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A mother/son design duo coaxes a cottage into a compound.

Benjamin Burle and Debra Yates.

In the living space, the line of gray-washed wood flooring gives way to a gray-washed deck

The back porch serves as an airy setting for entertaining

Color and foliage combine to give this outdoor space a magical feel.

Lighting and landscaping helped this screened room achieve the designers’ brand of subtropical modernism

Wide new steps for seating, bulky columns, outdoor curtains and golden bamboo created a dramatic entryway.

Debra Yates was an accomplished designer and artist when her son and now design partner, Benjamin Burle, was still at Sunset Elementary in South Miami. Burle’s early interest in creating great space was sparked as his mother racked up major projects in South Florida, such as the Truman Hotel, a boutique inn in downtown Key West.

By the time Burle graduated from the Miami International University of Art and Design, he was more than ready to join his mother in the interior and exterior design studios they now share in Midtown Miami and Old Town Key West.

Recently, Yates and Burle—BurleYatesDesign (debrayates.‌com)—teamed up to create a lushly landscaped Key West project that they call Historic/Contemporary, the latest creation in their self-coined design style of subtropical modernism.

This Historic/Contemporary commission, a 1931 cottage-style house, started out as an interior blowout, a reduction of the existing pool and an enhancement of the exterior usable space. In Key West’s historic district, exterior spaces become inviting living rooms. Outdoor parlors are central to the island’s culture, so ambitious thinking was called for.

“I wanted to give this cottage new life as a clean-lined modern space that led to an exterior with boldly colored, lime-based paint stuccoed walls,” Yates says.

She applied her theory, “open space provides more energy,” by overhauling every aspect of the house, except for the front facade, which is protected by the Historic Architectural Review Committee. The modernist additions to the front porch were subtle enough to be approved, but bold enough to make a statement that something different was happening within. Yates kept the bones of the structure, but opened up the inside, providing clean interior sightlines and raising the ceiling to the roof line, capitalizing on open spaces.

In 2010, around the same time Burle was graduating from design school and partnering with Yates, the house on the lot next door became available. Fortuitously, their client purchased the second cottage and gave Burle and Yates carte blanche to design a compound and connect the two.

Burle wasted no time in adding insight to phase 2 of the design process. “I worked with Debra, consulting on architectural details, such as the corrugated serpentine privacy wall, one of our design trademarks,” Burle says.
To fill out the compound, Yates designed three accessory buildings: a guest room, an artist’s studio and a combination screened-in room/sculptor’s workshop, all connected by gray-washed decks and walkways.

To make space for the high-pitched screened-in room, Yates removed the pool that had sat on the second lot, since the owners had no need for a second pool. The screened-in room was the optimal place from which to view the property’s magnificent mango tree, which is protected by the Key West Tree Commission.

The elevated walkways display respect for the roots of the tree while providing graceful transitions from space to space. “The walkways tie the five buildings together, encouraging seamless movement,” Yates says. The home reflects an artistic existence—understood, appreciated and lived in by talented abstract artists who share the designers’ aesthetic, making the project, as Yates says, “a real pleasure to create.”

“This particular project has a special feel because it is our vision in all aspects,” Yates says, adding, “one vision with a really great client.