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Investing Heart

By Lura Readle Scarpitti
Photos by Ashley Steeby

6 Palm Row, located just across from the Lightner Museum in the heart of the historic district, was supposed to be just an investment.

Co-owner Valerie Lee has always looked for opportunities to bring dwellings which are in great need of refurbishing and remodeling back to life. As an interior designer and owner of Anastasia Design Group, you could say that taking old and outdated structures and making them new and beautiful again is her life’s work.

Family Room

That was for her clients. Somewhere along the line, she started finding homes that needed some, or a lot, of TLC, to invest in, use her talents to renovate them and then sell…what we all know now as “flipping.” Others that she’s done, she’s kept and rented out.

One of those outcomes was originally intended for “The Palm Row House,” as it’s come to be called. A business partner, Pete Kuc, brought the property to her attention and they decided that this was one they couldn’t walk away from. The home showed a lot of potential, although, as Lee says, you couldn’t see it from the state it was in when they bought it. “Like so many places I see, nothing had been done to it for a long time, which for a lot of people is surprising. I think people walk down Palm Row, or anywhere in the historic area, and look at these houses from the outside and think how awesome it must be inside. Many times, that’s not the case.”

Thankfully, not too much had been added — no “avocado shag carpet, wood paneling or popcorn ceilings,” as Lee puts it. “That’s a good thing because, as a renovator, I don’t have to undo a lot. I just have to bring back what was there to it’s original glory, so to speak.” The price was right — $580,000 for a 5-bedroom, 3-bath, 4000-square-foot home in the historical district — so they decided to go forward. The house was closed on in mid-2016 and started work almost the very same day. Valerie already had a vision in mind.

She explains: “With houses like this, you want to keep everything that’s indicative of that time period, if it’s still in good condition. The house was built around the turn of the 20th century so heart pine flooring, which was used all over Florida during that time, runs throughout the entire house. We kept that and all the turn-of-the-century door hardware and doors too. Even all the windows are original, except the ones off of the kitchen, which were probably added in the ’70s.”

So the bones were good and the plumbing and electricity had already been brought up to code. All that was left was to remodel…a task easier said than done.

Like all undertakings of this nature, it wasn’t easy. Contractors came and went, and so did a hurricane (although Lee says that the water came up to the top of the steps leading up to the house but no further) and the house started to come to life. As work went on, she started to realize that she didn’t want to let go of the house so easily when the project was completed.

“It started to come together and I really grew to love it. So many things about it appeal to me, from the funky layout to the location to the history of it. I already live on the outskirts of downtown (for over 15 years) and I love my home, so I wasn’t going to move but I loved the idea of having this second home, right in the middle of everything, which I could use to host my friends from out of town, or a more convenient place to stay when I know town is going to be busy. Sometimes, it just seems like a bit of a retreat…a quick getaway only 10 minutes from my full-time residence.” Because it’s not occupied full-time, Lee is able to rent it out periodically. The entire house can comfortably accomodate 14, perfect for a multifamily getaway or reunion. You can get more info on availability at www.palmrowhouse.com.

The house itself is, as Lee puts it, “funky.”

“I’ve been trying to figure out the layout. It’s weird. You have an entrance off Cordova (facing the Lightner Museum) which opens to a staircase almost immediately in front of you that goes to the second level, then you step down to the first floor. There’s a porch off to the right. It’s hard to figure out just what was what but I think, on the first floor you walk into what was the parlor which is now the dining room. That is where the main entrance is off of Palm Row, which I why I think that.”

There are six bedrooms, two on the first floor and three on the second, each floor has a bathroom, and a separate one-bedroom, one-bath apartment with its own entrance in the back. There are 4 living rooms throughout the house. Let’s just say that nobody is tripping over anybody in this place.” Lee is not sure what the original use of the home was — single family home or multi-unit complex but records seem to point to the latter.

Records at the Historical Society Research Library show that most of the structures on Palm Row were split up into apartments. The 6 buildings there were part of a development by Henry Ammidown, the nephew of Philip Henry Ammidown who gave his nephew the property. Ammidown, the uncle, owned an estate on St. George Street just south of the Palm Row property. Records show that he left no heirs and it is speculated that he looked on Henry as the son he never had.

Over time, most of the Palm Row houses have been converted into single family homes. One thing that Valerie finds interesting is that, even with the suspected conversion, the home’s original floor plan does not appear to have been altered.

“The floors are all uniform and there is no change in the material or the pattern they were laid down at all. And all the doors and hardware are what you would find in an early 1900s home, which tells me that maybe it was built to be a multi-unit or single family home from the start. Who knows? It’s kind of a mystery.”

It was no mystery how Lee wanted the house to feel. “The house is Victorian but I didn’t want it to have that formal feeling. I kept it simple, with very little accessories. I guess you would call it Coastal but it’s not super beachy. The colors are very peaceful and calming. I went with neutral shades because it went with the area so well.”

The kitchen reflects this. “It’s probably my favorite place in the house,” says Lee. “I love everything about it.” It was also the biggest part of the renovation. Everything had to be redone — floors, the layout, all cabinetry and appliances. The Taj Mahal white quartzite countertops and white cabinets give it an open, light and airy feeling, making it a perfect morning gathering spot over breakfast at the bar. A gas stove (for serious cooks) and stainless steel appliances add a bit of an edge to the serene space.

Her other favorite — the two patios and a balcony overlooking the activity on Palm Row. I love sitting here on the weekends and watching wedding party after wedding party come through taking photos. It’s got to be one of the most photographed streets in the city because no car come down the lane and it’s so picturesque.”

One more surprise was a finished off attic which makes the two-story dwelling at three-story. “It’s this huge open space: honestly, it’s kind of kid heaven. My daughter and her best friend will spend all day up there. It’s like their own personal playroom.” With that finished off attic, the home has three distinct spaces, not including the apartment in the back.

Attention to detail is seen all throughout the house, even down to the fixtures in the bathrooms (which, like the kitchen, took a great deal to overhaul), one which has a claw-and-ball tub for a long soak after a day of walking around the city playing tourist. For Lee, it truly is a “home away from home.”

At the end of the day, 6 Palm Row epitomizes what motivates Lee to put the time, effort and dedication towards home renovation: “I just love to make something that was something fabulous before, fabulous again,” Lee says. “6 Palm Row is just that — Fabulous once again.”

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