Keys Homes
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Working the house

By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen

After two intense years -- 2010 to April 2012 -- Jeff and Julie Cornfeld's remake of the prominent house at 426 Elizabeth St. is complete, and its structural strengthening and redesign by Bert Bender and Associates recently earned a prestigious, historic preservation star, awarded for renovation.

With a minor shift in the ground-level floor plan, which absorbed an old back porch into the new kitchen, Jeff said, "Bert opened the kitchen to the garden -- a rearrangement that made the house work."

Redirecting which way the kitchen faces sounds simple enough, but architectural footprints of these old houses -- and the historic preservation board's mission to retain their historic splendor -- lend themselves to change about as easily as, say, a mule-team moves a house from one location to the next. In 1912, though, that's exactly how this Greek revival beauty got from Duval and Fleming to the corner of Elizabeth and Fleming.

By reworking the footprint into greater compatibility with its corner lot location, the reward was indoor living that blended smoothly into outdoor living around the Cornfelds' new pool and deck; a task nowhere in sight when the house was built in 1888.

Finessing the use of old and new was also the task of interior designer David Smith, who integrated stylishness and high-tech amenities into two-and-a-half stories of large rooms, high ceilings and an overall, 2800-square-feet of interior space.

"I trusted him completely, and never would have thought to do some of the things he did," said Julie.

Take the kitchen cabinets -- white uppers and natural unpainted wood cabinets below them. The dark-to-light effect is bridged by Caesarstone countertops, and in this case, the highly durable, man-made quartz is off white. Its lightly colored surface plays into the fade of cabinets, and against a backsplash of pale grey tiles.

Twelve-foot walls accommodate the kitchen's dappled shades; in fact, the size and height of almost every room affords it a different pastel color, with striking contrasts in upholstered furniture. In the dining room, soft yellow walls surround an oval table with citron and lime-green patterns in chairs. The shift to light blue in the living room is noticeable, but a visually comfortable move through the giant pocket doors between the two rooms.

"We restored the doorway to its original, larger size and discovered the pocket doors buried in the walls," said Bert.

Finding the hardware to precisely match the holes in the antique doors was no small task, either.

"It's amazing what you can find on the Internet," said Jeff, who also noted attention to other details, such as the elaborate wood molding left in some places from previous makeovers, while some was returned to an original, less-ornate state, in keeping with the couple's taste.

A fake fireplace was removed, but the foyer/hallway stairs remain in their original form, featuring an antique crystal ball capping the newel post.

The decorative play in old rooms with new tricks is most apparent in chandeliers throughout the house. Julie says a Chihuly-like chandelier in the foyer is among Smith's "great finds," but the tiered and multi-crystal ball chandelier in the dining room is pretty spiffy, too.

Its mini-match is in daughter Elizabeth's bathroom on the second floor. Up here, her bedroom suite takes a colorful leap from pastels to hot-pink, lime and peach. The upbeat design is full of 15 year old energy, but for the most part, the second-floor's soaring walls boast deeper tones suited to quiet relaxation.

"At first, the blue-grey wallpaper seemed too dark," said Julie. These days, though, she admits the master suite is her favorite household retreat.

It stretches above the entire living-and-dining room below, and its upholstered furniture features brightly colored patterns that pop from the dark linen wallpaper. Full-length white-and-gray drapes at each of the French doors on the wrap-around balcony filter light into this 3-room suite.

Tall windows and one of the three new dormers take full advantage of natural light in 10-year-old Alex's bedroom area, where a built-in brass porthole adds a new trick to lighting that may enter through his bedroom door...or not, if he chooses to close the porthole's cover.

In Jeff's office, drape-less windows flood light onto the built-in desk made of heart pine salvaged during the restoration; just another rearrangement that makes the house work.

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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