By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen
Mary and Walter Taylor, an Episcopal priest, first visited Key West in 1982 -- way back when their house at 625 Louisa St. was just another wood plank in the lumberyard formerly located there.
About the time Walter retired in 1999, the couple considered wintering here, and inquired at St. Paul's Church about becoming part-time associates. Then-rector, Father Paul Rasmus replied: "When can you come? How long can you stay?"
They stayed 10 years, rented in Duval Square then moved to mainland Florida in 2009.
"That's when we started grieving for Key West," said Mary, formerly an elementary school teacher. "In 2010, we came back."
After barely more than a year away from the island, the Taylors experienced what many Key West ex-pats go through when they head up north: Reintroduction to the car culture and drive time, which translates into less productivity; four clearly distinguished seasons, of which none are tropical; the culture shock of unfamiliar faces and a sense of community loss, all summed up succinctly as the "Real World Syndrome."
Some expatriates don't choose, or can't afford to come back, but the Taylors had the wherewithal to return, so on Dec. 15, the couple put in a contract for the Louisa Street property, and on Dec. 28 they closed on it: A miraculously fast real estate transaction even for the boom years of 2004 and 2005, but especially during the 2010 crunch of short sales and tight money.
Mary says nine houses, built in the mid-1980s, group around the pool, where they share common ground with some of the original owners, who "still live here -- even the contractor's wife," she said. "We were most impressed with the open floor plan."
The first floor of the two-story, 2-bed/2.5-bathroom house is a single room, in which only the half-bath is enclosed under the stairs. From the front entry, the view is clear through the French doors of the interior living-dining room to the fully screened-in porch that is also an exterior living-and-dining room. This oversized 12-foot by-15-foot room is almost one with, but afforded privacy from, the park-like layout of pool and common ground.
From back here, the view inside is through the living area to the kitchen, "which is very convenient," Mary said, "but ready for a makeover."
When the Taylors bought the property, they made some cosmetic changes, such as painting, removing carpet and relaying hardwood floors. They added new railings to the stairwell, and raised and extended the vanity in the master suite.
Left in place, though, are the kitchen island and its wooden bead-board trim: "The plan is to replace the laminate countertops, but retain the kitchen's overall design," she said.
"We want to make it comfortable for us, but keep the nice touches that were already here," like the large pantry in the kitchen and the thick mahogany doors throughout the house. Keepers too, are the alarm system, the etched address in the front-door transom, the walk-in closets and the guest suite's underwater bathroom.
"We definitely won't touch that, or the storage behind its mahogany doors," Mary said.
Two of those doors feature full-length mirrors adjacent to the mahogany door that opens to the bathroom. Here, a sea of blue walls and sculpted sea creatures turn an everyday 2-dimensional water closet into a 3-dimensional encounter with denizens of the deep. Dozens of wood and ceramic seahorses and turtles, angelfish and sharks jump out of the hand-painted underwater landscape, producing a hold-your-breath experience akin to the reactive gasp scuba divers take when first they hit the water.
Neither Mary nor Walter knows which of the homeowners before them decorated the bathroom, but they understand it's a prized work of naive art; one with a fishy diversity far more expansive than what the world's second-longest coral reef offshore the Florida Keys usually brings together in such a small space.
The laugh-out-loud reaction to the cartoonish faces reinforces that no grieving is allowed; probably carved and painted on the sea life in the underwater bathroom just to encourage friends and family to come back for another visit to Key West.
Naturally the Taylors what to know, "When can you come? How long can you stay?"
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.