When entrepreneur and engineer Jonathan Hallett encountered a tan-colored 1,500-square-foot stilt house right on the ocean in Islamorada in the early 2000s, he knew he had found something special—though, admittedly, he used to refer to it as a “no-frills beach shack.” Frill-free or not, Hallett and his family soon found themselves making the trek from Atlanta more and more—some 740 miles on the road just so they could sink their feet in the sand. Then nature intervened in the form of Hurricane Irma, whose Category 4 winds crushed Hallett’s getaway when it swept through the Keys in 2017.
“There’s always a risk in doing something nice,” he says, but decided, “Let’s make it into something special.”
To start anew, Hallett first enlisted Curry Dixon Construction to head up the renovation. “The main bones of the house survived, but we completely gutted it,” says CDC’s co-owner John Dixon. “It was like starting from scratch.”
As building codes in the Keys are quite strict, Dixon and his partner, John Curry, had to find creative ways to nearly double the previous interior space, as the homeowners decided they wanted to start hosting regularly.
The finished plans resulted in a wood home, plus a connected accessory dwelling structure (ADU), that together hold five bedrooms and six bathrooms over 2,500 square feet. But, constructing the high-impact-rated dwellings was just the start of the road back. Hallett then began to think about the best person who would bring his very specific vision of outdoor spaces to life.
Enter Craig Reynolds, a landscape architect with an impressive resume who has lived in Key West for more than two decades and is well-familiar with its temperament. Reynolds, who formerly worked with the renowned Raymond Jungles, knows firsthand the best way to incorporate plant life, and hardscape elements into a project in tropical environments where storms are likely.
“It was just the main house, nothing but a wood deck underneath, and sand everywhere, plus maybe a couple of coconuts,” recalls Reynolds after inspecting the 10,000-square-foot lot for the first time. As the work got underway, Reynolds kept Hallett’s main requests front of mind: views of the ocean “from everywhere,” comfortable spots to hang out day or night, and as many varieties of palm trees as he could get his hands on. “My goal was to not waste an inch,” says Hallett. “We [connected] early on. I wanted something timeless and simple, but with nice materials.”
Since both men agreed one pool was not going to accomplish everything the homeowner wanted, Reynolds envisioned space for two: a deep one for swimming and a shallow one with a dry bench that allows guests to sit and dip their toes in the water.
The renovation began by uniformly wrapping unevenly sized support columns in coral stone. “When you design, you have to have spaces that are proportionate to each other and proportionate to the load of the house,” says Reynolds, who then created a variety of spaces for family members to be together or on their own, with an occasional fountain for ambient noise. Hallett contributed his own touches by way of a teak pool table, and ensured there were spots to store water toys (from sailboats to paddleboards) for easy access.
What really got the homeowner excited, however, was the prospect of new plants—especially his desired palm trees. Reynolds and his senior associate designer, Alex Thommes, delivered with selections from all over the world: Fiji fan palms, pygmy date palms, a lipstick palm with vibrant red crown shafts, some ruffled fan palms, and multiple Cuban trees, including hat palm, petticoat palm, and Borhidi’s guano palm. All these specimens were chosen for their appeal, yes, but more importantly, for their ability to withstand winter winds of up to 35 miles per hour, which can create a Venturi effect under the house.
With all the interesting new palm tree species, shimmering pools, and additional man-made comforts Curry and Dixon supplied, Hallett says he finally has the Keys retreat he always envisioned. “The house is more about being outside than inside. That’s just obvious,” he says. “We’ve opened it up to extended family, and people are now going down fairly often, which is great. There’s too much invested for it not to be used.”
Landscape Architecture by Craig Reynolds Landscape Architects, Key West, FL
General Contractor Curry-Dixon Construction, Tavernier, FL
Text by Riki Altman-Yee
Photography by Tamara Alvarez, Key West, FL