A Key West Original


Moved To Its Current Location In 1909, One Historic Home Reclaims New Life Yet Again

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If these walls could talk, would their stories raise eyebrows? Maybe so, but not in the telling. This house's eyebrow (on all five bays) would stay fixed firmly in place. "There are only a few eyebrow houses in Key West with a five-window brow," says John Thielen, developer and previous owner of this historic, late-1800s Key West house.

An eyebrow house has two stories and a front porch, with the eaves of the roof covering the upper-floor front windows. Looking out from upstairs, one sees the underside of the roof. "Key West is the only place where you'll see them," Monroe County historian Tom Hambright says. "The eyebrow modification allowed for the windows to be open when it rained."

Thielen took the house down to its bare bones, and basically rebuilt it with the help of architect Thomas Pope, interior designer Todd Richesin and landscape architect Craig Reynolds. "When I came on the scene, the house was gutted," Richesin says. "You had to walk through the inside on walk-boards and the backyard was just a pit."

Richesin's clients — the current owners — have other old homes and love antiques. "Since I've worked with them before, I understand their lifestyle and what they want," the designer says. "And in Key West, what they wanted was something casual and comfortable."

The home is easy to live in, extending casual and comfortable all the way through with French doors from the great room opening to a covered loggia, where his clients take their meals. The house does not have a formal dining room.

For the interiors, Richesin aimed for a curated feel, and while everything was purchased especially for this project, he set out to build an assemblage of items that look generational and collected over time. To start, he and his clients visited the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center (ADAC) for inspiration.

First thing she fell in love with was a Scalamandré turquoise fabric, "Bali Lampas," which ended up setting the color palette for the entire house. In the great room, one of the chairs is covered in that fabric. The walls are painted pale almond and the flooring is reclaimed hardwood. Other furnishings include a sofa upholstered in Ultrasuede, a wood-plank cocktail table with iron legs, a British West Indies-style chair covered in red-and-white toile, and an old Kentucky table from Richesin's store, Bobby Todd Antiques. "The draperies are a light linen with a heavy fringe to add a dressed-up element and I designed the wool area rug," Richesin says.

The walls and ceiling in the foyer and office are the original Dade County pine, which Richesin left natural. In the hall, a collection of tropical bird prints with English transfer plates dot the wall across from the stairway banister — also an original. Nearby, the office is furnished with a custom table-desk, a cozy tufted-leather sofa, an old trunk from Richesin's store, and a "Brighton" chair upholstered in a leopard print, which is picked up in the border of the area rug to tie the room together.

In the serene master bedroom, the custom bed designed by Lewis Mittman is dressed in a sheer aqua-and-white bed skirt. A hand-painted Italian secretaire becomes the focal point nestled between a pair of French doors draped in embroidered sheers from Cowtan & Tout. "They are trimmed in Kravet's little glass beads that catch the sunlight and make a tinkly sound in the breeze as the doors open to the loggia and pool," Richesin says.

In 2009, the house won a star and certificate of excellence from the Historic Florida Keys Foundation for its restoration. So what do these walls have to say about that? Nothing but praise for the little house this great team built.

Interior Design
Todd Richesin, Todd Richesin Interiors, Knoxville, TN

Photography
Barry Fitzgerald, Richmond, VA

Architecture
Thomas E. Pope, Key West, FL

Builder
John Thielen, Key West, FL

Landscape Architecture
Craig Reynolds, Craig Reynolds Landscape Architecture, Key West, FL

Text by
Christine Davis