The Key to Happiness

Jean Allsopp
In love with Florida, one couple headed south and discovered a fresh island cottage under a mango tree.

In Key West, some houses brighten the landscape as much as the lime trees and vibrant sunsets the island is known for. Take Casa Mango, the vivid cottage tucked beneath the oldest mango tree in town. Originally a two-room bungalow, the 1928 structure gained a rambling, imaginative feel thanks to several additions and renovations, but retained just enough of the authentic shotgun plan to allow tropical breezes to blow straight through.

West Virginians Don and Betsy Harrold spent years vacationing in Florida and searching for a home there. "We just slowly moved farther and farther down the coast, scratching the rest of the state off the list," Don says. Then they reached Key West.

On this island, any style goes. Don and Betsy walked through enough homes to realize that some locals saw beauty in Hemingway-esque dark wood interiors. But that look wasn't for them. "We wanted a house with a lighter atmosphere," Betsy says. "A fun, happy house that would really feel like a vacation home when our three children and five grandchildren visit." After looking at about 30 homes, they finally found what they wanted. The cottage with the turquoise floors was the one they couldn't pass up.

With a soothing hue already underfoot, the Harrolds enlisted Suzanne Brown of Gordon Alvarado to further the effect. "We went through several palettes, but I just loved the bright ones," Betsy says. Drawing inspiration from the tree out back, they coated the home's exterior in vibrant mango. "Traditionally, homes in the tropics have blue ceilings to give the illusion of sky and to deter bees and hornets," Suzanne says. "You can sit on the sofa and feel like you're outside."

The interiors came together in a spectrum of ocean blues. White walls, upholstery, and architectural accents allow the sea-inspired hues to pop. In the living area, an Akari paper lantern by 20th-century artist Isamu Noguchi hangs overhead, lending a modern edge. Below, sea glass shades swirl in a custom coffee table. Functional curtains with velvet trim and tiebacks soften the look and provide a visual divide between the living and dining areas. "It's a bit of island, a hint of bohemia, and a touch of tradition all at once," Suzanne says. "That's what I love about island design. You can create a room in any style and still have it read as tropical."

At the Harrolds', the line between indoors and out is blurry. "Pop open any window and you can smell a variety of fragrances," Betsy says. In the living area, a wall of doors extends the space onto a courtyard, where the soothing palette continues. Turquoise decking surrounds an aqua-tiled pool and leads to two small bedrooms. While the home has two conventional baths, the Harrolds usually opt for the outdoor shower shaded by the mango tree's sinuous branches.

"We spend six or more months a year here in Key West―never enough," Don says. In a town full of color, on an island that punctuates Florida's vibrant Keys, they've found their own bright spot.

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