In cottage, a painter's still life

By Elizabeth Bettendorf
Tampa Tribune
Homes&Classified July 9, 2004

Taylor Ikin and her dog Moose sit under a portrait of Ikin's great-grandmother. In every room, family portraits hang next to more informal works by well-known watercolor artist.

   Her Sunset Park home, surrounded by lush growth, allows her to paint watercolors inside and out.
   On a hot Saturday afternoon, Taylor Ikin calls her small, spirited dog, Moose, and slips off for a backyard walk to tiny Dundee River.
   The 4-pound Yorkie-poodle goes crazy, barking and darting into the brush, warning his mistress of an unseen predator.  Ikin just laughs.
   "This is a jungle of a yard, and I feel very fortunate. I see possums, raccoons, squirrels and turtles back here."
   The spring-fed slip of river that meanders behind her three-bedroom, two bath tropical cottage remains precious to Ikin, a watercolorist whose deeply felt work is all about Florida's fragile environment.
   Ikin paints it from all angles, sometimes from her property, sometimes down the street.  Her untamed back yard, thick with hibiscus and jasmine and allowed to grow naturally, provides the best view.  She likes a low-maintenance, real Florida look, nothing too forced or artificial.
   Indoors, the look is equally relaxed, an equation she learned while living in Antigua for nearly two decades.  Her charming Sunset Park house, which she purchased in 1994, was once owned by another Tampa Bay artist who converted the garage to an airy, light splashed studio.
   Ikin bought it from a man and his sons ("I don't think a woman had set foot in the house in years," she joked) and soon christened it with a dose of individuality.  She painted the exterior a crisp khaki and xeriscaped the front yard.
   "Basically, this is a well-disguised 1950s home," she said.  The studio was originally the carport.  And the studio is what sold me on the house."
   The location of the well-placed studio - separated from the kitchen and den by wooden sliding doors - allows her to stand back and really look at an unfinished painting, "gaining perspective of distance," she said.
   She can also close off her studio when she has friends over.
   A decade later, Ikin, now in her 60s, can still say with conviction: "I love this house."
   Her love affair with her little home offers a lesson in choosing the right house, one that fits a list of highly personal needs, rather than imagined ones.  After her husband died, she needed a place she could call her own.
   When she went house shopping, she wasn't necessarily interested in a waterfront view, something she enjoys from canoes or riverbanks when she's out painting.
   What she wanted was basic.  A modest house with a back yard full of trees in a neighborhood where she could walk her dog at midnight fit the bill.
   Big and fancy wasn't her style.
   Her needs were simple, if not downright humble: guest bedroom, dining room, studio.
   The kitchen she didn't much care about: "The stove was dead for eight months and I never knew it," she said with a laugh.
   Ikin even left the original jalousie windows over the sink because they're functional and look like Old Florida.  She knocked down the wall over the pass-through to the den, creating a comfortable great room.
   Otherwise, she left the small but attractive kitchen untouched.  She didn't rip out cabinets or install fancy appliances.  Ikin was content with its original condition.
   "I've learned that I don't have to like cooking anymore," she quipped, though she is Southern and charming and the perfect hostess, with her offer of fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice in a wine goblet with a cocktail napkin.
   She filled the small, formal rooms with good antiques and paintings, many of them from her family in Richmond, VA.  The sideboard and chest belonged to her grandfather's sister.  The 4-foot portrait over the sofa is of a relative who died after falling off a horse.  The faces in a famous 19th-century etching are her relatives, too.
   Ikin is an archival collector, someone whose possessions reflect sentiment rather than materialism.  She knows that beloved objects and their accompanying stories make for an interesting house, no matter what the size.
   A well-planned, "undecorated" look using heirloom furniture and artwork can give an interior a more interesting edge than one that is entirely store-bought.
   For example, she stores supplies and artwork in a utilitarian, but beautiful old chest that once held vestments in an Episcopal church.  An English serving cart handmade in the West Indies holds slides and pictures.
   Objects collected on her world travels create a domestic still life rather than clutter.  Wild boar bones earn the same respect as wooden masks bought on the side of the road in Kenya.  An African ceremonial drum holds feathers from her beloved parrot, Jim, who died in Antigua.
   In every room, John Singer Sargent-style family portraits hang next to more informal works by well-known watercolor painters, many mentors and friends.  She even hung a painting by a Sarasota artist upside down because she liked it better that way.

In a view from her studio toward the den, an easel holds one of Ikin's newest works, Camp Bayou.  Ikin is known locally for her interpretive watercolors of the Tampa Bay area, some of which hang at the Florida House in Washington, D.C. 

   In her studio, Ikin stands on a 4-inch-high box and paints at her drafting table.  She is known locally for her interpretive watercolors of the Tampa Bay area, particularly a series of more than 30 paintings known as the Hillsborough Collection, commissioned by the Hillsborough County Water Department and the county Parks and Recreation Department.  About half of those paintings are on display at the Florida House in Washington, D.C., and will travel in August to a show at the Capitol in Tallahassee.
   St Andrew's Episcopal Church in downtown Tampa, where Ikin is a member, also featured one of her paintings on the cover of its 2004 calendar as well as its visitor cards.
   She now paints on YUPO, a slick, tree-free synthetic paper that allows her greater flexibility to change things while painting.
   "A control freak wouldn't like it," she joked, "but I can go back and lift every bit of paint off if I want to."
   Ikin's combination house and studio remain her sanctuary.
   Her laid-back artists approach to decorating created a timeless look that remains interesting a decade later.  Because she's an artist, she was able to make her small house cozy and inviting without looking cluttered.
   When she says she loves it, she means it.
   "I'm easy to please," she said. "I had to have trees and studio space, a place to create, really."

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