Island State of Mind

by Saxon Henry
Photographs by Barry Fitzgerald & Deborah Llewelly
Coastal Living, April 2007

It only took a month for New Yorkers Margo and Bob Alexander to feel completely at home in Key West.

After 30 years in New York, Margo Alexander thought Florida was too hot, too green, and too far away from LaGuardia. But after she retired from a career on Wall Street, her husband wanted to start a writing project in a warmer climate. "Bob has always loved the tropics and wanted to work there," Margo says. "So, I thought, why not?"
He searched the Caribbean for the perfect spot, but soon discovered that Internet connections were hard to come by in many locations. Ready to give up, Margo spied an ad for a rental in Key West, Florida. After verifying WiFi access, the Alexanders spent January in the Keys—and Margo caught a solid case of island fever.

The couple had to return to New York at the end of the month, but headed south again as soon as possible. When prospective buyers came to look at the house they'd rented, Margo thought, "No, it's mine!" She called the broker and signed a contract that same day. Trading in her black power suits for linen and florals, Margo decided to make over her home, as well. She enlisted Key West residential designer Guillermo Orozco and New York-based interior designer Zina Glazebrook to help. Thrilled to take on a project in a tropical locale, Zina says, "I've always been inspired by the romance of Key West. It was great fun working in that environment." Partnering with Guillermo was another plus. "He really understood the relationship between the garden, porches, and interiors," Zina says. "You truly feel enveloped by the garden." Formerly closed in, the living room and kitchen now open via folding doors and windows onto an L-shape porch. There, a pavilion- like roof slickers an outdoor living room complete with sofa, armchairs, and a rug. "Relocating the kitchen to the center of everything and opening it up makes a big difference in the relationship between inside and out," Guillermo says.

As workmen replaced tile floors with wood and glazed the ceilings, Zina and Margo got to work on the interiors. Online shopping sprees yielded secondhand furnishings and accessories, mostly from eBay. Margo asked stylist Victoria Lesser to update the bargains with new upholstery. Wagon-wheel furniture became cool with a new plaid/stripe fabric combo, and a vintage Heywood-Wakefield bamboo set became even cooler with marine-blue fabric and white piping.

Island artists added finishing touches: a mosaic of beach glass, broken china, and tiles for the kitchen backsplash; river-rock flooring in the bath; and original artwork from local shops in all of the rooms. "It was easy to support Key West artists," Bob says, "because they do such fabulous work."

After long, relaxing stretches in Key West over the past four years, the Alexanders now feel like locals themselves. "It's been such an easy community to become a part of," says Margo. Even their Maltese, Oliver, loves Key West. "He can run around in the yard, go to most restaurants with us, and get snacks from most stores," she says. "When we return to New York, he mopes around for days."