October may be the season for the skeleton and white-lady ghost to appear on the balcony, but thousands of LED lights lay in wait; readying for the showstopper 600 Elizabeth St. has become during Christmas.
"Bob is an artist with lights," said artist Fran Decker, who owns Frangipani Gallery on Duval Street, and the house at the corner of Elizabeth and Southard streets with her husband Bob. "The Fishing Santa, alone, has 5,000 lights."
The Rowing Snowman, too, features 5000 LEDs, and these lighted visuals are just part of the extraordinary holiday display that has won some kind of prize ever since the Deckers bought their 4-bedroom/5.5-bathroom house in 2005.
Even when dressed down to its regular two-story, white plantation-shuttered wall facing Elizabeth and the yellow facade with cobalt-blue shuttered doors facing Southard, the house is a showstopper.
"Because so many people walk in from Southard Street -- probably because they think it's a bed and breakfast -- we have to lock our front gate and front doors and use the driveway gate on Elizabeth as our formal entry," said Fran.
When the house was built in 1996, the Elizabeth Street porch was initially the side entry into the kitchen. These days, this entry is still into the kitchen, although a sail-box-mailbox, with the 600 address marked on it, is a clue that the entry has upgraded to formal.
The sail-box is also a clue to the couple's 1988 arrival in the Keys.
"We sailed here, lived in Marathon for 17 years and used our sailboat as our Key West weekend apartment," said Fran. "After a boat galley, imagine what a cook's dream my kitchen is now."
Upon entry, a 15-foot by 20-foot kitchen welcomes guests with the warmth of mahogany floors and a central U-shaped island. White Travertine countertops, white painted cabinets and a wall of built-in shelves contrast and brighten the big room.
From the kitchen, two interior doorways lead to the front hall and one into the living-dining room.
"Soon after we sold our home in Marathon with all the furniture, we closed on this house and went on a furniture-buying mission to Bali," said Fran. "What we didn't buy there and send back by container, we bought at Fast Buck Freddie's."
The exotic interior décor is mostly Asian, highlighted by a massive Javanese entertainment center, and embellished with grass-woven chairs, palm tree-patterned overstuffed sofa and travel treasures like African masks on a living-room wall.
Beneath the giant wood-carved alligator that serves as the coffee table, a sisal rug frames a wool gabbeh rug atop it.
The overall British Colonial ambiance boasts golden, two-tone painted wall stripes in the living room, rich mahogany floors throughout the house and many sets of casement windows and contemporary French doors, which open to covered porches and balconies wrapping the house.
"I love the windows and doors," said Fran. "I bought curtains, but never hung them because the garden foliage gives us plenty of privacy."
The garden was the only major change the couple made to the property. They redesigned the lap pool into a free-form swimming pool, added the waterfall and hot tub, and by reclaiming a parking space off Southard Street, they expanded the garden's stone patio.
A totally private guest suite, which Fran figures was once the back half of the original two-car garage, is accessed from the garden.
This is the only first-floor bedroom. The other three bedroom suites are on the second floor and equally private, due to the unusual split-level design of the house. For instance, two guest suites are above the ground-level bedroom and garage; their interior entries from a stairway in the living room.
On the other side of the house, a staircase located in the front entry hall is solely used these days for access to the master suite. It features a home office and full balcony overlooking Southard Street, while the sleeping quarters cover the entire first-floor living space.
Up here, the bedroom focus is "the exquisite bed I went to Bali to find," Fran said. Also noteworthy are his-hers bathrooms that contain walls of drawers, walk-in closets, laundry room and space enough to be another suite.
"Fran was the interior decorator everywhere except in my bathroom," said Bob.
His designer handiwork leans toward the exotic, too: bamboo walls and plants inside the tiki hut-like shower; a shower window colored by a Wendy Jekel stained glass.
"Wendy is one of the local artists I represent in Frangipani Gallery," said Fran. "Some of them, like William Welch, do their art in the gallery."
Not Fran, though, her home-painting studio is something short of show stopping: Tucked behind the Elizabeth Street driveway in what's left of the garage, she acknowledged that she's "too messy to work in the gallery." Instead, Fran shares space with garden tools and Halloween skeletons and Christmas lights and "Who in Key West uses precious garage space for a car, anyway?" she asked.
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