By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen
Old Conch houses never die, they just go into an altered state of Zen, with add-ons and updates and careful tending from homeowners who get that life is old here.
It's also "peaceful and calm -- there's always a breeze in the garden," said Jane Gladson of 1175 William St., a property she bought adjacent to another Zen-like property, formerly known as the Medicine Garden.
Back in the 1980s, the privately owned Medicine Garden was open weekdays to anyone who wanted to meditate, or just chill out, among the ponds and wooden bridges, the plants and bells and Buddhas that lined the tropical jungle. That property changed owners, and while it is no longer open to the public, its serenity still permeates the neighborhood, where blue skyline is broken only by a green canopy; where orange Poinciana blossoms decorate Jane Gladson's afternoons and color her thinking.
"Sit with me on the pool deck for a few minutes," said the retired City Bank executive. "There's more than the fragrance from flowers or the color of light -- you can just feel your body relax."
The trickle of her water features barely rises above the whoosh of chairs rocking beneath the L-shaped awning that partially covers the deck. After Gladson bought the property in 2011, she had three ceiling fans wired beneath the awning to enhance the natural breeze, and create "a curtain of air" in front of the three-panel sliding-glass doors that fully open the wall to the dining room and kitchen.
Gladson says the 30-foot-long addition dedicated to eating roughly doubled the length of the first-floor living space, thereby creating a five-room contiguous-floor plan for easy entertaining.
Thirty years ago it was added to the original two-story house, which is recorded as being built in 1938, but research usually finds earlier roots for the historic district's geriatric houses, which just seem to snag homeowners receptive to aging parts.
"I knew it was old, but sound," Gladson said. "Then I moved in and everything crumbled."
Gladson's house needed some infrastructural work to ensure its longevity, but not everything crumbled. Yes, the big expense of a whole-house electrical rewire was in order. Then it needed insulation in all three attics, on-demand hot water heaters and new ductwork, but this is the invisible stuff of heart valves and knee replacements that keep us going.
Her initial instincts were good, though, the structure is sound. The hardwood floors and Dade County pine walls are solid. The teak-and-marble kitchen that won her heart is as lovely and useful as the teak shelving built into the dining room during a previous makeover.
In fact, Gladson didn't even need to repaint all the vibrantly colored walls, just do touch-up after carpenter Jorge Larrea did his magic in the kitchen: "I had him move the laundry outdoors and design a more useful pantry of vertical pull-out drawers in its place," she said.
From the kitchen's yellow walls at one end of the house, on through the coral and purple dining room to the soothing green walls of the big foyer into the living room's deep green, and finally, the far end's enclosed porch of purple, nothing less than a 60-foot-long rainbow enlivens the interior walls.
The décor flows as smoothly as the paint, with home furnishings acquired during travel and international living, such as the double pedestal dining-room table that was custom-made in 1970, when Gladson lived in London.
The matching upholstered settee and sofa were inherited from Gladson's mother, Art Deco lamps and a 1790 Pembroke drop-leaf table in the living room are standout flea-market finds. But the real pot of gold found at the end of this rainbow is Gladson's fine art.
"It's my pride and joy; a lifetime collection, much of it from my international business travel," she said.
Paintings from Mexico, Cuba and Norway hold place among collages and sculptures by American artists. An etched-glass screen in the porch/TV room was made by a Pennsylvania craftsman.
This room was the front porch and entrance back when the house was built and went by the address, 801 Catherine St. But over time the porch was enclosed, modifications were made and when the addition created the central foyer that now faces William Street, the address changed, too.
The Catherine-and-William corner lot is parklike, loaded with vegetation that embraces the 4-bedroom/2.5 bathroom house, which has aged beautifully among the older palms and jasmine and Poinciana trees.
Gladson had to seriously tend the garden, though: "This was iguana heaven," she said.
After the iguanas moved out, raised beds of vegetables and potted plants have moved around the property according to their sunshine needs. At the front porch an Asian vase boasts a tree trimmed with glass ornaments and a golden Buddha statue oversees the lush hush.
On my way out the gate, I think he winked at me.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Homes listed for sale may not be considered.