Keys Homes
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Old Town itch

By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen

A few years back, Joe and Sandra Vizzini got "the Old Town itch."

They had owned a townhouse in Truman Annex since 2004, but decided an old house in Key West was more in keeping with their historical interests. When they bought 311 William St. in November 2011, they really got an antique -- possibly the oldest structure still standing in the Key West Bight neighborhood: The plaque on the front gate identifies it as the John Curry house, built in 1847.

"Just last week, a man walking up Sawyer Lane, next to our property, told me he worked on the house awhile back, and found a cursive inscription of someone's name dated 1847 on a beam in the attic," said Joe. "He thinks it was a carpenter."

Renovations and structural makeovers, interior remodels and contemporary updates during the past 165 years have left their marks just as distinctively as the attic inscription. For instance, the wide-plank floors and walls in the central hallway speak to the original two-room house, which currently contains the three bedroom suites; two at ground level, one in the second story.

The central hall staircase may have been a later addition, when need-based construction accessed the half-story attic for more livable space. And were the four dormers punched into the side-gable roof then or during yet another makeover?

Whatever the timeline, the present configuration of the house is impressive: 1,850 square feet of charm, with approximately 1,400 feet in the original house -- 700 down, 700 up, where the second floor guest suite occupies half the space, the other half devoted to Joe's office, an open room that overlooks the stairway.

"Joe is visually oriented, and up here the built-in shelves and desk offer plenty of space to spread out," said Sandra.

Centered in the room is a round table that serves as a conference table--Joe's a financial planner and investment advisor--and one of the office dormers features a boat door to the back garden deck overlooking Sawyer Lane.

Although there is no kitchen on the second floor, it is a legal 2-room/1-bath unit, which can be locked out from the primary residence below, just inside the foyer entry to the long hallway.

In this hallway, the Vizzinis made their only structural change to the house, when they hired architect Tom Pope to enclose a doorway that led to a bathroom. He incorporated it into the owner's bedroom suite. Bright and airy, the bath has windows and two doors that distinguish it as a walk-through to the back-garden verandah.

This verandah wraps around two walls of folding French doors, which create the ultimate indoor-outdoor living space in the large rear addition that was already in place when the Vizzinis bought the property. The great room is a contiguous living area--16-feet by 25-feet of kitchen, living and dining--with an extra 7 feet outdoors under the covered verandah, where two more tables afford casual and formal dining.

"David Dressie decorated the interior," said Sandra of the light, airy ambiance and contemporary furniture: a moderately sized round table for indoor dining, white overstuffed chairs and sofa accented with blue tick pillows.

Several beams cross the great room's vaulted ceiling, where one boasts a Mario Sanchez artwork. It hangs from chains between the living-room sofa and the verandah's dining-room table, and is "a piece of his bag art featuring 'Crawfish Jack' on one side and a 'Superb Elegant Lady' on the other," said Joe. "The only way to show both sides was to hang it from a beam."

The visual expands the Vizzini art collection upwards, while other paintings by the likes of Rick Worth, Poochie Myers and Michael Palmer hang more gallery-like on walls. But not all is locally produced: The first-floor guest suite features two prints from The Wooden Boat Festival, imported from the couple's hometown of Madison, La.

"It's a town of about 1,000 residents that swells to 20,000 during the festival," said Joe.

From the Louisiana bayous to the Keys' chain of islands, a nautical theme runs deep in all three of the Vizzinis' households.

"You gotta have a project," Joe noted of their house in Louisiana, or maybe, the one in North Carolina.

Key West is special, though: although local interior designer David Dressie decorated all three houses, "this is my favorite," said Joe, who points to a watercolor in the great room. "Christine Cordone painted it."

The image of 311 William St. salutes John Curry and the plaque on the fence, but to scratch that Old Town itch, the painting is entitled "Joe's Old House."

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 Homes listed for sale may not be considered.

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