Keys Homes
Sunday, September 22, 2013

By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen

Elaine Roberts had been visiting Key West since 2010, renting part time and planning to make the big tropical move as soon as she found a house to rent that was big enough for her Yamaha piano.

This year, she found it at 1514 Patricia St. In fact, the 1,400-square-foot house is big enough for the piano, three cats, occasional visitors and her collection of early American furniture. Whittled down from two formerly owned New England houses -- each about 6,000 square feet -- Roberts' Goldilocks fit is on the leading edge of real estate rightsizing.

"As soon as I walked through the house, I knew my stuff so well, I immediately knew where everything would go," said Roberts.

Her two-bed/two-bath house was built in 1963, and its mid-20th century architectural style lends a no-frills modern touch to Roberts' country-farmhouse interior décor: Craftsman-style rocking chairs, naturally age-distressed mirrors and armoires, antique chests.

In the living room alone, three vintage chests serve as table tops and/or conversation pieces: "That one was a bridal trousseau from Ireland; that one held the childhood Tinker Toys of my son's best friend," said Roberts. "I have left the chests, and all the other furniture pieces, in the conditions I acquired them."

Antiques Road Show aficionados understand the importance of retaining the provenance of something like the armoire in Roberts' guest suite, which was formerly a built-in shelf that she removed from a New England farmhouse. It has no wooden back panel because the farmhouse wall originally enclosed it, and its well worn layers of turquoise and off-white paint reveal years of Yankee character and finicky color choices.

In these parts, though, the impressive old blue-on-blue paints relate nicely to Caribbean surf splashed across the full-length doors.

Decorative Indian panels, hand-carved during the Victorian era, hang from both of the wide kitchen doorways -- one into the big foyer; one into the living room. The fretwork usually features unpainted mahogany, geometric shapes and in this particular case, the design suggests "waves, sunrays, even jellyfish," said Roberts. "They moved easily to Key West."

Easy to move here, too, were Roberts' three cats, rescues from among the many dogs and cats she saved during years of volunteer work.

"When I started looking for a house in 2010, I had two dogs and at least nine cats living on my properties up North. Friends said I'd never find a city house to support all those animals so only the three oldest cats moved with me," she said.

Big black-and-white Herman hangs out on a fleece-covered window seat in the guest room, 16-year old Dodi prefers the cool tile floor nearby, and Roberts' 21-year-old scaredy cat is momentarily hidden beneath the armoire in her bedroom suite.

This not-too-big armoire probably started life as a not-too-small China cabinet; its glass doors above two drawers and the spindle towel hanger on the side reflect a culinary past more than its current position as a linen storage space. It holds its bedroom presence nicely, though, across from French doors that open to the rear garden, where a patio and outdoor shower give way to the pool and its concrete deck.

Like so many people who move to the Keys, an important element of the rightsizing formula includes a swimming pool and private garden for entertaining. In Roberts' back garden, Mad Mats made from recycled bottles tropically color another concrete patio floor that supports outdoor dining. Table and chairs are located beneath a wooden arbor, which spans three sets of French doors that span the width of the entire living room: If fragrance from night-blooming jasmine doesn't waft across the dinner table, musical notes from the piano might.

Roberts' passion for music and art is as deeply embedded as her passion for early American furniture. Old rocking chairs anchor each side of the Yamaha; an antique plank table underlines the bottom edge of shelves topped with photos and a variety of paintings that lean against the wall.

Throughout the house, water colors and prints, acrylics and oils represent a wide-range of art styles: A signed Erte print in the foyer, a Richard Watherwax "Fat Cat Falling" in a bathroom, Roberts' own realistic paintings as well as her son's mix into the collection.

Roosters here, toucans there: One piece of art actually reflects an exquisite feline painted by her son Kyle on a mirror. But instead of the standard gold leaving on the ornate Baroque frame, Kyle painted the Old World swirls and curlicues in vibrant tropical colors, extending the cat's red and orange wispy fur from mirror onto wood frame and suggesting, overall, that its new home on the living room wall is just right.

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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