Just a few miles south of St. Augustine’s historic district, the tourist attractions and commercial venues fade into a sprawl of sand pines and suburban ramblers. Here, every neighborhood has an analogous quality, each house blending with the next like they are individual pieces all born of the same set.
That is, until you arrive at the affectionately titled “Atomic Ranch Tropicana” in the center of Fort Peyton Forest. In a neighborhood of 1980s-era homes outfitted in dark wood siding, the orange-and-white abode of Kira and Colin McCarty sings a song of its own — you don’t have to be like everyone else.
Ten years ago, the McCartys fell in love with St. Augustine after Kira’s brother moved to town. Her parents soon followed suit from St. Petersburg, and though Kira and Colin maintained their permanent residence in Minnesota, they bought a little vacation house in Vilano Beach. Colin, an experienced house flipper, took what had been dubbed a “tear-down” and rehabilitated it into the perfect escape from the winter snow. A few years later, the couple invested in another tear-down property in Lincolnville and, board by board, nursed it back to health as well.
But when it came time to move south for good, the McCartys knew they wanted to settle in the suburbs before their son, Harvey, started kindergarten. When the family’s realtor, Nic Lindser, introduced them to their third so-called tear-down in St. Johns County, they were smitten.
“People often overlook these single-story rambler homes,” says Colin. “A lot of them go unnoticed and are left to neglect, but they’re affordable and full of potential.”
With their previous flips, Kira and Colin consciously chose to stay within the design boundaries of a mass market appeal, but when it came to their new home, it was time to let their own style take over.
Inspired by a trip to Palm Springs during the city’s famous “Modernism Week,” Colin, a former drummer in a rockabilly band with a love for Triumph motorcycles, and Kira, who drives a gorgeous ‘73 pick-up and travels the country as a professional vintage hair and make-up stylist, decided to commit to a design aesthetic they both loved.
“We made a pact when we bought our ‘forever home’ that we’d purge everything that didn’t fit into our love of atomic and mid-century kitsch,” says Kira.
True to their word, the McCartys freed themselves of their more contemporary belongings and downsized from their five-bedroom home in Minneapolis to a two-bedroom, 1100 square-foot St. Augustine homestead. The couple purchased their home in March 2017 and moved in seven months later, after extensive renovations that included new flooring, updated bathrooms, and a remodeled pink kitchen with a large white marble island.
To furnish their mid-century dreamhouse, Kira quickly became familiar with the St. Augustine thrift store circuit. Her favorites are Betty Griffin House and Haven Hospice, both of which often have great finds and support great causes. The McCartys have also found a few treasures at a pair of vintage stores in uptown San Marco: Cool and Collected and The Way We Were.
“We actually found our dining table on Craigslist,” says Kira. “It needed a ton of restoration, but it matched the chairs we had brought down from Minnesota perfectly. Now it’s one of our favorite ensembles. Sometimes it takes a long time to find the right piece and you have to be patient, but it’s worth it!”
What the McCartys gave up in indoor square footage, they gained back tenfold in outdoor space. With just over a quarter-acre of land, the family has developed a backyard oasis even more unique than their inside space. Part Polynesian escape and part country farm, the yard includes Colin’s custom-built tiki bar and light-up poolside volcano along with a hen house (delightfully named “The Chick Inn”) for the family’s six chickens.
“I knew I didn’t want extra house to clean,” Kira says of the family’s decision to downsize. “I’d much rather spend time in the yard, having fun.”
Sprawling gardens — with everything from exotic tropical plants to a patch of fruits and vegetables — wraps the yard in greenery. Just like their collection of furnishings, the McCartys have hand-picked many of their plants on a bargain from places like the flea market, Lowe’s clearance section, and even a few discard piles on the side of the road.
The McCartys also decided to add a special guest hideaway to their backyard retreat. A glistening 1950 Silver Star camper sits alongside the pool, restored and ready to serve as a daytime retreat from the heat or an overnight oasis.
No one enjoys the backyard escape more than Harvey. Some mornings he’s up and in the pool before he’s had his cereal. He loves to explore the backyard, collecting eggs from the hens and studying the hand-carved tiki totems his father created.
“We really wanted to create a magical place for our kid to grow up,” says Kira. “There’s just something so picturesque about being in a neighborhood like this, full of kids riding bikes and salt-of-the-Earth neighbors. This is what life’s about.”
Photography by Leonard Blush