Dale and Amy's Key West Reno: A Backyard Oasis

Dale Jr. and Amy Earnhardt move into the final phase in the restoration of their historic Key West home – and it’s the phase Dale has been most looking forward to. The once frighteningly run-down backyard gets transformed into a lush and cloistered retreat with pool, deck and outdoor dining space. Plus NASCAR legend Dale Jr. gets a chance to get behind the wheel of a motorized machine of a different sort.

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Rocky Gonet/ AP Images

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Rocky Gonet/ AP Images

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Rocky Gonet/ AP Images

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Rocky Gonet/ AP Images

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Microsoft Windows Photo Viewer 6.1.7600.16385

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Microsoft Windows Photo Viewer 6.1.7600.16385

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier , Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Rocky Gonet/ AP Images

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Photo By: Emilee Ramsier

Home Stretch

After challenges that have included foundation issues, zoning restrictions, scorpions, bees and one particularly ferocious hurricane season, Dale Jr. and Amy are closing in on completion of their renovated home in Key West's historic Old Town district. Now it’s time to take on the rear exterior as they create a high-end space for entertaining, dining and relaxing. And Dale has an idea for a special custom feature involving a surfboard.

For Context, a Look Back

A glimpse of what the backyard looked like before the renovations gives an indication of just how ambitious this project was. By his own admission, the space Dale was most excited about was the backyard – though at the outset it was overgrown, littered with junk and downright frightening.

Treasures Among the Trash

Vintage bricks that lay scattered around the yard were eventually collected and repurposed as pavers for a new driveway and porch landing, helping provide curb appeal with an appropriately historic twist. Some of the bricks were also cut down into tiles for use as a backsplash for an outdoor kitchen.

The Payoff

The newly transformed home retains a character and a look that’s in keeping with the neighborhood’s historic roots. Transformations to the interior included changing the original living room into a downstairs bedroom with full bath and laundry room; reconfiguring the rear portion of the home to create an open kitchen and living area; turning an old tool shed into a truly inspired dining room and modifying the upstairs spaces to create two full master suites.

Laying Groundwork

Dale and Amy meet with contractor Steve Krieger to discuss the plans for the backyard makeover. The plan is to build a pool and hot tub surrounded by a sun deck. A covered lanai will provide shade and privacy and will incorporate an outdoor kitchen, dining area and bathroom.

Taming a Jungle

Before construction could begin, the area had to be cleared of dense brush, dead trees, discarded construction materials and a concrete cistern that had once been used to capture and store rainwater.

Start Your Engines

Amy rides shotgun as Dale Jr. tries his hand at the controls of a backhoe to clear debris from the backyard.

Horsepower and Hydraulics

The use of heavy equipment was not without challenges. "I busted the hydraulic line [on the backhoe], trying to jackhammer that cistern apart," Dale confessed. "I got a little bit too aggressive. But, runnin' the bucket ... I think I'm doing all right for my first day on the job."

Division of Labor

Dale got to handle the heavy lifting during demo and construction since Amy was six months along in her pregnancy by this point. “It’s fun getting to see Dale do all the hard work,” she said. Nevertheless, Amy participated fully throughout the renovation. Her contributions included, among other projects, the design and installation of a brick backsplash in the outdoor kitchen.

Before

Once the dense underbrush was cleared away, work could begin on demo of the old cistern the installation of the pool and outdoor living area.

After

The structure extending off the rear of the house — which prior to the renovation had been a run-down tool shed — is converted into a spectacular dining room that overlooks the pool and has glass doors that span two of its sides.

Before

Old chain-link fencing will be removed and a six-foot wood fence installed along with new landscaping and lots of foliage for added privacy.

In Progress

New construction includes an expansive deck and a lanai, separated from the main house and located across from the new dining room.

After

The completed lanai has high ceilings with natural wood paneling and an outdoor kitchen and dining area. The structure is open on three sides and connects to the border fence with a concrete wall that runs along the pool's edge and has an integrated water feature.

