The new pool area designed by Debra Yates
In October 2005, when Hurricane Wilma ripped through the Florida Keys, Kathy Houtz’s 1,000-square-foot house on Key Haven, a community just east of Key West, was practically destroyed.
“It was the biggest trauma I had ever been through,” she said. But she decided to stay put. Even when your house is wrecked, “you still have to pay the mortgage,” said Ms. Houtz. Besides, “I had nowhere else to live.”
So she piled the soggy contents of the house on the front lawn and ripped out the water-logged wallboard, leaving pipes and electrical wires hanging from exposed studs. For six months, she said, “I lived in a wall-less house with no appliances.” She weighed her options, one of which was to rebuild to current flood-protection standards, which would have meant putting the house on stilts. Debra Yates, a designer, advised her to rebuild on the existing slab. That’s because Ms. Yates wanted the reconfigured house to merge into the garden, and vice versa. On stilts, the house would have seemed small and isolated. Ms. Yates changed nearly everything. She tore down walls to transform what she called “three little chopped-up bedrooms” into a gracious master suite and an office used as a guest room. To add “virtual” space, some walls were covered in mirrors; others painted Benjamin Moore’s River Rock, a dark gray, to make surfaces recede. “It’s her magic disappearing color,” Ms. Houtz said. Most surfaces are white, including white cotton duck canvas curtains and white-tiled walls. Ms. Yates tends to use simple, uniform materials (the kitchen, bathroom and office countertops are all concrete) and rarely specs anything that can’t be ordered through the Home Depot. Ms. Houtz, who paid $240,000 for the house in 1997, said she spent a bit more than that on the renovation. Outside the house, a new pool and hot tub beckon. One of the goals was to make the property, which is on a narrow canal with boats passing by, feel private. Ms. Yates deployed walls of stucco and corrugated metal, along with carefully placed plantings, to achieve that. With its sliding glass doors opening onto the enclosed garden, the house seems to flow into the outdoors. Ms. Houtz said that she can now stay home all weekend, “and never get cabin fever.”