Old houses sometimes give up their secrets slowly.
That’s what Keith and Lucy Lawless discovered when they moved into a 1927 house in St. Petersburg’s Old Northeast. It had been upgraded to an extent, but the couple wanted to better reflect their mid-century modern aesthetic. Out went ornate chandeliers, replaced by all-new lighting fixtures. Almost every wall — including a blood-orange one in the kitchen — was repainted a fresh white. But the eureka moment came when a contractor hired to build a wine cellar found that what looked like a bookcase was actually a door.
“He said, ‘Do you know you have a Prohibition-era house?’“ Keith Lawless recalls. “And it was off to the races.”
The door led to a small room that the Lawlesses decided to turn into a speakeasy. They expanded the area by 6 feet taken from the family room and had the ceiling raised and thick wood beams installed. “A guy came in and cut every single piece of wood and stained it to the color we wanted,” Keith says. “The woodwork in there is pretty exceptional.” They put in penny tile flooring, a bar, custom bottle shelving and a Viking beverage refrigerator and glassware flash dishwasher.
The room is hung with dark, heavy drapes, like those used to hide the booze from nosy G-men. It is decorated with a Victorian settee, stools and other vintage furnishings found at a local antiques market. Alongside family photos from the ‘30s and ‘40s are a photo of a 1932 New York Times story about the struggles over Prohibition and a 1927 prescription for whiskey. (Getting a doctor to prescribe whiskey for medicinal purposes was a way around the ban.) They also found an old issue of Reader’s Digest showing Manhattan’s legendary speakeasy, the 21 Club.
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The Lawlesses made other changes. Directly above the speakeasy was another small room they had cut in half to make en suite bathrooms for their two teenage daughters. Outside, they resurfaced the pool, added a spa big enough for eight and framed the entire pool deck with IPE, a weather-resistant tropical wood. For their aging dogs, they built a room in the garage that is air conditioned and has a little door that opens to a run extending along the entire side of the house.
When they bought the house five years ago, the Lawlesses wanted more room for a growing family. Now that their oldest kids are off to college, they’ve decided that the 3,500-square-foot, five-bedroom, 5 ½-bathroom house is bigger than they need. It is on the market for $2.275 million, sale pending, with Sarah and Don Howe as the listing agents.
All of the speakeasy furniture and memorabilia are included.