates the 16-by 20-foot dining room.

"Maryann spent hours drinking tea and negotiating the price of that rug with a Bedouin in Afghanistan," said Larry. "She brought the price down by a thousand dollars."

Maryann's patience and fiscal prowess have been of great benefit during the ongoing makeover, as has her appreciation for antiques, of which some in the house are family heirlooms. For instance, the burled-walnut mirror in the foyer came from the amusement park her family formerly owned in Virginia; the big Buckroe Beach Amusement Park sign stretched above the two doors in the kitchen/sitting room is original to the park.

But some pieces, like the bureau in the master suite on the second floor, came with the house.

"I'm told the bureau belonged to Tom Pope's grandmother, which he built into the wall when he converted the attic to a bed, bath and sitting room," said Maryann. "We upgraded the bathroom -- re-tiled the shower and floor with tumbled marble -- but did little else to the master suite."

The Carmack labor of love is winding down. Some landscaping is in progress, but when it comes to old homes in Key West, living the dream means there's always something to work on.

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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