With its sinuous architecture and bright white stucco exterior popping against an endless backdrop of sea and sky, a family’s vacation home feels more like a resort in Santorini than the Florida getaway spot that it is. “I saw the architecture and said, ‘Wow!’” remembers the homeowner, who retreats here from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with her husband and their two children. “It feels like you’re in Greece or some other exotic locale.”
For longtime friend and architect Jeffrey Dungan, the 1,640-square-foot lot and beautiful seaside-town setting of Alys Beach presented an exciting building opportunity. “It’s a very specific piece of property,” says Dungan, who worked with general superintendent John Spears to bring his vision to fruition. “Because of its footprint, we had to build up. So I decided to have a tower as a focal point. I call it a crown.” Designing in white stucco to meld with the community’s aesthetic, plus having to meet hurricane standards and town codes, challenged Dungan to create something unique. “I wanted to do a really elegant, simple structure,” he says, “stacking windows on top of one another.” And, of course, include balconies at every opportunity to take advantage of views and ocean breezes.
“The architecture is clean and modern,” says Dungan, who drew from Moorish motifs for the parapet walls and arched doorframes, “but I also wanted it to be visually warm. So there are touches like reclaimed oak beams and flooring from cotton gins that date back to the 1800s,” all in weathered finishes that complement silky Venetian plaster walls. Exquisite diamond-patterned ceiling detailing and mullions on windows also lend a traditional reference that grounds the style.
To connect the house to its private plunge pool, the architect used a zaguan design common in Central America. “It’s where you open a door into a covered porch-like courtyard,” Dungan says. “The reason is to protect you from the heat. The house wraps around terraces and a courtyard to keep the sun at bay, so you can be outdoors and still be in the shade temperature about 10 degrees cooler.” The 4-foot-deep pool nestles into a grotto, whose back wall is lined with colorful Moroccan tiles in a range of beach-inspired hues. Pavers, which also find their way into the foyer, are made of concrete in an earthy blend
of white and sand tones.
Inside, the open-plan living area is about 15 feet up, on the
second level. The living room is compact, to allow space for a lounge and outdoor grill area for the husband. To keep with the intimate feel, designer Ashley Garrison, also a family friend, recommended four comfy chairs upholstered in a tan-and-cream fabric woven “like a giant needlepoint,” she says. “You sit in these chairs and never want to sit in another again.”
Though windows make up most of the wall space, a painting by Jamali claimed its spot on one wall and inspired the teal and orange accents throughout. “It takes your breath away that everything around here is all white, white, white,” says Garrison. “But this was a good way to add color and make the house personal to the owners.” Personality and fun were key words throughout. “We wanted everything in the house to be inviting,” says the wife, “and for all of our guests to feel at home.” A major focal point is the living room’s slightly curved staircase, which unfolds artistically and is stepped out from the wall. Dungan ensured that the architectural treads create a marvelous shadow effect, accentuated with ultra-thin LEDs framed in stainless steel.
In the kitchen, Dungan kept the cabinetry light, with horizontal driftwood planks against white Carrara marble. In addition, he ran the same boards on the ceiling, and the 7-inch-wide plank flooring was also stained to blend right in. “The wife took pictures of things she liked, and then she would bring them to us and say, ‘I want that to look like this,’ and we had to figure out how to create whatever she had seen,” remembers Spears, who helmed the build with Scott Barnes (the firm’s vice president of residential construction at the time). “For example, we used a treatment that was new to us for the millwork, sandblasting the wood before it was installed and adding a specialty finish to create an aged appearance.” Garrison, too, incorporated textures, such as the shimmery, almost iridescent turquoise fabric on the barstools at the island. The layout is galley-style but it lives much larger because it’s so open. More intimate is the adjacent breakfast area, a cozy nook with a barrel-vaulted ceiling and a porthole-like window. A built-in banquette and chairs seat six for intimate gatherings.
Texture also plays out in a bathroom with a diamond- patterned window and walls that are clad in a pebbly aggregate, an earthy contrast to more slick surfaces. But the spacious master sitting area is softer and more casual; comfortably furnished with an upholstered sofa and chairs, it’s the homeowners’ favorite spot to unwind. Not surprisingly, the most dramatic space is the fourth-level lighthouse-like tower, a combination of a grand outdoor terrace and enclosed glass lounge area, about the size of a small bedroom. On each side, the parapet wall features an oval opening with custom- designed shutters. “It’s amazing,” says Dungan. He designed an exterior stairway that leads to the tower, “and when you walk up, step onto the landing and turn, you’re suddenly staring at the ocean. It’s really impactful.” Inside are a pair of chaises and a fireplace to warm on chilly nights.
“I hadn’t really thought about what my ideal beach house would be, but I absolutely love the home and the water views,” says the wife. “The ocean is powerful and peaceful at the same time.” But while she appreciates the awe of it all, being here is about family. “We love being here with our children and their friends,” she says. “We are making a lifetime of memories at this home.”