We were super excited to meet Amber and Alex ever since we read an Orlando Sentinel story about their unique Sanford business (creating mustaches, silly glasses, and all sorts of photo props)! And once we realized where they lived – YES! TELL US MORE!
The Palms, their Victorian-style estate home in the Idyllwilde neighborhood of Sanford, boasts nearly 140 years of history. Built for Henry L. DeForest, one of Sanford’s founders, Amber and Alex have taken advantage of the history and beautiful setting of their home.
We chatted with them on a gorgeous evening in Sanford and were treated to a tour of the garden and their three-year-old son’s trike riding skillz.
How did you find your way to Sanford?
We both have lived in the Orlando area, as we’re graduates of the University of Central Florida. Alex attended Lake Mary High School and has lived nearby for most of his life. After a tour in the Army, we started looking for a place near Orlando. We searched for an older home with character, of which Sanford has many. Moving in during the city’s rebirth was a bonus.
What’s it like living in a house with such a rich history?
The DeForest house has an improbable history, if only for being a 130-plus-year-old wood-framed house in Florida. We’ve enjoyed getting to know its history and that of its founding family. The Sanford Museum has been invaluable in that regard. Being a part of such an important legacy for the city is a real joy for us, so we do what we can to keep it going. We have had the unexpected delight of finding some old artifacts under and around the house, including a shotgun shell casing from the 1890s, numerous newspaper clippings from a century or more ago, and even a package hand-addressed to Mr. DeForest, making it at least 114 years old.
Be sure to follow Amber and Alex’s DeForest home adventures, The Palms of Sanford, on Facebook! They’ll be posting renovation projects and garden additions (the garden is to DIE for – so many beautiful plants and edibles)!
What are the biggest challenges of living in a historic home? Do you recommend it?
Maintenance alone is at least a part-time job, from fixing rot and painting to managing the yard. The problems you would imagine such an old structure having are all here, but the house is in remarkably good condition given its age. We concern ourselves most with keeping the exterior painted and dry, and the interior the same. If you are handy enough to work on a home yourself (though we do have an invaluable handyman from time to time), aren’t concerned with perfection and love history, yes, we highly recommend it.
Tell us more about Whisker Works!
We often find ourselves reflecting on how odd it is we’re in such a business and finding our way through life just making people happy. Really, Whisker Works is a silly concept, and one that’s made us happy too. What started as a “diversion” for Amber while Alex was in the Army has turned into a way of life. We’ve sent packages to several dozen countries around the world, including Mauritius — a tiny nation just off of Madagascar — just last week. We’ve made so many memories vicariously through smiles in photos from people we’ve never met.
How do you like working from home and running a business in Sanford?
It’s nice having the flexibility in our schedules to take advantage of the city in “off hours” and spend time with our son. Sanford’s got a great Post Office and convenient proximity to a variety of shipping services that are the lifeblood of our business.
What is your favorite Sanford memory?
Watching the River Rats play at Sanford Memorial Stadium. After one of the innings, they’ll usually have kids from the stands run around the bases. When our son was two, he was one of the last ones to cross home plate, but their mascot Ralphie was there waiting to give him a high five when he finished.
What do you like best about living in Sanford?
Its charming downtown and historic ties to Florida’s settlement.
What’s it like raising a child in Sanford?
Fun and satisfying. It’s nice to live in a community that’s quiet enough to be comfortable, yet populous enough to have a variety of options for education, including the library’s story time program, and entertainment. The myriad community events throughout the year near or at Fort Mellon Park make life here quite fulfilling.
What are your favorite Sanford mom (or dad!) activities?
Outdoor adventures! In the past couple weeks, we’ve taken our canoe to Wekiva Island and Wekiva Springs State Park. Over Easter weekend we tubed down Blue Springs with visiting family.
Where are the best places to take a child in Sanford?
The parks are great, the amenities are aplenty — including the Central Florida Zoo, waterfront splash pad and Airport Lanes Bowling Center, also called the “bowling pin store” by our 3-year-old son. Of course we’re not far from the theme parks and the beach, too.
What is your favorite Sanford neighborhood and why?
The historic homes district! It’s been an absolute inspiration in addition to eye-candy. We love showing the area to our out-of-town guests. The brick streets and Victorian “painted ladies” are a must-see.
Have you ever been to Flea World?
Of course. It’s one-of-a-kind, and chockablock with unusual miscellany.
What is your favorite drink and who makes it?
We’re both beer fans — Amber’s is Guinness. Alex’s is Newcastle. Anything with such character qualifies.
What do you wish to see in Sanford?
A public waterfront bustling with activity, with development not based on the common standard of “Anytown USA” with flat-faced stucco buildings, but on the historic charm of which the city is so proud.
What is your favorite Sanford event?
It’s a tough choice. Clear contenders are “Alive After Five” each month, the Art Walk, the Christmas parade and the summertime baseball games.
Describe your perfect night out in Sanford.
Start with a restaurant — maybe the Willow Tree Cafe. If they’re still open, stop at the antique stores, then to Sanford’s first brewery, Wop’s Hops, and finish the night at The Imperial.
Favorite breakfast spot?
The Mayfair Country Club’s clubhouse. The view of the greens is spectacular. We also quite enjoy the gourmet donut selection at Donuts to Go.
What is your favorite book?
Alex: Lord of the Flies — it speaks incisively to the breadth of human character.
Alex: Amadeus — about the timeless beauty of musical perfection and the tragedy of a man hounded and haunted by his mind.
When/where was your last theme park visit?
We took our son to Legoland last month for the first time. We enjoyed the experience but will wait to return until our little guy reaches 42″, since that seems to be the magic number there.
What is Sanford’s greatest asset?
Its historic district, which speaks to the greatness of this city’s past and challenges us to build a future so grand.
What is Sanford’s greatest area of opportunity?
The waterfront, with its island, marina, and charming old piers has tons of potential.
Favorite Sanford resident, past present or future?
Henry Linson DeForest, the man responsible for our home’s creation. Having shepherded the city through its infancy as manager of General Sanford’s business affairs, he played an invaluable role in determining the way the city would be built, and made a name for himself as a businessman and citrus pioneer.
What does Sanford need?
More cohesion. The city spans a pretty broad swath of territory, but has little in the way of branding. Some cities have strong architectural standards to give a sense of uniformity, some add street-scaping with uncommon plants and monument signs. Sanford is a city that changed a region. It should look the part.
You may recognize the design of the fountain at The Palms – it’s very similar to the one in Magnolia Square!
Magnolia Square Photo Credit: Robinson Iron
Photographer: Stephen King
“For the heart of the renovated plaza, the landscape architect chose one of Robinson Iron’s historic reproduction cast iron fountains – the Tall Crane. The Tall Crane fountain is cast from patterns that predate the Civil War.”