Name: Ernest Hemingway
Location: Key West, Florida
Size: 3,000 square feet
Years lived in: 30 years (1931 - 1961)
Nestled in a thick jungle of tropical foliage near Florida’s southern most point stands Ernest Hemingway’s Key West Home. Still situated on the original acre of property, the Spanish Colonial house is where Hemingway wrote some of his greatest works and showcased his many treasures acquired from his adventurous travels.
Built in 1851 by a marine architect named Asa Tift, the two-story house served as the home of Ernest Hemingway (or “Papa” as he is fondly known as in Key West) and his wife, Pauline, from 1931 to 1961. On this shady block of Whitehead Street, a low hill presented a unique opportunity for a Florida home that has withstood the test of time for over 150 years. Just 16 feet above sea level, the house was constructed by digging into the limestone terrain, creating not only the large bricks out of which the house was built, but also a nine foot basement.
Created out of an old carriage house, the studio in the backyard is where Papa Hemingway wrote some of his famous novels such as To Have and Have Not and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway's love of adventure and fondness for the sea can be seen in the various antiques and hunting trophies throughout the home. Also hard to miss are the chic and timeless personal touches of his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer. Once a writer for Vanity Fair and Vogue, Pauline's fashionable and feminine taste provided the perfect balance to Papa’s ruggedness, as she adorned the home with colorful chandeliers, drapes and tiles from France, Italy and Spain.
As a cat-lover, Hemingway was once gifted a polydactyl (having extra toes) cat by a friend and fishing captain. Today, the estate is roamed by 45 cats — half of which have 6 toes. As one of the largest expenses in the upkeep of the property, the cats are named after famous writers and artists and can even be viewed on the home’s website HemingwayHome.com.
We were lucky enough to chat with Linda Mendez, who's worked at the Hemingway Home & Museum for 22 years, to gain a bit of insight as to how Papa Hemingway himself might have answered our Apartment Therapy survey. For more detailed information, visit the museum's website and make sure to schedule a tour of this must-see property the next time you find yourself in sunny Key West.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: Caribbean Plantation/Adventure Chic
Inspiration: Traveling and adventure provide the inspiration for Hemingway’s home. Pauline was a lover of both antiques and fashion, and Papa Hemingway loved African safaris and hunting out west. Throughout the house you will find antique pieces such as an 18th century Spanish walnut dining table, mounted animal heads, and art (a few of which are replicas) of pieces he owned by friends like Joan Miró, Henry Faulkner and Pablo Picasso.
Favorite Element: Nobody can pass by the main bathroom without commenting on the beautiful deco-era tiles on the floor — Pauline's choice, imported from France.
Biggest Challenge: When Papa and Pauline bought the house in 1931, it was in complete disrepair. Having sat vacant for some time, the roof leaked and the ceiling was falling apart. When a piece of plaster fell in Pauline's eye, she was convinced a ghost was to blame. The place was a total “fixer-upper.”
What Friends Say: People that tour the home today always remark on the beauty of the gardens. Surrounded by a privacy wall built from Baltimore cobblestones, the property boasts a wide array of lush, tropical plant life. It’s easy to get lost in the grandeur of the tangled greenery as you make your way along the twisting paths (on which you will see hundreds of little cat paws pressed into the cement).
Proudest DIY: When Papa saw an old urinal waiting to be hauled away as trash in front of Sloppy Joe's (his favorite neighborhood bar), he decided to take it home with him, proclaiming "Enough of my money went down that urinal!" He hauled it home, plopped it in the grass and topped it with a giant Spanish olive jar he found in Cuba. Affronted by the sight of a urinal in her backyard, Pauline decided to prettify the fixture with decorative tiles. Rigged with a pump, water has since cascaded down the jar and into the reservoir, providing a perfect (and now world-famous) drinking fountain for the cats.
Biggest Indulgence: The pool. While Papa was out of town covering the Spanish Civil War, Pauline supervised the construction of a swimming pool in the backyard. Filled from a nearby salt water well, the pool is 65 feet long, 9 feet deep and was the first residential swimming pool in Key West. In the end, the construction of the pool exceeded $20,000 (the home was purchased for only $8,000). Upon hearing of the cost, an irate Ernest Hemingway gave Pauline a penny out of his pocket and said "Well, you might as well take my last cent!" Pauline had that very penny embedded into the concrete at the foot of the pool, and Papa’s "last cent" can still be seen there today.
Best Advice: Wait until your husband is out of town before starting that major and expensive project you've been pestering him about for weeks.
Thanks, Linda and everyone at the Hemingway Museum!
Images: Mat Sanders
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