By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen
Old Island Restoration Foundation's annual house tours are always neighborly events, but the January 17-18 tour from 4 to 8 p.m. is especially loaded with neighborliness: Two houses are around the corner from each other in Bahama Village, two are just a block from each other on Grinnell Street, and two are right next to each other on Ashe.
In fact, 607 and 609 Ashe St. are residencies for visiting artists at The Studios of Key West, but their proximity counts as one location. As a result, a special treat comes with OIRFs January tour: You actually get six houses to explore, when usually the $30 price offers only five.
Architect and residential designer, Guillermo Orozco renovated the Ashe Street residencies in 2011. He retained the footprints and exterior designs of both houses, upgraded the interiors, and made structural additions in the form of covered porches to the backs of the houses.
Because these houses were redesigned specifically as artists' studios, light was carefully considered and filtered through multiple sets of French doors and lots of windows.
Both have state-of-the-art kitchens, although the primary communal space is the deck, big covered porch and garden at 607 Ashe St., where 1,400 square feet of suites and studios accommodate two artists in residence. The shotgun-style house at 609 only accommodates one artist in its 900 square feet.
Another small house at 530 Grinnell Street has less than 800 square feet beneath a triple-saw-tooth roof, and Guillermo Orozco also redesigned it.
Featured in Coastal Living magazine in February 2012, the original board-and-baton exterior stayed in place in the 2-bed/1 bath cottage. Layout changed, though: The bathroom was flipped from the back of the house to nestle between bedrooms; one with four built-in bunk beds-drawers-closets at the front, the master bedroom at the back.
The kitchen is the hub of this household--hidden cubbies and pantries and long central island--but overall, 530 Grinnell is a masterpiece in how to use tight spaces efficiently.
Nearby 623 Grinnell St. is also space effective, but the house built in 1884 and renovated before Michael and Wende Lonergan bought it in 2011 has far more room to work within its two stories.
The four rockers on the five-bay front porch are particularly neighborly, welcoming tour goers into the central hall, where the staircase splits the formal living-and-dining room on one side of the first floor from the master suite on the other.
The kitchen add-on to the back opens to pool and garden, and two bedrooms at the top of the stairs in the original house are split by a walk-through bathroom.
A similar shared-bathroom design is a feature at 421 Virginia St., where a double sink decorates the hallway and separates bedrooms on each side of the second floor. The shower and water closet snug beneath the eaves of the front gable roof, behind pocket doors.
"The house has been modified and moved around during its 100-year lifetime," said Todd Kemp, who owns and redesigned the building with his partner Brian Boyer. In fact, Kemp says it was scheduled for "demolition by neglect" when they bought it last year.
This Bahama Village neighborhood "save" required some restructuring in the first-floor living area, but the wood floors are original, as are Dade County pine walls, although Kemp retrieved some pine from other renovation projects.
Be on the lookout for an especially interesting wood sculpture that Kemp salvaged from his renovation project on Fleming Street: "We think its vault supports from the gravesite of an old Key West family," he said.
OIRFs house tour shutters up just around the corner at 921 Whitehead St. Here, an elegant Greek classic revival structure recently returned to its single family roots, following years of service as a three-apartment complex. The building sits high above the sidewalk, its white picket fence level with the brick fence of a former well-known neighbor, Ernest Hemingway.
Conch train transportation is available for travel between houses on the Jan. 18-19 tour, but seating is limited and may be reserved when tickets are purchased on line at oirf.org or by calling 305-294-9501.
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.