Before

This angle reveals the old concrete cistern that was once used to collect and store rainwater. The structure had to be dug out completely to allow installation of the new pool.

In Progress

After

The completed structure provides a covered space with a beach-cabana vibe that's ideal for casual outdoor dining and entertaining.

Elegantly Rustic

For more formal dining, this radically transformed space just across the pool is picture perfect. The rickety old tool shed extending off the kitchen was in dismal shape, with a sagging roof and a rotting floor, and initially Dale was in favor of simply tearing it down. But Amy had a vision for what the space could be. The original wood ceiling was carefully salvaged, restored and reinstalled back in its original location — in what is now a comfortable but elegant dining space. 

Indoors and Out

The large doors facing the pool and deck can be opened for an outdoor feel — temperature and island breezes permitting. See more of the dining room renovation here.

In Progress

The framing for the deck and lanai allows for a wood  floor that's contiguous throughout the indoor and outdoor spaces.

After

The completed outdoor kitchen features a custom brick backsplash, a full grill, modern stainless appliances and white shiplap paneling.

The Outdoor Kitchen

Amy and Dale worked win tandem to create tile for the outdoor kitchen backsplash using vintage bricks reclaimed from the property. Dale cut the bricks down to tile depth using a wet saw and Amy worked out the design, spacing and placement.

The Outdoor Kitchen, Detail

“We found [the bricks] in the yard as we were excavating,” says Amy. “I’m really excited about re-using these because of where they came from…They have a lot of history behind them.”

The Outdoor Kitchen, Detail

The brick tiles, once installed, got a whitewash paint finish for visual uniformity and to highlight the texture and lettering.

Kitchen Design, Conch-Republic Style

The countertops for the outdoor kitchen are made from slate reclaimed from an old pool table that had belonged to contractor Steve Krieger and was damaged during hurricane Irma and the subsequent flooding. “I think it’ll make people in Key West smile,” says Dale Jr. “That’s kind of the Key West way – making the best of a tough situation and re-using things.”

More Creative Repurposing

The outdoor bathroom features shiplap walls and a stone sink that Dale Jr. fashioned out of a remnant of a large granite foundation-block found beneath the original house flooring.

More Creative Repurposing

Dale used a gas-powered circular saw, power chisel and pneumatic grinder to carve and shape the basin portion of the sink. The entire piece was then polished and sealed with a clear-coat finish.

Endless Summers and Showers Alfresco

A special custom feature — and Dale’s favorite — is the outdoor shower with an actual surfboard mounted against the dimensional slate tile. The tropical design on the surfboard was executed by Kevin McCree, artist and custom paint specialist who has painted many of Dale’s racecars.

Behind the Scenes

The crew films one of the interview segments as Dale Jr. and Amy recount some of their more memorable renovation moments.

Behind the Scenes

Dale trades four wheels for one as he relocates loads of dirt from one section of the backyard to another.

Behind the Scenes

Amy displays her skills with a pneumatic nail gun as work gets underway the back wall of the lanai.
Fun fact: Dale Jr. dislikes the word lanai. “Not one of my favorite words,” he said. “Never heard it before we started this project.”  He insisted on referring to the finished space as simply “the outdoor kitchen area”.

Behind the Scenes

Amy takes a well-deserved breather...

Behind the Scenes

...while Dale Jr. enjoys a contemplative moment.

Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes

Cameras roll as the crew shoots footage for the final reveal.

A Few Candid Shots

A Few Candid Shots

...and one more.

The Key West Reno: From Start...

“Although this was a really hard project, it was a lot of fun,” said Amy. “There were some frustrating times and some difficult jobs,” added Dale, “but even the harder stuff was really rewarding in the end.”

...to Finish

“It's gratifying having fixed up this old house and being able to share that with the community,” said Amy. Apparently the sentiment was mutual. Once the renovation was complete, in appreciation for their endeavors and dedication, Dale and Amy were bestowed with an official “Conch Republic” flag by the Key West Mayor’s office. Further it should be noted that citizenship in the Conch Republic is not something bestowed on just anyone.

Finis

And that...is a wrap.

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