Nestled into a sleeping bag atop a chaise lounge chair, Ty Williams closed his eyes and fell asleep for the first time in his new house. “It was basically glorified camping at that point,” Williams says. But to fall asleep and wake up in that space, a space he’d built with his father and his friends in St. Augustine, felt like a song being played for the first time. By morning, when a symphony of dogs barking and a chorus of neighbors shouting stirred him, “It made it really real,” he said. In so many words, he was home.
In 2015, when Williams received the occupancy permit on the place, a road composed of red tape, callous hands, and sawdust formed behind him. He’d made good on a property in the Lincolnville neighborhood south of King, assembled a house, and in time set to making it a home. “It’s a glorified treehouse except it’s the adult version,” says Williams, an artist known for his sardonic work as well as his wit.
But as someone who has seemed perpetually itinerant, the house became an anchor, a tether of sorts to a place deeply important to Williams. And once he did let the roots take shape here, there was a deceptively simple reward. He remembered telling himself while traveling, “Someday, I’m going to have a shelf.” A surface on which to keep things meant a lot to someone who lived out of a suitcase for years. In one way, it signaled a kind of settling. In another, that shelf could be a place to return to: a small part of what he’d call home.
By the time Williams moved into his place, what he calls the “Blue Lego,” mementos and registers he collected followed him: from Sri Lanka and Tokyo, from Bali and Los Angeles, and from friends here and there. And as he told me, “I started putting things on the shelves.” In turn, a picture of what made Ty inexorably Ty formed on those shelves, but also, a sense of where he was and where he was going did, too.
He could remember the amber glow of a lamp hanging over he and his father as they first sketched the place out. He felt it was one of the most memorable moments along the way, because it preceded all the obstacles: “Before you have to get any permits; before you find out how much stuff costs.” It seemed a little like falling in love.
Aside from travel-cribbed trinkets that line the home’s shelves, the Blue Lego’s interior also incorporates design elements from a life of wanderlust. Williams, years ago, fell head-over-heels for Japan. And just as Frank Lloyd Wright returned inspired from that region, Williams incorporated straight lines and pocket doors to his own floor plan. There’s a noticeable modernist streak to the house, as well–with built-ins and hard surfaces. But the house is as much an amalgamation of influences, from the French farmhouse style high ceilings and white walls to the decidedly nautical shades of blue and grey accents, which are no doubt reminiscent of his childhood among the shingle-sided houses in coastal New England.
Over the past four years, I’ve spent a lot of time in this house myself. Williams has been a mentor to me, a friend who makes me laugh unlike any other, and someone who has long supported my work in ways only a fellow artist can. Always, I left his house with a sort of nourishment, in part thanks to the town of St. Augustine and the people who make it so, but maybe more so because Williams opened up this little corner of the world to me, and in turn that corner made my world bigger.
Of course, the same held true for him. Like Williams told me, “Houses carry a lot of energy.”
Today, from his bed, lofted three stories up, Williams can look out into the canopy of oak and sabal, out onto the river, but often, his eyes come across an unpainted piece of trim. It reminds him, as ever, of how this all came together, of the nuances strewn throughout the home. And maybe most importantly, it reminds him of how a house becomes a home.
All photos are courtesy of the Surf Shacks book by Indoek, available at indoek.com.
This Rad Pad originally appeared under the headline “The Blue Lego of Lincolnville” in Void Magazine’s January 2020 issue.