By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen
"The quiet," said Valerie Miles. "This is why my Key West friends want to house sit for me."
Because Miles formerly owned a townhouse on Frances Street, she well understands the sound level of Old Town, where life inside densely clustered buildings is often heard outside; where non-stop traffic and the roar of motorcycles drown out the trill of tree frogs.
So Miles wanted to get back to nature and she "really missed gardening." To sink her fingers into the good earth, she moved up island in 2004, into a 2000-square-foot house with twice as much land surrounding it, on a cove, within visibility, but not ear-shot, of the Saddle Bunch Keys Bridge.
"When I bought 76 Bay Drive, the yard was vanilla--void of plants, empty," Miles said. "The garden became my focus."
Tucked into what is now lush landscaping, seating areas galore include the dock and hot-tub deck, which boasts a weathered sign reading "If life is a journey, this must be the destination." Adirondack chairs define another sitting space on a cove bank; an octagonal wooden deck features a sail cloth to shade the table and fireplace located there, and a Saltillo-tile patio beneath the house's balcony is ideal for relocating dinner parties during this summer's rainy season.
"Bobby Kenny helped me landscape, and he did all the exterior modifications like the grape arbor in front, my tree house in back," said Miles.
The grape arbor speaks for itself, although the treehouse needs some clarification: It is a wood-deck bump out built onto the rear-concrete balcony, which enlarged a section of the balcony on one side of the house. A bird feeder hangs in the towering Poinciana tree, and it's quiet enough to hear the lap of water at the shore.
On the opposite corner, Kenny completely enclosed the balcony to make it an extension of Miles' bedroom suite. With natural pine walls and an old wooden bar top used as a desk, this indoor sitting/office space reveals Miles' decorative split personality: The rustic Western edge of woven baskets and a painting of wolves in the Tetons meets Victorian sophistication in white 4-poster bed and a creweled white-linen wingback chair.
"Mother did the handiwork on the chair, the bar top was dad's and the wolves are remnants from a house I had in Arizona," said Miles, who refers to her home-furnishing collection as a museum.
"I keep things," she understated.
Photos fill shelves and tabletops everywhere. Family antiques passed on to her, mementoes from 30-years of travel and selected pieces of furniture and art from at least a dozen household moves have intermingled in this 3-bed/3-bath house.
In the great room, Miles' Victorian persona prevails. Behind the upholstered chaise lounge and Asian side tables retained from a former house in Virginia, a huge wall of figure and nature-oriented paintings contributes to the museum affect. Directly across the room, an overstuffed sofa, wood carvings from Hong Kong, a tea table and cloisonné vases atop a China cabinet reinforce the old worldliness of vintage stuff.
The crossover to the great room's contemporary kitchen is a notable shift in ambiance: Wood cabinets match the cathedral ceiling's dark beams and knotty-pine surface, creating the feel of a cabin in the woods. But lace curtains at the kitchen windows go both ways--Western or Victorian.
A big island separates living area from cooking and has granite counters and backsplash and a farm sink and more photos.
"The island is just another catcher for my stuff," Miles admitted then noted, "the kitchen and interior space was renovated before my time--I have no tenacity to pick out doorknobs."
But she does paint: a vivid fuchsia wall in the hallway bathroom captures the color of a live orchid on the sink, momentarily in flower. Wide green and soft-yellow stripes on the hallway walls ease into the two-tone turquoise of the guest bedroom.
Painting these walls was no easy task--they are plastered with the same stucco used on the two stories of exterior walls. Miles acknowledges the texture is unusual for indoor walls, but she likes it in spite of the rolls of tape she used to keep the stripes straight and the paint from bleeding.
Downstairs, though, she worked freehand on the bathroom's buffalo mural.
Throughout this legal lower-living space, which was grandfathered in when the house was built in the 1960s, Miles' attraction to the wild-Wild West comes through in earth tones and cow skulls, a salt box and a long piece of driftwood draped with chintz on the double windows that look out front to the grape arbor.
Birds and frogs, iguanas and house-sitting friends from Key West may find that life here is quiet, but a journey up the Keys to Miles' place is loaded with a sense of myriad destinations.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Homes listed for sale may not be considered.