By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen
Key West's compact, city core is ideal for visitors who want attractions, history, restaurants, water features like the ocean -- and let's not forget -- fine architecture in a tropical nutshell.
But if this little town is a great place to visit, it's a better place to live; especially for a mom and her kids who opt to live outside the drive-everywhere car culture of the real world, inside the environmentally and commuter-friendly island world of bikes, trikes and footgear.
Even in Old Town, few places are more citified than 604 Greene St. Who knew four apartments were hidden between the front-gable peaks of the old Handprint Fabric Factory on the corner of Greene and Simonton?
"I know, it's a well-kept secret; we're above the shops, pretty much invisible to anyone who doesn't notice the gated doorway or sign on Greene Street," said Ramsey Sullivan, who rents one of the two-bedroom/one-bathroom units. "At night, when I sit outside on my terrace, I see only stars and barely hear the street sounds."
Sullivan has a triple-spaced terrace that even affords her privacy from her two sons after 11-year-old Finn and 5-year-old Wallace go to bed.
"When we moved in last year, the boys immediately grabbed the Pledge spray to slick down the two buttresses that separate the terrace," she said. "Instead of reinforcement for the exterior walls, my sons see them as personal sliding boards."
Both bedrooms and the living room have sliding glass doors that open to the terrace, split by low buttresses and surrounded by a 6-foot fence that separates Sullivan's unit from the neighboring ones. Equally important, the fence is at the front edge of the apartments built eight years ago, atop the roof and halfway back from the old brick building's Simonton Street facade. The apartments' location makes them invisible from the street and impervious to the sounds of city living.
"Indoors, you can't hear the next-door neighbors, either," Sullivan said.
Unbeknownst to the world below, compact community living goes on quietly inside each of the 700-square-foot units.
"That sounds small for three people, but it feels bigger because of the lofty cathedral ceilings and all the light coming from the walls of windows into each room," said Sullivan, an art consultant for Collectors Fine Art on Duval Street. "I love the architecture, and of course I don't need any window treatments."
Light floods the living room and kitchen area decorated with a mix of old and new furnishings -- a 200-year-old English sideboard acts as bookshelf and the family's media center. A not-so-old coffee table has several purposes: With big square top and central location in front of the sofa, it serves as the indoor dining table, plus it is home base for a vintage tool box full of art history books.
Although Sullivan admits to being a dumpster diver, many treasures come from her childhood home in Coral Gables, a 1920s French-influenced architectural design that was periodically used in movies and commercials, and immortalized in two framed paintings that hang in her current home.
"My mother collected antiques and I tagged along," she said. "Mom recently sold the house," so Sullivan added two prayer chairs from France to her collection of inherited items. These sit in the living area and boast pillows made from rugs passed down from her grandparents.
Dozens of family photos fill a tabletop in the living room and black-and-white photos of Old Florida line the kitchen back splash, which ends at a corner-counter shelf inlaid with scores of cookbooks.
"I formerly had a catering business, and wherever I travel, I collect cookbooks."
Sullivan collects a lot of stuff, reflecting her many artistic interests. For instance, collected shells turn into shadow boxes and a bathroom mirror. Wooden fishing lures and knick-knacks of all sorts are displayed in wood Coke boxes. Remember these? The art gallery-sized wall in the living room features floor-to-ceiling watercolors and drawings and art made by her sons.
The boys' bedroom is, well, a collection of kid stuff -- everything from computer games to sports gear. A "homework desk" is inserted into a wall of white shelving inserted with more stuff. The antique twin beds are an uncluttered calm in a sea of colorful toys lined up and stacked in the closet: "I took off the bi-fold doors to add space and easy access," said Sullivan.
Her bedroom is an adult sanctuary of walk-in closet with laundry, a thre-panel Chinese screen behind the bed -- a secretary and table on either side -- an armoire for art materials, a child-sized armoire to hide her personal media center, an old mirror rack hung with purses and the other eclectic needs of a city girl and protective mom.
"I think Key West is the safest city in the United States," Sullivan said, "But I still won't let Finn go biking alone."
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.