Waterfront Home & Design
A vacation house in Key West, Florida, blends the easygoing with the elegant for a beach-going family.
Key West is, legendarily, an island of dramatic sunsets. Few houses are better situated to capture the moment than this one, which looks out over the Gulf of Mexico. Don and Erika Wallace bought the house as a “shell,” under construction but not completed. They turned to the husband-and-wife team of William and Phyllis Taylor to finish it off.
“ The house is unusual in that it’s on the beach, and a very pretty beach at that,” says Phyllis Taylor. The Wallace's have a growing family and a permanent home in Tampa. This is their weekend house, a refuge from the daily hustle and bustle. It is tucked away, just a launch ride from town on a 27-acre private enclave in the gulf aptly named Sunset Key. Indeed, the house offers a fine vantage point to watch the sun as it slips into the water each night.
The Taylors, whose Miami Beach architecture and interior design firm is called Taylor & Taylor Partnership, are known for creating houses that are once sophisticated and amenable, and very personal. They are a perfect match for a beach house and the one for the Wallaces is bright and colorful, easygoing yet elegant. “I thought about being barefoot,” recalls Phyllis Taylor. “That was my inspiration.” Thus, sisal rugs sit on polished walnut floors, making the house always tactile underfoot. “Everything feels good on bare feet in this house.”
You can walk into any room straight from the sand.
As the designers of the Wallaces’ Tampa residence, the Taylors had the advantage of knowing the tastes and interests of the family. “They live a very intense life in Tampa, so this is where they unwind, a place to hang out and fish, a place to hang out on the beach,” says Bill Taylor. “As sophisticated as the house is for adults and children, he notes, a primary focus was storage – places to put sand shovels and games, snorkeling equipment and fishing gear, all the accessories a beach house requires.
The color scheme derives from a single piece of furniture: A weathered, painted country chest in sea blue and lime green led the Taylors to a palette that ranges from those blues and greens to a deeper cobalt and a paler aquamarine – all hues that are apt for the beachfront location. The chest was a prize purchase at an antiques show during a shopping trip the designers and their clients took to New York and it soon became the centerpiece of the design.
The interiors convey a simple ethos of color and country simplicity. The antique furniture is mostly wood, much of it – including the marble-topped dining table – in mahogany. “You might call the furniture old-fashioned, even countrified,” said Phyllis Taylor. “It’s very Victorian, actually, and yet the house is modern light filtration, clear and sunny. There aren’t any shadows.” The design is more than just the brilliant infusion of light, however; it is a studied mix of old and new, as well as pieces from diverse places that somehow blend together. Thus, there are offerings from around the globe, including a chest from Korea and a folding chair from India.
Clearly reflected in the rooms is Phyllis Taylor’s astute eye for mixing styles and playing with scale. She placed a child’s rocking chair in the 20-foot-high living room, for example. An inveterate thrift shop scavenger, she also turned up priceless finds that translated into sophisticated design. In this case, she sought out the nautical and turned up an antique thermometer and a barometer, both mounted on the wall between French doors opening to the waterfront. Real shells, model ships and artists’ interpretations of fish sit atop tables and chests to reinforce the seaside theme.
The house’s architecture was largely finished when the Wallaces bought it, and the architect of record is Jeffrey Harrell of Naples, Florida. The Taylors, however, added their own architectural touches along with the interior design. Bill Taylor designed all interiors, from floors to staircases to railings. The stairs and the second floor landing – really another room, kind of a mezzanine – are significant shapers of space in the house, and the floor-to-ceiling built-in shelves and cabinets add to the shipshape feeling.
George Peace, a master cabinet maker in Miami, fabricated the bookshelves and storage. The custom kitchen cabinets are painted blue by keeping with the color scheme throughout the house. The kitchen and dining area (“There wasn’t enough space for a full dining room.” Notes Phyllis Taylor) both open into the living room in what is essentially an open plan for the first floor.
The insistent conditions of a waterfront home are present here of course, and the Wallaces did not want to live at the beach in a house that was sealed up and air-conditioned. Because they prefer the soothing sounds of the sea and the hum of palm-found paddle fans above, humidity-resistant materials came into play. The tongue –in-groove ceilings are limed oak that was sandblasted, painted white and then sanded – a three-part procedure to distress the wood and give it a weather-worn feel. Walls are covered in grass cloth not only easy to clean and care but also humidity-tolerant. Upholstered furniture is slip covered in white cotton.
“ They are the easiest to maintain,” says Phyllis Taylor. “You can wash them. You can bleach them. Just pull them off and put them back on.”
Maintenance was a key. The Wallaces need to be able to open the house up and live in it and then close it up and leave, all without much worry.
The second-floor bedrooms –the two children share a bunk room and their parents, a retreat with a British Colonial feeling – offer a fitting end to a day at the beach, weather it has been spent fishing, swimming or sunning. Like the rest of the house, these rooms were designed with a refined eye, but intended for ease of barefoot living.