Awalk through the formal entrance at 330 Caroline Street could be into a Dickensian mansion at Christmas time: Fireplace topped with tiny lighted houses, red-bow garlands draped up the wide staircase; fringed lamp shades and French upright piano and Karastan carpets, merely backdrops to the hundreds--no thousands--of holiday decorative items displayed on trees and antique tables.
"We just transferred the turkey collection out of the armoire to make way for Santas and elves," said Lynda Frechette, whose dedication to holidays and collecting is as intense as her passion for Key West's arts and entertainment.
Frechette's commitment to events--announcements online or decorations in real time--is likely rooted in Little Red Riding Hood, a fascination that started in Lynda's childhood. First, she says, it was books then she moved on to greeting cards then boxes then to her husband Bob, their family and the Rose Cottage in Chippewa Lake, Ohio.
The couple still owns their northerly residence, but after years of vacationing in Key West, in 1998 the Frechettes bought the fine old house on Caroline Street "that is big enough to display the entire Christmas collection," she laughed. "Bob has as much fun decorating as I do; in fact, he carries all the stuff down from the attic."
The attic in the 2.5 story house is big enough to be a fourth bedroom, or maybe a writer's garret for the likes of Dickens. But when the Frechettes renovated the 3-bed/3-bath structure in the late 1990s, they decided to leave the attic alone and stay close to the footprint of what Lynda thinks may be the oldest house in Truman Annex still on the lot it was built on in 1894.
"We made some changes, like removing all the privacy shutters the Navy installed to hide the wraparound porch," she said. "Can you believe we found existing Dade County pine (tongue-and-groove) under acoustic tiles that dropped down from the porch and balcony ceilings?
"It was just ugly."
These days, the 1,400 square feet of wide porches boast their wide open and original architectural features. Very subdued Christmas cheer in the four bays out front hardly suggests the extensive decoration that goes on indoors. What's more, nothing from the street shows the alteration the Frechettes made at the rear of the house: Upstairs, the balcony was extended around the back corner, and another of the many sets of French doors throughout the house, was inserted into the wall of one of the two guestrooms.
The upper-deck adjustment now offers all three bedrooms access to the balcony.
This rear-balcony add-on sits atop a first-floor structural change, when the formerly open-air porch was enclosed. Ultimately, this change created an immense eat-in kitchen and family room that spans the rear width of the house.
And then, of course, the tacky 1950s Formica kitchen -- with cabinets dwarfed by the 12-foot ceiling -- had to go.
"I designed and had custom made the butcher-block counters, the tall kitchen cabinets, the island that matches the built-in China hutch," said Lynda. "Even the farmhouse sink was sourced specifically to match the lace curtain hanging at the window behind it."
Attention to detail is everywhere in the great room, its walls embellished with floor-to-ceiling white bead-board cabinets, offering a lot of hidden storage for out-of-season collectibles, as well as the TV-entertainment center. Suited to the current year-end holiday theme, built-in shelves sport dozens of photos of the kids with Santa; an old hotel desk houses dozens more mechanical Santas tucked like unwrapped presents into the wall boxes where keys and letters used to go.
The country-fresh feel at the back of the house shifts like a time warp to the Victorian age of the formal mahogany table centered in the dining room. Here, antique wall clocks chime the hour, and the cold-weather usually associated with Christmas in , say, Dickens' London chills out on a corner table with "muffed figurines," right next to the German feather tree on the China hutch, across from the armoire filled with Little Red Riding Hood memorabilia.
Little Red stays in some places of this household year round. For instance, in the grand parlor, which counters the back room with a full frontal span of the house, a vintage oil portrait of Red peeks above the temporary Christmas Carol-like village on the mantel: "Each one of those tiny houses is lit inside, and just getting the fireplace decorated took six hours," said Lynda.
So much stuff so much to do mandates that once everything is properly positioned, it gets its fair share of time in the sun.
"Christmas usually stays up until Three-Kings' night around January 6," Lynda said. "While there's always room for more, transferring the decorations and changing themes is getting harder each year. So this New Year's resolution is to do this as long as possible."
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 email@example.com. Homes listed for sale may not be considered.