With vibrant interiors, lush gardens, and a prime location, this Key West rental will put you in an island state of mind before you even unpack.
Text by Steve Millburg

Guests walking into Havana Lane may want to keep their sunglasses on. Bright tropical colors radiate from pillows, seat cushions, artwork, and painted furniture. Set against Dade County pine, the splashy accents tantalize the eye, bringing the sunny vacation vibe inside.

With permission from Chavez Properties, the company that owns the cottage, British designer Derek Frost revived the rundown 1920s structure with the goal of creating a hideaway that doesn’t take itself too seriously. He retained the natural look of the pine floors, walls, and ceilings and preserved the retro, lived-in feel of what locals call a “conch house.” Derek brought in discarded, distressed lumber for architectural accents that underscore the home’s rustic charm. “The idea was to keep it very Key Westy, very relaxed, very un-done-up,” Derek says. “It’s absolutely not your standard rental property.”

Vintage and found furniture create a casual atmosphere, with end tables crafted from teak boat-hatch covers resting on rattan bases. Derek constructed the coffee table by attaching blue and red vinyl floor tiles to a wood frame that rests on a Mexican twig base.

When it came to color, he abandoned all restraint. “To me, Florida means bright-colored,” he says. Painted aqua and pink, the dining table and chairs make a playful statement. The whimsy continues in the kitchen, with mint-green candy-stripe cabinets. In the living area, haphazardly placed artwork forms a collage of color on the walls. Standard-issue miniblinds just wouldn’t do here, so tropical-motif fabric covers the window. Hot-pink molding crowns the space, and a hodgepodge of daring fabrics brightens remaining gaps.

The cottage’s tropical accents smooth the transition between indoors and out. Two sets of French doors open the dining area onto a spacious deck, pool, and sprawling gardens. Plants thrive in the area’s subtropical climate, creating a private retreat that’s enjoyable year-round. After all, Derek says, “you go to Florida to be outside.”

Just a few blocks away from the cottage, you can join the circus-like daily sunset celebration at Mallory Square and the thumping nightlife of Duval Street. You can also soak up Key West culture by bicycle or by foot, admiring the eccentric architecture and browsing local art galleries. There’s plenty to do offshore, as well: Rent a boat to explore the islands, fish, swim, snorkel, dive, or windsurf.

Just don’t forget your sunglasses.

(published December 2009)

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