By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen
Old Island Restoration Foundation's annual Christmas house tour is always a wide-ranging slice of life through the history and architecture of Key West. From 4-to-8 p.m. on December 27 and 28, five private properties in Old Town are open to the public, and feature creative surprises infused by homeowners into houses from the turn-of-the-20th-century--two built in 1906--two cigar-maker's cottages and the contemporary style of one built in the 1980s.
This year's fundraiser is particularly provocative in that tour-goers will find a "bedbox", a term that local interior designer Michael Pelkey coined for his guesthouse. And finding two of the locations takes some sleuthing so put on your walking shoes, or get on your bike, because there's no parking on some of these back alleys, where the tour begins at 605 Free School Lane.
Here, a contemporary townhouse built in the 1980s has undergone a makeover each decade since. The most recent, an interior redesign by Ben Teague, affords its residents the casual comfort of dual sofas and country-fresh tables on the first floor's living-dining-kitchen area.
This living space overlooks the free-form pool and deck on Free School Lane, and offers the surprise of privacy in the very heart of Old Town: The tropical jungle of what was Nancy's Secret Garden is next door, and the Marquesa Hotel's garden backs up to two of the three master suites.
Three master suites is also the magic number in the classic Greek revival at 513 Margaret Street. There's even a spa bath, customized outdoor shower and a closet-turned nursery attached to the first-floor suite, which is part of the wide-open floor plan designed for big-family living, indoors and out.
Built in 1906 and renovated in 2002, this 5-bedroom/5.5-bathroom house is surprisingly larger than it looks from the street. In fact, the 2-bed/2-bath guest cottage is only apparent when inside the secluded pool and garden space designed by Debra Yates.
Another well-known Key West designer, Michael Pelkey, opens to tour goers his home at 532 Grinnell Street, and the guesthouse he coined the bedbox.
"Before I redesigned it, it was a 7-by-9-foot tool shed," said Pelkey. "Everything is built in by my brother Larry."
To reach the clever bed-in-a-box guesthouse, you must first pass through Pelkey's charming revamp of the early-1900s cigar maker's cottage.
Featured on the cover of a Martha Stewart catalogue and in more than 40 magazines, all 520-square-feet of the cottage hold a wealth of surprises: antique café tables in front of kitchen-window seats; a wall full of Ironstone pudding molds; recessed lighting that silhouettes rows of starfish and stacks of coral and everything in this house demands that you pay attention to detail, beginning with the entry--look up at the wrought iron birds on the tin roof; look down at the sidewalk inlaid with seashells, a motif that runs throughout the cottage and bedbox.
The second cigar-maker's cottage on the tour is located at 909 Pohalski, another hard to find lane that skirts what was an old cigar factory once located at the corner of White and Truman streets. If you find the Chevron Station you're close; if you find the window box on Pohalski filled with poinsettias, you're there.
Following a fire in 2011, the cottage's recently completed renovation retained some of the one-story structure in front, and included an addition with a second-story master suite at the back of the property. The enlarged design offers contemporary amenities, walls of French doors and minimal use of furniture.
The surprise inside is that this building can be a single-family home with two-master suites, or a 2-family unit, when the front bedroom suite is locked out and becomes a studio apartment.
OIRFs Christmas tour wraps up at 1501 Olivia Street's slate-inlaid brick walkway and welcoming wrap-around porch. Built in 1906, some of the house's Dade County pine walls were exposed during its 2010 renovation.
"The interior was totally renovated, with some structural work," said Ray Fogg, who owns the 4-bed/3.5-bath house with his wife, Laura. "The real surprise was having to replace 45 doors and windows."
Among them are the living room's big windows protected by the covered-wrap porch, bay windows in the dining room and eight knee-wall windows on the second floor.
Of course, daylight floods the spacious rooms furnished with a mix of antiques and contemporary furniture. But this is a night tour so watch your step as you watch for festive Christmas lights along all of Old Town's streets and lanes.
Tickets are $30 and may be purchased online at oirf.org, or at the door of each featured property, 4-8 p.m. on December 27 and 28.