This season's Christmas house tour--sponsored by Old Island Restoration Foundation--is a warm and wonderful cross section of Key West neighborhoods and their diverse architecture. From a four-room cottage in the Key West Bight area to a 3,500 square-foot estate in the Casa Marina District, a wealth of holiday cheer and decorating ideas is open to the public on the evenings of December 28 and 29.
From 4 to 7 p.m., the walk or bike ride along festive streets from one side of the island to the other takes in five private homes, which this year, lean toward a blue Christmas theme.
Whether you start or end your tour in the historic seaport neighborhood, 717 Caroline Street welcomes you with an understated wreath of blue baubles on the door. When you pass through the covered porch entry, though, a great room of old Key West wood explodes into the natural browns of Dade County pine on all the walls, which soar to the 18-foot-high cathedral ceiling original to the house, built in the late 1800s.
Up here, holiday spirit lights up on a room-wide shelf above copper faucets, an wide-gas stove and a giant island below that separates the thoroughly modern kitchen from the living area.
"This was a six-rooming-house extension of the old Jabour's Trailer Court that architect Bert Bender somehow configured into our three-bedroom home," said Michael McSween, who bought and renovated the property with his wife Nancy in 2005.
The great room, plus three en suite bedrooms and two-covered decks fit snugly onto a zero-lot line, which contrasts in size with the rear garden and pool at the next stop, 1107 Fleming Street, where an 1895 Bahamian Colonial structure also features three bedroom suites. Its 2.5 stories and rear cigar-maker's cottage addition (moved years ago from another part of town) equal more than twice 717 Caroline's livable space.
Once owned by the famous artist, William Copley, a trap door still exists in the second floor ceiling, through which he passed paintings down from his third floor studio: "We retained the ceiling pass-through, but now the studio is our guest apartment," said Charles Bengel, who owns the property with his wife, Janet.
The peach-colored central front door of the Bengel's elegant five-bay porch greets guests with a blue ribbon and ornament wreath, similar to the one on the front porch at 1318 Newton Street. But the similarities between the two houses start and stop with the blue decorations because the Meadows neighborhood house is as architecturally unique as the others on the OIRF fundraising tour.
Built in the early 1940s, the English-style cottage on Newton Street is among the four single-story houses on the tour, and it, too, has been updated with all the latest amenities, which includes a heated pool and deck and tiki bar out back.
Out front, the rare-in-Key West brick fireplace really sets this residence apart, and well, signals Santa to its rooftop.
The low-lying rooftop of another Meadows featured home, 1314 Petronia, is hard to see for the contemporary wide-shuttered panels that guard its double-front porch.
At this location, forget Christmas blues; instead, luxuriate in a riotous salmon color on the living area walls, which when the glass-pocket doors slide open, the stylish indoors become one with the turquoise-blue pool and private courtyard.
Herein lies a great pleasure of homeownership in Key West; holidays year round may be celebrated as much outdoors as indoors, and 822 Washington Street is a fine example of how it's done with panache: Its wide-open, 1000-square-foot verandah is, indeed, an outdoor room to be experienced, although walls of glass offer garden access throughout the house.
The 11,500-square-foot gated estate is in the Casa Marina District, where sprawling mid-20th century cinder-block homes are the architectural norm. This property, however, was designed in the 1970s by local architect Tom Pope. The spacious contemporary floor plan features a Mediterranean influence on a very private double-corner lot.
Tickets for the holiday house tour are $30 per person, and may be purchased in advance online, oirf.org, or at 322 Duval Street (305-294-9501). On the night of the tour, tickets may be bought at the door of each participating property.
OIRF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of architectural treasures in the City of Key West and the celebration, honor, and recognition of the historical achievements of the Island. Funds raised from the tours will be used for the Foundation's grants program and other endeavors furthering our preservation goals.
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.