Making my way toward Jenna and Za Alexander’s Lighthouse Park bungalow nestled between St. Augustine’s historic downtown and the town’s white sand beaches, I am transported to what can only be described as “Old Florida.” A faint scent of saltwater fills the air as I navigate through narrow streets lined with lush oak trees that lead the way to the doors of the Alexander’s abode. Jenna greets me at the door with an easy, disarming smile, welcoming me into her family’s open-living concept home.
Jenna explains that this house, built in the 1950s, has been completely transformed since the couple purchased the property in 2015.
“You wouldn’t believe how far we have come,” Jenna explains, scrolling through images of a dilapidated shack, unrecognizable from the contemporary but comfortable design the Alexanders adopted. “It was pretty terrible. There was rotten wood, holes in the walls, the whole place smelled like cats.”
Jenna is an oil painter, illustrator, and photographer. She’s also a dedicated mother to her children, Navy and Jensen, a homemaker, and an overall superwoman. After sitting down with the Alexanders, it becomes clear that the home’s transformation was due in large part to Jenna’s artistic vision, and her nurturing personality.
What gave you the motivation to take on such a big project yourselves?
Jenna: I am such a thrifter at heart and I love being resourceful and using what we have. I like making something out of nothing. We’re the least elitist, bougie people you’ll ever meet. Everything has our touch on it but we try to be practical and resourceful.
As far as your decor, where did you source your pieces from?
Za: There’s a lot of family stuff. Both of our kids, the crib they grew up in was my crib from when I was a kid. It’s a wooden crib so we got the Pledge [spray], cleaned it up, restored it and it was beautiful. But it was seriously old. It probably wouldn’t have met any safety standards at all. [Laughs] Now our son’s bunk beds are in there; those were mine when I was little. And my daughter’s blue bed was Jenna’s when Jenna was little. We were lucky enough that our parents kept those things and that we could bring those pieces back to life. So it’s being frugal but it’s neat at the same time.
Do you have a favorite part of the house?
Jenna: I would say the common area. When we were doing the floorplan, my mom was asking about room sizes and I was like, “Make them as small as possible because we’re going to be hanging out here like 90 percent of the time.” When are you in your room? Maybe when the kids are teenagers they will be, but right now we want to make it as big of a common area space as possible.
I see a common theme of nostalgia, a focus on family and community in a lot of your work and obviously in your decor as well. Why is this important to you all?
Jenna: I think just wanting to provide a good foundation for our kids. I am really big into creating art that tells a story. I want my kids to look at my work when they’re older and I want them to reminisce and have it reflect their childhood. My ultimate dream or goal, more than producing artwork, is to cultivate a really beautiful childhood for my kids.
What made you decide that this location would be best for providing that good foundation for your kids?
Za: It’s a great spot for adventure. We have the state park, we can ride our bikes, we can go fishing, we can go get oysters in Salt Run, and we can take out the paddle boards. We can just run around the neighborhood and be nuts. It’s really nice.
Jenna: Everyone in this community loves just living and being outside and that’s really inspirational. We’re all aware of boundaries, but at the same time, our neighbor will just knock on the back door and ask, what’re you guys doing? It feels like family.
This feature originally appeared under the headline “Lighthouse Park Bungalow” in Void Magazine’s January 2020 issue.