In Key West, an island where houses have lived out so much time and history, neighborhoods have developed their own architectural styles, their own decorative points of view.
In the last of the Old Island Restoration Foundation's 2014 house tours, five of these one-of-a-kind places are open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Because the neighborhoods are barely a hop-skip-and-jump from each other, the homes may be visited in one day, or easily split into a two-day event. The tour can be started at any location, although 703 Elizabeth St. near the top of Solares Hill is a good place to start.
Immediately, you'll identify this house by its distinct board-and-batten siding, an exterior construction style that was used for many Conch cottages. Still in place, the dark matter of its wood-stained front contrasts dramatically with the light blue side walls. But the updated, open floor plan is the shining star that merges indoor and outdoor living through a wall of folding-glass doors.
In the 2,600-square foot lot, a heated pool, lushly landscaped garden and privacy is the galaxy around which Key West's tropical lifestyle evolves.
Cabana, pool and hot tub hide indoor-outdoor living behind 712 Eaton St. This mansion's architectural identity is also instant. Although known locally by many names -- Octagon House, Peacon House, Calvin Klein -- this "bow-front" design is architecturally one-of-a-kind in Key West.
Its prominent eight-sided living room was originally the office of Richard Peacon, the successful Key West merchant who built the house in 1897. Wrapped with graceful porches and balconies and shuttered windows, its physical presence is the mother ship for its fascinating stories and famous cast of owners -- Key West Mayor Charles McCoy, interior designer Angelo Donghia, and fashion designer Calvin Klein.
Present-day owner Skip Lane blends former decorative points of view with his own stellar perspective. Consider just the birds in the kitchen. Donghia glued a macaw fabric to the kitchen walls, which still hangs above the pink flamingo stools that Lane selected for the central island. Calvin Klein never changed or rearranged anything that Donghia did, but Lane elaborated with Peacon House prints and postcards by various local artists.
Eye-popping art is the interior-design force at 320 Peacon Lane, where homeowner Campbell Cawood's state-of-the-art lighting illuminates paintings and sculpture, indoors and out. Look for pieces from internationally known artists such as Jon Kuhn, or from locals like Keith Bland and Jeffrey Beal.
Vibrant color and various art styles stimulate imagination while the 1927 Steinway, located prominently in the kitchen-dining area, encourages singalong that might explode into the den, and then outdoors to the pool and garden.
Added in 1988 to the two-story 1860s structure, the den and adjacent master bedroom-and-office wing were modified by Cawood when he bought the property in 2005.
Modifications and contemporary upgrades to all of the vintage houses on this tour have given them new life, a means to preserve them for the next generation of household caretakers.
At 1112 Elgin Lane, a 1994 renovation retained and accented the natural wood in a house formerly owned by three generations of spongers. Redesigning without overdesigning, mid-20th century "modernizations" and additions like the enclosed front porch were removed. Now, the original three-bay porch is closer to its early 1900s roots, and the second-floor master bedroom suite, situated under the eaves of the front-gable roof, is still an old universe, but improved.
The delightful 680 square foot house was awarded a prestigious ceramic star for preservation in 1996, but maintenance and rehab in the tropics is like a black hole: time and money get lost in places like the kitchen, which was upgraded in 2006 with natural wood cabinets and a glass-brick backsplash behind stainless steel counters.
Deep space runs from Elgin Lane clear through to Stickney Lane, and the big lot features low-maintenance native landscaping, similar to 1212 Georgia St. But this particular home moves into another dimension: Visible with the naked eye, one-of-a-kind bigger-than-life dolphins leap from the trunks of Australian pines, considered in these parts to be invasive plants.
The remarkable front-garden sculpture adds fluidity to terra firma, while down-to-earth homeowners Jack and Kim Sengupta continue to add new touches to the old structure built in 1903.
"The house is not contributing to the historic district, nevertheless, we worked closely with the Historic Architectural Review Commission to maximize historical features," Jack said.
For instance, antique Dade County pine was salvaged in some walls, which boast new high-impact windows. A new front balcony adds contemporary architectural interest above the original roofline of the L-shaped porch. New Jacuzzi and pool, old central staircase; the timeline and at-home universe in this 5-bedroom/5.5-bathroom house is still expanding.
Tickets are $30 per person and may be purchased at each house during the tour, or in advance at oirf.com.
Barbara Bowers is a Key West realtor 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.