office - 06/14/2009
Slater, Brett Jones, D. Vincent Williams and more closed out
this past April's Songwriters' Festival in Peggy and Johnny
Newberry's living room at 603 Southard St.
Naturally, such a musically inclined bunch gathered 'round the
white piano that dominates the room: "Johnny gave me the piano
years ago, but I never make it sound quite the same way the
songwriters do," Peggy Newberry said. "Some VH1 producers were
here that night, too, and they shot footage for the TV show."
As one of the sponsors of the Songwriters' Festival, the
Newberrys are used to rubbing musical elbows. The TV publicity,
though, is an added perk that in a tough economy helps get the
word out there for their Key West business, Mango Tree Inn,
where a goodly number of songwriters have stayed over the years
-- and where the Newberrys live year-round.
In Key West, a lot of people work from their homes, of course,
but some in-home offices are more intense than others. For
instance, this particular "inn-home" office is a 24/7 job.
"We try to close the office around five, but our only time off
is when we leave the island," said Johnny Newberry, who bought
the property 10 years ago.
The Newberrys were sitting at a cozy round table on the long
front porch chatting with Scotty Emerick when I arrived, so the
job has some positive downtime, too.
"We love being innkeepers, and when we found the property, we
fell in love with the old house, even though it needed some
work," Peggy Newberry said. "We redid the bathrooms, the pool,
added brick pathways and painted everything."
Back in 1999, the Newberrys said the 5,000-square-foot house at
the corner of Southard and Simonton streets already had
transient licenses, but it was being used as a boarding house.
Although it took some time and money to get the property into
inn shape, they didn't change the structural configuration,
which featured a two-bedroom, two-story apartment at the front,
and four bedrooms with two baths in the back.
The back rooms are still rented to guests in the form of two
suites -- one on the first floor, one on the second -- and both
have private entrances, one from Simonton Street and one from
the wrap-around porch that faces Southard Street. This
second-floor suite also overlooks the pool and garden on one
side, and features a balcony atop the octagonal room on the
Simonton Street side.
Access to the Newberrys apartment is from the seven-bay front
porch, where the central entrance has huge, wooden double doors
and heavy brass knockers original to the house built in 1858.
Next to this primary entrance is another door to the living room
that also doubles as the office. While a big desk fits
comfortably in a corner across from the piano, this work zone is
clearly lived in: Kaley Mae, the blond Labrador retriever,
sprawls on the rug, but it's easy to imagine her on the big,
"Sometimes I think she's the main attraction," Peggy Newberry
said. "She gets a lot of presents from our guests."
The front two-story apartment was divided from the back of the
house before the Newberrys bought it. In the living room, a
large section of the wooden wall behind the piano reveals the
sealed imprint of what used to be an archway into the second
parlor. At the turn of the 20th century, this octagonally
designed parlor was another formal entry to the house from
Simonton Street. It too, features the same heavy front door and
brass knockers at the Newberry's residence, but these days it's
the first-floor suite's private entrance, complete with a
Privacy is guaranteed to all visitors -- the Newberry's maintain
their privacy indoors via the 2,000 square feet in their
two-story apartment with two bedrooms and three baths -- but
Mango Tree Inn boasts a lot of casual, communal space in the big
pool and gazebo in the side garden.
This area affords weddings
and small gatherings, while on the front porch, tables and
chairs draw guests closer to the innkeepers. Here, the three
doors to the Newberry's residence are almost always open, and a
variety of birds chirp and chat there in cages.
Peggy Newberry said the Moluccan cockatoo rescued in Orlando, a
yellow-naped Amazon parrot retrieved from the Big Pine Flea
Market and two finches all come in at night to enjoy their
Even upstairs, the long front balcony boasts cages, where the
exotic birds can commune with wild birds in trees surrounding
the inn. Ancient Poinciana and mahoganies shade the carefully
tended gardens, although a more youthful mango tree soaks in the
sun at the front gate entrance.
"In my mind, mangos denote the tropics so it became the namesake
for our inn," Peggy said. "We planted that tree when we opened,
and now it's fruiting for the first time."
Sounds like fodder for a new song to be written at next year's
Barbara Bowers is a Key West writer. To suggest a home to be
featured in the Keys Homes section, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Homes listed for sale may not be considered.
Songwriter James Slater gave the Newberrys the
Panamanian Mola hanging in the Mango Tree Inn entry
Painting by Sandford Birdsey
on display in the Mango Tree Inn living room