By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen
On Friday and Saturday, during Old Island Restoration Foundation's third house tour of the 2013 season, exploration is the order of the day.
I'll be the first to admit, I love snooping around another person's home, and it's never enough to sit courteously in the well-appointed parlor, when I'm sure the master suite offers intriguing design, too.
I've had the chance to see these five homes, now it's your turn to take in everything from an elegantly historic eyebrow house -- an architectural design unique to Key West -- to, believe it or not, a "tear down" that already has HARC-approved plans in place for its contemporary two-story replacement.
Tear down is a term rarely spoken in Key West's historic district, and the unusual circumstances that have brought this about are visible in the structural cracks of the 1960s concrete block house at 717 White S. Funky and styled for the house tour, owner Debra Yates, who designs houses and gardens, with her partner and son, Benjamin Burle, said, "what was basically a shack -- you can still see the holes in the walls -- is a temporary installation."
Yates bought the property in 2012, and has turned the 2-bed/2-bath, 2-living-room, cinder-block house into her home and office, with entry on White Street. Three more doors open to Newton Street and the evolution from former boardinghouse to her home-office has been an exciting exercise in "my own work of art."
Look for the potted palm trees on the roof, the mirrors, the drapes, the spotlighting and more signature work from this Debra Yates' Great Space.
Of course, the thrill of exploring someone's home comes from the diversity and ingenuity of each homeowner's decorating style, and the tricks that we may borrow for our own homes.
Take Guillermo Orozco and Kent Ducote's house at 1517 Washington St. Their 3-bed/2-bath house was built about the same time asYates', but this 1952 cinder-block structure was in much better shape, and the gentlemen chose to renovate it according to HARC guidelines, even though it's not in the historic district.
"We bought it from the original owner, who kept the house in good shape," said Orozco. "The existing Cuban-tile floors, the plaster walls and the natural-cypress wood ceilings only needed cleaning."
Ducote, a real estate agent, and Orozco, a residential designer-architect and artist, took on every aspect of the renovation -- aspects that are usually divied-up among whole teams of talents. They landscaped; they handled the interior design, even refurbished the 3-blade industrial fans that came with the house.
If the sleek retro furnishings and the vivid colors don't suite your personal style, try your hand at designing a kinetic sculpture like the one hanging in the outdoor room -- Orozco made it from poinciana tree pods.
There's no poinciana tree in the big corner lot at 912 Packer St., but this refurbished Conch house, which has been in the family for give generations, has a wealth of vegetation. Just inside the white-picket fence, 10 skinny palm trees guard the cozy front-porch entrance and bay window, and massive travelers' palms afford privacy along the Johnson Lane side.
Several add-ons have occurred over time, but an octagonal rear addition that enlarged the original house created a separate living unit, with a second-floor deck overlooking the corner of Packer and Johnson, where just a half block away, 816-814 Johnson Lane offers an equally mature garden: Giant date palms and big banyan tree out front, a row of corn plants along the right property line, a tropical jungle in the back.
You could almost miss the charming house (420 square feet) and studio (360 square feet) because the well-worn fence out front blends into the well-worn wood of two cigar-makers cottages that were renovated by artist Susan Sugar and explored by Coastal Living Magazine in a 2009 article.
Inspired by houses in Thailand, the home and studio are connected by a thatched breezeway and boast natural light that flows through sliding glass doors, which disappear into the walls; all protected by wooden barn doors that roll shut when needed.
Visit 816-814 Johnson Lane before it closes at noon on Saturday, then wander over to 1108 Southard Street, where Patrice and Herbert Miller's 2-story house resonates with as much history as do the cigar makers' cottages. The couple renovated it in 2011, but this 3-bed/3-bath eyebrow house still features its unique second-story windows, which peek from beneath the side-gable roof that covers the front porch.
A neutral pallet and some old and new blend elegantly among antiques and wicker furnishings here. A revamped master suite atop the new addition below created a new office on the first floor, as well as a casual outdoor-living room between office and dining room.
Original 10-foot ceiling and natural Dade County pine walls in the living room contrast with a vaulted ceiling in the dining room, where a wall of windows infill the roofline and light up the kitchen, where the Millers removed modern kitchen cabinets and replaced them with the warmth of wood.
Except where noted above, the properties are open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and may be visited in any order. Tickets are $30 and sold at each featured home. For advance purchase, call 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.