Keys Homes
Sunday, June 30, 2013
Earthbound powerhouse

By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen

The ancient elements of earth, fire, wind and water come together with modern finesse in Dr. Georgina Lester's Key West home.

Slate walkways, granite-concrete-and-wood walls, Terrazzo and stone-tile floors make powerful statements at 123 Key Haven Drive, where an open-water channel rushes past the back garden seawall to the Gulf of Mexico.

Walls of fixed-pane windows in front and back of the house orchestrate a flow of nature and light throughout the living space, where the interior design has been tweaked on three different occasions by Carmen Rodriguez.

"I did the first interior design when Georgina, a close friend since childhood, bought the property in the early 2000s," said Rodriguez, who is also a Key West native daughter known for many fine art talents -- everything from singing to acting and costume design for local theaters. "The second makeover was after Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and the most recent is almost complete."

The 12-year evolution to the interior's contemporary, clean lines was influenced by the hard, rectilinear edges of the structure built in the 1950s, and by David Dressie, another well-known local interior designer.

"I worked on many projects with David and his partner Tommy; six on Sunset Key," said Rodriguez. "David was the idea man -- he's brilliant -- and Tommy and I, the finishers. I learned a lot and loved the time we worked and traveled together all over the country."

Though Rodriguez still conspires with David and Tommy, she has always been the force behind Dr. Lester's Key Haven four-bedroom/three-bathroom house.

"Initially, it was a cozy, homier design," Rodriguez said. "I saved some of the furniture from former makeovers -- the leather footstools in the living room, for instance -- but the sofa and chairs are new this round."

The oval dining room table with massive wood legs made the cut from the last design, and the huge wood-framed mirror leaning against the interior granite wall was retrieved from another Rodriguez project. Overall, the mix 'n match of wood and upholstered pieces creates warmth on solid Terrazzo floors in the kitchen and living room, which step down to stone tiles in the dining room.

Rich highlights play off the furniture and the hard structural surfaces by way of five floor-to-ceiling fixed-pane windows in the 15-by-25-foot living room, and seven more panels in the almost-as-large dining room.

The spacious living area feels wide open, although no structural changes transformed it into a great room; it remains true to its original three-room floor plan of separate kitchen, living and dining room. The window walls, a kitchen pass-through and five wide, unframed doorways contribute to the immense sense of space.

Rodriguez says that with each renovation the walls were replastered and repainted, but there is "just one color on the house walls... . I think people are always the colorful part of any home," she said.

To this end, artwork of and by the colorful characters in the Lester family abounds: Oil paintings by Georgina's Cuban-born grandmother; a photograph of her father (also Dr. Lester) standing by his airplane hangs in the guest wing of the house.

In fact in the right wing, an entire hallway of black-and-white photos from generations of Lesters forms a straight line that connects the three bedrooms located there. Some are youthful shots of Georgina Lester and Carmen Rodriguez.

"My goal was to use as much of her family stuff as possible, but change the ambiance into a significantly new look," said Rodriguez.

That look encompasses the environment and its earthy elements, tied together with the color choice of silver-grey and varying shades of the buttonwood hedge lining the side of the property.

Not all is about slate and granite, though; blue bedspreads in the boys' room contribute to a "ship's cabin" theme, which nods powerfully to the fast-moving current that flows behind the house, past the screened-in porch, the seawall and boat dock.

Two swinging iron gates at the edge of the garden's concrete patio separate land and sea, and the day's grey skies and torrential rains have momentarily given way to gusty winds that flow through the covered deck.

Rodriguez says the wood deck has yet to be enlarged, new outdoor furniture is on the agenda, the landscaping done in conjunction with Craig Reynolds is a work in progress and, generally, taming the elements at this earthbound powerhouse is an ongoing job.

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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