By P.D. CUMMINGS Special to The Citizen
If Fitzgerald had visited Hemingway in Key West, he would have realized that second acts are possible in American lives. Something in our island's atmosphere encourages us to try on different costumes and become who we want to be. Our venerable homes have been the backdrop for generations of "plays," with scenery changing to suit.
On Friday and Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the five houses on the Old Island Restoration Foundation House Tour will tell many tales:
411 Elizabeth St. -- Richard Curry's old Greek revival residence is imposingly set upon a terrace above street-level, and became available as a distressed property. Jessica is a local girl whose career path carried her to the West Coast, but Key West kept calling her home. When she and her husband saw the stately old house, they found the stage for their eventual retirement.
The previous owner had updated the property with high-quality finishes. Bedroom suites and living room retain a historic feel; a stairway was even salvaged from an old hotel. But opening the side of the house takes full advantage of a broad lot, reorienting living space to flow from a well-appointed kitchen to the side pool and patio. A mahogany louvered screen joins the main and guest houses while hiding the scene from street view. To Jessica, the designer stylishness is not quite right in tone. Touches of Keys' color and art are being added to bring local character back to the decor.
717 Southard St. -- Two New Yorkers left high-paying careers to do social work in paradise. Their first home in Key West was a cottage the size of a NYC apartment on a pedestrian lane -- a gem featured on a previous OIRF tour.
McGonigle and Hampton relocated to more expansive quarters, a building that served as the neighborhood general store a century ago. A 2007 reconfiguration created a grand central hall, open living/dining salon, and a 2-level master suite -- skylights bring in the stars. The lane where carts unloaded merchandise is now dubbed "Love;" a side courtyard fountain receives coins with wishes and marriage proposals have been uttered in the old building's shadow.
806 Ashe St. -- As the Winfreys neared retirement from Washington, DC, it occurred to them that their tiny vacation home could not accommodate holiday family gatherings and working at home. As a replacement, they chose a 100+-year-old, two-unit structure with potential for expansion and re-conversion to a single-family home. They underestimated the extent of renovation it required, but two years of work earned a Ceramic Star for historic preservation.
Tropical colors and exposed wood compose the backdrop for eclectic antiques, arts and crafts. Architectural salvage from DC and central Florida augmented original materials retained in the old dwelling. A new master suite addition incorporates a claw-footed tub that conveyed with the house. It all adds up to their Keysy hideaway on a quiet street.
1130 Duval, 2nd floor - The Green Pineapple is the latest act for Debbi Lippi. Transitioning from a counseling career, she lives above her combination gallery/boutique/wine bar/yoga space -- all focused on sustainability.
New age sensibilities have replaced the long-ago auto dealerships and repair bays that occupied this 1940's commercial space. A second floor apartment continues the shop's themes. The best of past renovations was retained, while dramatic color, vintage and contemporary furnishings, plus local art enliven the spacious loft. A balcony is prime seating for watching the nightly Duval Street show. Next role for the space will be as a special event venue -- after the renovations are completed on Debbi's next abode.
411 Louisa St. -- When Diane May last showcased her home, it was a pristine white Casa Marina estate with an interesting back story. She has now taken on her latest project, a plot of land with more twist in its tale than any soap opera. The four-lot complex had contained several units around a motel-sized pool; it had housed a locally-renown orchid grower and his conservatory. The remnant of a row of 1890's shotgun houses still faces the street as a separate unit.
This site is presented as a "work-in-progress," a peek behind the curtains before opening night. When done, the "classic" courtyard fountain and marble-floored grand salon will welcome festive crowds; the parties will spill over to the poolside bar. It takes a special person to live amid the messy process, but Diane smiles as she explains, "I watch my dreams come true."
Tickets for the home tours are available in advance and at the featured homes on tour day. For more information visit oirf.org, the Oldest House at 322 Duval St., or call 305-294-9501.
(OIRF produces four tours each year and welcomes nominations of homes to be featured next winter.)