By Christine Davis
Cottages are one place where “cute” and “old” are often used in the same sentence.
And who knows why? They certainly have their share of ailments and complaints, but they are so darned adorable, we just get out the hammer or call the handyman and remedy the problems.
Key West in Delray Beach
Consider this cute, old, Key West-style cottage belonging to Viki and Al O’Donnell on Nassau Street in Delray Beach, although Viki will argue the “old” part. “This is not old,” she said. Originally from Norwalk, Conn., she grew up in a 150-year-old historical home. “If you want old, go to New England.” When she bought her cottage, she surprised herself.
“I said I was going to buy a new house when I could afford a home. But,” she sighs, “I like the charm and the warmth of old homes. And, after all, you can remodel.”
She painted the exterior lime green with sky blue trim. Every room in the interior is ablaze with splendiferous color, too. And then there are her two patios, her lawn, the gardens and the orchid house — the koi ponds, birdhouses and garden ornaments.
Inside features include lots of Dade County pine, a fireplace, black and white tile in the dining room and kitchen, Mexican tile in the living room, and terrazzo in the bedrooms.
“I love this property,” she said. “I’m a visual person. Even though the house was painted a mushroom green, I could see it had good bones and potential.”
And how does Al feel about it?
“Al lived in an apartment in Chicago,” she said. “Whenever something goes wrong, he says, ‘Call the janitor,’ and I’m the janitor.”
The Pink House
Farther north on A1A in Gulf Stream, one can see polo cottages on the grounds of the Gulf Stream School, which used to be the site of Gulf Stream Polo Club’s practice field, stables and barn. An especially striking one, the Pink House, offers views of the school’s athletic field.
“It’s very pretty,” Anne Gibb said, reminiscing. Gibb worked for the school for more than 32 years, became head mistress in 1990, and retired in 2004. She was the cottage’s first resident after it was moved to the Gulf Stream campus, and she lived in the Pink House for 15 years.
“The Pultes (Mark and Noreen) donated the cottage to the school,” she said. “A lot of people were very kind, helped pay for the move, donated a washer and dryer. The school and the school family are dear to my heart.”
The cottage was moved from the southeast corner of Banyan Road and A1A to its present location on the school grounds in 1989. “It was very exciting. We all were up watching the move in the middle of the night,” she said. At first, the house was set up on metal grids while the foundation was being built. “One of the children asked me when my house was going to be planted. “The children voted on what color it should be,” she said. “‘Of course, it should be pink,’ said one of the children. And so it stayed pink. It’s always been known as the Pink House.”
Built circa 1930s, the cottage is one of a number that were constructed for the polo club’s players, their families and personnel by the Phipps Family’s Bessemer Properties. Henry Pope and Henry Harding are believed to be the architects for the polo homes.
The cottage is one of three remaining on school property (the others, however, are not pink), and features several adorable attributes: bay windows, a window seat and hardwood floors.
“The Pink House gave me many years of joy and memories that will last forever,” Gibb said.
Shabby chic by the beach
Claudia Lewis bought 2 Kenmore Lane, in the “county pocket” just south of Briny Breezes, in 1976.
It was built in 1945, she said of her shuttered wood and cement cottage. “I’ve heard that this area was all nursery property, and according to an old title search, it was one of the old properties that started out with the Perrys and the Jennings, families here from days past.”
A retired registered nurse, she raised her son, Terry, in this home.
“When he was a little boy, he used to go down to the beach and say, ‘This is my beach.’ ”
When she first saw it, she thought it would make a good investment.
“It was a shacky cottage, a handyman’s special, and now, all my money is tied up in it, but I thought it would be a neat little place for my son to have someday.”
Not enough room and staying insured are, of course, challenges, but the home has lots of charm. It’s peaceful and the neighbors are nice, she said.
The cottage also provided a side benefit. “I discovered lots of things I didn’t know. I never thought I’d be out in my yard doing construction work,” she said. “I’ve learned how to use cement. I put the tiles in the front, laid the cobblestone path, fixed rotted wood, and have kept my cottage together.”
And how did she choose to add plum to her color scheme of yellow, with white and green trim?
“I found a paint sale: $1.50 a quart, and they had lots of plum.”
A cabinet has been rescued, painted teal, and sits next to the cottage.
“My son wanted to know why I hadn’t thrown it out,” she said. “But I need the storage space. I’m doing the shabby-chic thing.”
A ‘cracker house’ on the island
On Hypoluxo Island is another cute old cottage owned by Jan Parry, who bought it in 1997. This one is painted two tones of green, with a touch of a color called Sun-Dried Tomato.
And, although a “moving experience,” it was not so cute when she first saw it, Parry recalled.
“It was just a little old house in a very nice neighborhood,” she said. “I fell in love with Hypoluxo Island, and I could afford this house. I thought I could make it whatever I wanted.”
Originally owned by the Lewis family, it was built in 1947, she said. Steve Lewis, who bought it from Babe Thomas and lived in it about 20 years ago, calls Parry’s cottage an “old cracker house.”
“It’s the oldest remaining house on the island. It didn’t have air conditioning when we moved in. It had an attic fan, and was definitely an Old Florida-style house. ”
The house sat in the middle of a lot that was being divided, and whoever bought one of the lots could either tear the cottage down or move it. “So, I had it dug up and moved,” she said.
The original front porch, Parry said, was ugly, so she added a distinctive new porch, reminiscent of Craftsman-style, which gives the cottage lots of character.
Parry remodeled the kitchen, added tile floors and built-in cabinetry, and her back yard is large and private. But the home has had its share of challenges.
“When I moved in, the house had to be raised to comply with new heights for the flood zone. I had given up my rental, and moved in the day the electric was hooked up. I didn’t realize that the house would be five feet higher. I had to lift my dog to get her in the house, and I had to put some five-gallon drums at the door so that I could get in myself.”
The new heights, though, worked perfectly for the movers. “They put the platform into the door, and just moved things in,” she said.