An Author’s Key West -November/December 2007

Leslie Linsley recounts her experiences in the only subtropical city in the continental United States

by: Leslie Linsley

photography by: Terry Pommett

Many years ago my husband and partner Jon Aron and I had just finished the now classic book “Nantucket Style” when our editor at Rizzoli International called to ask if we’d like to spend the winter working on a book to be called “Key West Houses.”

Since most of you know that winter on our northern island can be rather bleak, the prospect of having such a plum job plunked into our laps was heavenly. Jon is a photographer and art director and we have collaborated on over 60 books together. We had never been to Key West, but we had many Nantucket friends who owned houses or spent part of the winter there and had suggested that we would love this southernmost island.

They vehemently boasted, “It’s not like any other place in the state of Florida.” Theron and Lee Dunn renovated their house in an area known as “The Meadows.” George Korn and George Davis each have homes in Old Town. Former Nantucket decorator Gary Knight owned a townhouse for many years, as did artist William Welch. Betsy and Quentin Dietz live half the year in their house in Casa Marina and former co-owner of Nantucket Looms Andy Oates has a home there as well. Irma and René Lapierre spend winters in their other island home and Joyce and Seward Johnson own the southernmost, southernmost house, not to be confused with the Southernmost Point Key West landmark. Joanne and Steve Marcoux spend their winters in Key West, as do Old Spouter Gallery owner Kathleen Welch and her husband Brent Young. When Nantucket native Karl Lindquist and his wife Carol purchased a home on Love Lane they told us they had found paradise.

That book offer came in 1992 and we, along with many other Nantucketers, have been going back every year since, each time asking ourselves what it is that intrigues us so about this little spit of land located 150 miles south of Miami and 90 miles north of Cuba. For one thing, it is the only subtropical city in the continental United States, which means the weather is consistently beautiful. For another, it is an island that is connected to the mainland, but only barely, by a two-lane highway up to Miami with water on both sides. It is only four miles long and one mile wide and, for the most part, is surrounded by a coral reef. This sets it apart from the rest of Florida and pretty much guarantees the small-town community atmosphere that has always prevailed even with its year-round population of 35,000 permanent residents.

During the season, Key West plays host to over 2 million visitors from around the world. And it is smaller than Nantucket! Cruise ships arrive daily at Mallory Square and while some residents find this a negative aspect of daily living, others feel the positive impact of the revenue they generate. There is a first-run, state-of-the-art movie theater, an active arts scene, the Key West Symphony, many live performances at local theaters, music of all types, over 200 restaurants, a variety of historic buildings offering exciting exhibits and social events and an overwhelming number of outdoor activities – in the dead of winter!

Over the past several years, more and more Nantucketers have found this winter paradise, perhaps in part because it reminds us of the way Nantucket was about 20 years ago. It is an island where the preferred mode of transportation is still the bicycle, everything is within walking distance, unlike the rest of Florida with its superhighways, and while gentrification is on the move, it is happening at a much slower pace with a long way to go before catching up with our island.

Latest issue...

To view the magazine full size, click the image above.