For as long as she could remember, Lisa Hastings had dreamed of living in a cottage near the sea. After residing in Denver with her husband, Curt, and their sons, Logan and Drew, for 22 years, the Indiana native was more than ready to say goodbye to snow and hello to sweet sunshine.
Jen Johnson, who lives in Vero Beach, knew all about Lisa’s dream; after all, the two had been “BFFs” since fifth grade, and even though they lived miles apart, the two had kept in touch both electronically and physically.
“After Curt and I visited Jen and her husband, James, I told her to keep an eye out for something small, as perhaps we would buy it as a second home until Curt decided to retire. One day Jen saw that Alma Lee Loy’s house was for sale, so she called and asked if we’d be interested,” says Lisa, recalling how they ended up buying and renovating the home of the woman known affectionately as the “First Lady of Vero Beach,” who had passed away in April 2020 at the age of 90.
“We hated to think about the house and its history getting scraped away for a new build. The Johnsons have a business called Island Breeze Kitchens, and they’ve renovated other homes, so we felt confident that together we could make it work. Jen would design a new kitchen, James would help with labor and expertise, and even though Curt and I had never done any type of construction before, we were willing to make it work—so we made the plunge,” Lisa explains.
It was a big plunge. The original house was built 85 years ago in the Shadow Lawn subdivision. It had two bedrooms and one bathroom. Ten years later, George Loy purchased the property and promptly applied for a permit to add another bedroom and bath.
As the two couples assessed what work needed to be done, the list included a new roof, new siding, new windows, new kitchen, and an HVAC upgrade. And that was just for starters.
After Curt, who is the director of training for the Ball Corporation, found he could work remotely, he and Lisa sold their house in Denver and moved to Vero Beach in July 2021, becoming permanent Floridians.
While Curt and the Johnsons mapped out the renovation plan, Lisa made it a point to learn all she could about Alma Lee’s life and legacy.
“I had seen a couple of videos of her at various meetings and events and was impressed. Alma Lee was a business-woman and political leader who believed in working with others to improve the community she loved. She was truly everyone’s champion, and I wish I had known her,” says Lisa.
In a way, she did.
After Lisa and Curt made an offer on the house, they learned there were others who had done the same. It was nail-biting time.
“Then, one afternoon we were driving over the Alma Lee Loy Bridge and I felt this wave of peace coming over me and heard the words, ‘Don’t worry, Hon—I’m looking out for you.’ I was like, ‘Wow!’ A little later we got the call that the house was ours. Alma Lee was right; she was looking out over us,” Lisa enthuses.
With Curt and James working on renovations and Jen designing the new kitchen, Lisa assumed the role of go-to gal. “I was the pusher, the enthusiastic cheerleader who
ordered pizza, poured the wine, kept everyone going,” says Lisa, who also continued to learn more about the home’s history thanks to documentation provided by genealogist Pam Cooper.
It’s been said that what sets old houses apart are the stories they have to tell about the previous occupants: the birthday parties, the school graduations, the life passages.
In the attic, Lisa found numerous clues to Alma Lee’s life passages. In boxes tucked under the rafters were sewing materials, Pyrex dishes, and stamped wood boards bearing the names of local businesses.
That’s when repurposing became a watchword, with several of the stamped boards being used to create a feature wall in the dining room. More than just a conversation piece, it tells tales of the past.
That past is now part of the present, Lisa points out happily as she starts a tour that begins in the living room, where Dade County pine floors, discovered hidden under well-trod carpeting, gleam. With 95 percent of the flooring in surprisingly good shape, James and Curt replaced areas that were damaged. The transition from old to new is seamless.
As James is quick to point out, a large percentage of the wood used to build the house, including moldings and archways, is Dade County pine, a valuable resource rarely available today. That’s why salvaging as much as possible was high on the renovation and repurposing plan.
Another surprise discovered under the carpeting is the double row of decorative tiles in front of the fireplace. Original to the house, with a little elbow grease they look almost new. Unfortunately, some of the glass tiles surrounding the fireplace were chipped, so Lisa and Jen selected new ones in a shade of blue similar to that of the kitchen cabinetry.
Ah, the kitchen. Now, as in years past, it is regarded as the heart of the house. With four doors, the original owners had made sure the heart was accessible from all points: north, south, east, and west.
Jen envisioned accessibility by opening the wall between the kitchen and living room, reorienting placement of the appliances and cabinets, and, at Lisa’s request, designing an island. Overhead glass pendants shed a warm glow over a collection of Ball mason jars lining top shelves.
Opposite the island, a round table and chairs nestled by the bay window is the perfect place for breakfast, sipping coffee, or catching a late-night bite.
For other meals, the dining room awaits through original French doors that open to what had been the sunroom. With the ceiling now raised 9 inches, new lighting, and the stamped-wood wall feature, classic charm mingles with a contemporary ambience.
A short walk and you’re at the side-door entrance, where a console table and hanging rack that Curt built provide places to deposit keys, jackets, and bags. With a stacked washer and dryer, it doubles as a laundry room.
From there it’s on to the master suite, an example of creative resizing that accommodates a bed, dresser, ample closet space, and a modern bathroom with transom windows, shower, and a framed Champagne Girl poster Lisa brought from Denver.
The other two bedrooms also benefited from resizing. One serves to welcome guests, the other as Curt’s office, which can be easily converted to provide sleeping space.
In the “mermaid bathroom” a claw-foot tub and poster of a mythical beauty are but two of the charming touches in the much-needed update.
By the middle of December, five months after their start date, Lisa and Curt welcomed Drew and Logan to celebrate the family’s first Florida Christmas in their new house. While there was still work to do, a sense of accomplishment and joy filled the air.
“For Curt, who continued his day job, it was really a second job,” Lisa points out. “He was always handy, but there was a lot of stuff he had never done before, and he embraced it.”
“It hasn’t been all wine and roses,” Curt admits. “There were frustrating moments for sure. While the majority of folks we worked with were excellent, some weren’t, but I realize that comes with the territory. It was great working with James and Jen; I learned a lot. In the end, you know that with your hands you’ve brought something meaningful to life.”
Alma Lee would happily agree.