By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen
The house at 1117 Stump Lane was built 181 years ago. It was gutted this year, and while the original shotgun-style footprint is in place, it's on a fast track to come back in an upgraded and modern form of Conch-itecture.
"I bet more than 15 people have walked down this little lane and asked about the construction," said Jason Wall, the renovation project's hands-on partner with Cory Held, a realtor at Preferred Properties. "The public at large is as fascinated as we are, with how these old houses have been built and remained standing for close to 200 years.
"We're incorporating a lot of the former workmanship and materials into the redesign -- for sure, we don't want Miami slick," he said.
Stewardship of the antique buildings in Old Town's historic district is serious business. Renovations come under the auspices of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, and its guidelines are applied locally through Key West's Historic Architectural Review Commission. Like most HARC-approved plans, this one embraces the house exterior, as well as its relationship to surrounding buildings on the one-block-long lane that runs between White and Frances streets. "According to some Conch Tour Train drivers, Stump Lane is the shortest street in Key West," laughed Wall. "I guess you call it stump for a reason."
While short in length, Stump Lane is certainly not lacking in charm. Narrow and sans sidewalks, the feel is still 19th century, where mature trees and colorful bougainvillea hide covered front porches behind white-picket fences. The laid-back ambiance surely distills our techno-filled world for some homeowners, and for some, like the Stickney family who owned the house at 1117 since it was built well before Google ever spied on this back alley: "One family member was the U.S. postmaster; born, raised and died in this house," said Wall.
Over the years, cosmetic changes were made to suit the decorative design du jour, but few structural alterations were made to the three-bedroom/two-bathroom house. The front porch is the exception: It was enclosed at some time to enlarge the living room.
During the present makeover, which started in February, the reconstruction team has already returned the porch to its 1832 design, with three bays recessed into the first floor and overhung by one of the newly developing bedroom suites on the second.
"Just finished topping the porch railings with banisters we salvaged from the interior," said Wall. "They're made of Dade County pine," and the natural reddish-wood coloring adds pop and pizzazz to the painted white spindles and porch columns.
Dade County pine is a subspecies of longleaf southern yellow pine, also known as heart pine because it is cut from the very dense center of the tree. The difference between the two woods is that DCP is even denser and more resistant to rain, rot and termites than heart pine.
At one time, DCP grew between the Everglades and South Florida's Atlantic shore, and similar to its northerly counterpart, Dade County pine has been almost completely harvested. Most of it comes primarily from salvage these days, although during the 21st century housing boom, some contractors here opted for drywall and discarded DCP, which cost more to hand sand, stack, store and reapply.
Because this hardwood is chief among the reasons Key West has the largest historic district of wood frame houses in the U.S, recycling as much as possible of the original DCP is just good, responsible renovation.
"We reused the treads on the stairs and reclaimed some of the wooden walls," said Wall. "The floors upstairs were in bad shape, though."
Two of the three bedroom suites are upstairs, but new hardwood floors are being installed throughout the 1,500-square-foot house. Not everything can be saved, of course, nor does HARC insist that incongruent add-ons, such as jalousie windows, be preserved.
First patented in the U.S. in 1901, jalousie windows are far more common in the mid-20th-century homes built in the Casa Marina district. The mix and match of architectural features suggests the last makeover was circa 1930 or '40 so the jalousie replacement with new double-hung Lincoln wood windows recaptures the essence of the building's heritage.
The interior decoration was of the 1950-ish era, too -- wall-to-wall carpeting, drop ceilings, knotty pine walls.
"It was very livable but dated, as was the kitchen," Wall said. "Cabinets, counters and the kitchen island are being custom fitted to a contemporary open-floor plan at the back of the house."
From the porch on Stump Lane, the view down the shotgun hallway to the new living-dining and-kitchen area, its French doors, which expose the large backyard, in-ground pool and deck, is anything but short: this clear-through view reveals the big picture, and the reason so many people choose to live in Key West -- indoor-outdoor living 24/7/365.
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.